2016 Topical Reporting, Small Newsroom winner

God & Governing: How Texas Legislators’ Religious Beliefs Guide Their Lawmaking

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Confronting an issue that’s difficult to discuss, the project provides readers with a nuanced, deep and substantive conversation.

About the Project

God. Governing. At the Texas Capitol these days, the two seem intrinsically linked.

That’s why Texas Tribune reporters, researchers and videographers spent six months in 2015 interviewing dozens of elected officials on camera and scouring hundreds of hours of legislative footage to produce a first-of-its-kind online video and television project, “God & Governing.”

The five-part video series dove deep into the way lawmakers’ faith directed their decision-making — on everything from abortion and gun rights to same-sex marriage and abstinence-only education. We produced multimedia shorts with every official we interviewed, and posted lawmakers’ full, unedited videos as well.

A related 30-minute news documentary — produced for KLRU, Austin’s PBS station — was distributed nationally and aired repeatedly on nine public television stations statewide.

“God and Governing” was no easy task. Despite their religious overtones on the campaign trail, top state leaders were hesitant to go on camera — or to be pinned down on how they use their religious beliefs to make policy. When we couldn’t get them in the Capitol, we traveled across this massive state to visit them in their home districts, to sit in their church pews, to talk with their constituents. Over time, they settled in, and gave us a pretty unbelievable glimpse into their personal faiths.

Several of them also participated in the Tribune’s live “God & Governing” forum at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin; the event, which featured four lawmakers discussing the role of faith in the Texas Legislature, was sold out, livestreamed and recorded so more viewers could tune in.

“God and Governing” was a giant swing at the ball — an ambitious multimedia and television undertaking we at the Tribune had been hoping to produce for years. We tackled it with respect and our signature tough reporting, and the result was a living archive of a crucial time in the state’s political history.