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2018 Breaking News, Small Newsroom winner

Austin Serial Bombings

About the Project

Questioning Austin’s weirdness has become a tradition since the city’s population explosion began roughly 10 years ago. It’s gone from a hippy college town to the 11th largest city in the U.S. But through all that growth – even from its earliest days – Austin has been a racially segregated city.

The serial bombings this spring put that reality in a harsh national spotlight.

What was initially believed to be an isolated incident in early March became a string of bombings that set off a three-week manhunt by the Austin Police Department and federal law enforcement. Our digital staff worked around the clock to cover the hour-by-hour updates, publishing more than 30 stories online – the majority of which were digital-only.

We shared what we knew about the investigation through social media and push alerts, and provided content to NPR’s national audience on NPR.org. We recorded videos of resident reactions, and created a map of the bombing locations, as well as an interactive timeline.

Throughout the 21-day stretch, we also covered larger discussions that weren’t on the national radar. While several outlets ran pieces that trivialized the violence and questioned Austin’s weirdness, our coverage dug into the concern among minority communities that they were being intentionally targeted by the bomber. We wrote thoughtful remembrances of the victims and reached out to community leaders.

After the dust settled, we hosted a town hall meeting to discuss how police handled the investigation. Our livestream of the event made international news when interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley – criticized for calling the bomber a “troubled young man” – said he should have labeled the bomber a terrorist.

Our coverage continues today, as the city debates whether Manley should be appointed permanent chief and confronts uneasy questions about race relations in Austin.