Reading Scott Huddleston’s latest update about the turmoil at the Alamo, I wondered how many people remember the roots of the problem and why the state of Texas got involved in the first place. I doubt casual readers know Scott deserves some of the credit for the changes — or the blame, depending on how you view the Alamo’s caretakers, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Newspapers are very good at producing something we all know: the news article. But Scott has been writing article after article about the problems at the Alamo. In fact, his first story was published two years ago. Like many newspapers, we haven’t done a very good job tying those stories together online to give readers the context and history of the controversy. We’re not answering a basic question about the issue: How did we get here?
Scott got involved when a tipster told him that some members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas questioned the group’s leadership, and were forming their own splinter group to raise money for the Alamo.
“I wanted the story to be more than ‘she said, she said,'” Scott told me. He began obtaining copies of contracts, emails, letters — anything that would shed light on what was going on at the Alamo. He found examples of questionable spending and a lack of focus. “Their biggest challenge was an inability to raise money for capital improvements,” Scott said.
Sometimes a story is bigger than a single article
“I felt like I needed to be shaking the bushes just to keep up with them,” Scott said.
After his first story about the rift was published, he filed an open records request with the state of Texas to find out how the Daughters were spending funds raised from license plates with Alamo themes. It turned out the Alamo only received a portion of the funds for upkeep.
As more members of the Daughters publicly criticized the group’s leadership, some were expelled for speaking with the media, which led to more follow-up stories.
Scott wrote at least 60 articles in the past two years that mentioned the Alamo and its troubled caretaker.
Scott wrote at least 60 articles in the past two years that mentioned the Alamo and its troubled caretaker. Most stories were about the turmoil within the organization and its track record at the Alamo. For long, seemingly never-ending sagas like this, newspapers really need to devise a way to help readers see the whole picture.
Google’s Living Stories project tried to address this problem. It’s no longer supported but it inspired ProPublica to generate a similar design that gives readers a timeline and easy access to past posts about the topic they’re interested in.
It’d be great if newspapers came up with something like Living Stories. Sometimes a story is bigger than a single article. We ought to figure out a way to systematically tell that story in a compelling way.