NBC5 wins Peabody for bus agency reports

By Executive Director, Headliners Foundation

By Sarah Sarder
Staff Writer

KXAS-TV (NBC5) has won a Peabody Award for its investigative series “Big Buses, Bigger Problems: Taxpayers taken for a ride,” the award’s board of jurors announced Tuesday.

The investigation focused on Dallas County Schools, a public agency involved in school transportation, and its failed investment in school bus cameras.

The NBC5 Investigates team revealed extensive corruption among public officials and triggered a federal bribery investigation that ultimately shut down the 172-year-old agency.

The series found that Dallas County Schools purchased excessive numbers of cameras from Force Multiplier Solutions, costing taxpayers millions while the company funneled millions in bribes to a top DCS official.

“In this impressive series from NBC5/KXAS’s investigative news team, reporters unravel shady real estate deals by the Dallas County Schools (DCS) after a school bus camera-system investment goes bust,” the Peabody website reads. “The reporting uncovered a wide web of corruption and staggering financial mismanagement, which led to swift action by the Texas government and voters.”

NBC5 is the only Peabody winner among local, commercial television stations for 2017. This is the station’s first Peabody Award.

The team members involved in the award-winning report are senior investigative reporter Scott Friedman, producers Jack Douglas and Eva Parks, photographer Jose Sanchez, digital managing editor Frank Heinz, and Mark Ginther, vice president of news.

“It took months of digging through records to figure out these relationships and some of these business deals,” Friedman said. “There were dozens and dozens of records requests [and] developing sources within the agency to try to figure out what happened. I credit our management here for supporting this kind of effort.

It takes bosses who have a vision and a willingness to devote a lot of time and resources and stand up for that kind of reporting.”

This is the third consecutive year a NBC-owned station has won a Peabody for investigative work, Ginther said.

“That they’ve made this type of important watchdog journalism on a local level such a priority, I think that’s an exceptional thing,” Ginther said.

Ginther expressed admiration for team members who worked on the series for nearly two years, giving up vacation time and interrupting holidays to stay on top of the story.

“Covering one story for two full years takes a lot of discipline and commitment because we had to keep digging, and every single time we thought we had reached what we thought might be the end of the story, another lead would come up and we’d go in an entirely different direction,” Ginther said. “It’s great in this era of journalism to have journalists that are that committed to the story, the truth and getting it right. It’s really exceptional.”

Ginther also credited the investigative team at The Dallas Morning News for helping with the series and said they were a big part of its success.

The journalists will be recognized on May 19 at the Peabody Awards ceremony in New York.

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For more information about this 2016 Showcase Silver Awards winner, click here.

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