“The 85th: Your Texas, your issues”

The Dallas Morning News


It’s easy for reporters and readers alike to get deep in the weeds during the biennial 140-day Texas Legislature. Tracking the crushing number of bills as they wend their way through the House and the Senate and understanding the often complicated debate can overwhelm even the most diehard of political news junkies and distract reporters from high-impact journalism. 

In 2017, The Dallas Morning News staff decided to blaze a better path for itself and its audience. The result? An innovative digital feature, “The 85th: Your Texas, your issues.”

In late summer 2016 our Austin bureau, interactives/data team and political editor brainstormed how to help readers understand the stakes in the upcoming session. An organizational framework was assembled around key issues that our political reporters knew would be front and center in Austin.

This structure allowed our audience to explore our coverage by key topics such as border security and LGBT rights. We incorporated automated bill tracking to allow readers to easily follow the course of legislation relating to each central topic. Live blog-style updates and our staffers’ Twitter feeds supplemented our fully reported stories, which appeared first online, then in print.

Throughout the session, our reporters remained focused on stories with impact. We wrote a series about the journey of a transgender man who opposed the bathroom bill. We gave readers an exclusive look at how Democrats and moderate Republicans worked together in to oppose a “papers-please” immigration policy only to see their effort fall short. We explored the ideological battles between the speaker of the House and the governor and the lieutenant governor.

By the end of the special session in August, the 85th featured about 300 staff posts on 21 issues. Almost 600 dallasnews.com stories, editorials and commentary pieces were aggregated, and the progress of 117 bills was tracked through automation. And through our analytics, we know that the feature led to a number of digital subscriptions.

LINK to content online

Submitted by Keith Campbell.

Headliners Foundation