2023 Excellence in Social Media Engagement, Small Newsroom winner

Austin’s 2023 Ice Storm

About the Project

An ice storm hit the Austin area the week of Jan. 30. Hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power for days. Many people relied on the battery left in their cellphones to get updates via social media. That’s where KUT came in.

We posted dozens of Instagram updates and Twitter threads informing residents of things they needed to know: when power was estimated to come back, what driving conditions were like, and how to file insurance claims for damaged property.

We also used our social platforms to discourage misinformation. The ice storm brought many Austinites flashbacks to the historic 2021 Texas blackouts, which left millions in the cold for days. Hundreds did not survive. Many residents were quick to blame Texas’ electric grid during this year’s power outages, but KUT helped clarify that the outages were caused by local issues — ice weighed down Austin’s many trees and damaged power lines.

As the week-long crisis came to a close, we put these local issues into context for our followers, explaining how Austin’s tree-trimming policies have been relaxed over the years and how climate change has impacted vegetation.

We also used our social platforms to hold local leaders accountable during the crisis. Though hundreds of thousands of people were without power, the city did not hold a press conference to address residents’ concerns until a couple days in, an issue we pointed out in our coverage. And when the mayor and City Council hinted they were upset with the city manager’s storm communications, KUT was the first to report they might soon fire him, which they eventually did. We followed the saga closely, giving immediate updates to our Twitter and Instagram followers.

Judges Comments

This stood far and away from others through it’s utility and dedication to the community KUT serves. During historic storms, the newsroom answered questions, provided live updates, and became an information center for everything locals needed to know, from where power was out to larger impacts. This is engagement and service journalism in its truest and best form.