Investigative Excellence

Radio-Television-Film alumna leads KVUE team to Peabody Award

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Radio-Television-Film alumna Patti C. Smith (B.S. ’75), in her role as president and general manager of KVUE-TV, led the KVUE news team that recently won a Peabody Award for an investigative story on the treatment of the mentally ill in Texas.

The seven-month investigation into “The Cost of Troubled Minds” examined the lack of resources, outdated facilities, and a shortage of healthcare personnel across the state, that ultimately cost the state millions of dollars and put a vulnerable population in danger. KVUE, an ABC affiliate, became the first television station in Austin to win the prestigious Peabody award and in 2015, was the only local television station to earn the award in the country.  All of the other winners were national networks, and one bureau was awarded the prize for excellence in journalism.

Smith said she couldn’t be more proud of her team’s accomplishment and what this means for the station as a whole.

 “Not many TV stations have the resources to give time to long-term investigations,” Smith said. “I am proud of the company (Gannett) and KVUE for understanding the importance of this project and the commitment of time, money and resources required, in order to develop and fully explain the story.”

Smith said the investigation started out like any news story would, but as the team dove deeper into the research, they discovered the story couldn’t be told in just a typical nightly news report.  Instead, KVUE decided to air the story as a 30-minute special.

The investigation highlights several aspects of mental illness and the ramifications of little to no care available within the state.  The special looks into illnesses ranging from bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia, leaving many homeless or unable to afford or receive adequate medical care.

After interviewing individuals affected by mental illness, as well as their families and doctors, the team found that there is a significant shortage of care or adequate facilities to help with their treatment. Although no solution has been confirmed, the investigation has initiated conversations with state officials about options.

“The staff being open and aware of important issues is what makes this story such relevant journalism,” Smith said. “It’s not just about doing a story, but the intent to create positive change – it’s work that provides a solution that sets us apart from the rest.”

The George Foster Peabody Awards recognize distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals. To win, the program must receive unanimous approval from the 17 board members.

The Peabody Award is different as there are no categories, no set number of winners and no degrees of each winner, allowing each program to compete solely on its merits.

The KVUE staff members who worked on the investigation include investigative reporter, Andy Pierotti, Executive News Director Frank Volpicella; Assistant News Director Michelle Chism and photojournalists Derek Rasor and Matt Olsen.

The team will travel to New York to accept their award on May 31.

Lauren Phillips
Public Affairs Representative