My first day of work at Austonia was on Monday, March 9. By the end of that week, local officials had canceled SXSW and our small team was headed home to work remotely.
It was from our virtual newsroom—spread out across our respective kitchen counters, living room couches and home offices—that we launched a daily newsletter and, in early April, our website.
Since then our team has covered the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, our newest corporate citizen (Tesla) and celebrity resident (Joe Rogan), homelessness, two elections, the mayor's trip to Cabo San Lucas, Project Connect and the administration of the first COVID-19 vaccines.
To end the year, we've compiled a list of 10 important stories we published this year. Here's to more to come in 2021!
1. 'Somehow life feels richer than ever' for some Austin families finding new at-home routines (April 16)
Karen Brooks Harper spoke to local families early on in the pandemic to learn about how they were coping—and discovered that many were bonding during all the time spent at home together. "I don't want this crisis to go on forever, but I desperately want our future as a family to look more like this," one mom said.
2. Two days of protest: demonstrators shut down I-35, Austin police respond with tear gas as police killings mobilize residents (June 1)
In late May, Austin residents took to the streets to protest the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Southeast Austin. Protests continued through the summer and ultimately led to the Austin City Council voting to cut the police department's budget—to the chagrin of many state lawmakers.
Editorial advisor Rich Oppel and myself teamed up to write about one of the biggest economic development projects seen in Austin this generation: the forthcoming Tesla Gigafactory, which is under construction in Southeast Travis County after a marathon process to secure property tax abatements and environmental permits.
4. Meet the two names from Austin behind the transformation of the new Joe Rogan podcast studio (Sept. 10)
Senior Producer Sonia Garcia profiled two local business owners entrusted by mixed martial arts enthusiast and comedian Joe Rogan to construct his new podcast studio, where he has since interviewed fellow Austinites Matthew McConaughey and Alex Jones. The recent transplant moved to the Texas capital from Los Angeles in July, bringing his $100 million podcast with him.
5. The Austonia guide to Proposition A, the ballot issue that could green-light Project Connect (Oct. 14)
(Emma Freer/Austonia staff)
On Nov. 3, Austin voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition A, which raised the city's property tax rate to help pay for Project Connect. The $7.1 billion transit overhaul plan is already being implemented, but it faced vocal opposition. This guide dives into how much Project Connect will raise property owners' tax bills and how it will address concerns about displacement.
Publisher Mark Dewey was thrilled to announce that the Local Independent Online News Publishers association had chosen Austonia as a finalist for its national best emerging publisher award. "Recognition like this from our peer group motivates us to work even harder on our mission of connecting you to our ever-changing city," he wrote to readers.
Photojournalist Jordan Vonderhaar visited homeless camps around Austin to document how residents were dealing with the pandemic—and ongoing cleanups orchestrated by local and state agencies. Last year, Austin City Council voted to overturn the city's camping ban. Advocates applauded the move as an important step toward decriminalizing homelessness. But many residents, business owners and state leaders opposed the decision, which they argued would threaten public health and safety.
8. Austin health official concerned about bars "masquerading as restaurants" to stay open amid COVID surge (Nov. 20)(Laura Figi/Austonia)
Reporters Laura Figi and Waylon Cunningham wrote about a state loophole that allows bars to reclassify as restaurants in jurisdictions, such as Travis County, that have not allowed bars to reopen. Dr. Mark Escott, the local public health authority, raised concerns about this policy last month, citing the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations, and has continued to advise residents not to attend such establishments. But bar owners and employees say they must remain open—or close permanently.
9. What Adler's Mexico vacation means for his chances in the Biden administration—and post-COVID political career (Dec. 3)
Earlier this month, news broke that Austin Mayor Steve Adler had hosted a small, outdoor wedding for his daughter in early November and then traveled via private jet to a family timeshare in Cabo San Lucas—while publicly asking Austinites to stay home. I spoke with political experts about what this scandal might mean for his career, especially if he runs for higher office.
10. Good times have faded at the TarryTown Shopping Center, the once-thriving neighborhood hub where animal rights activist Jeanne Daniels has pushed out local favorites (Dec. 22)
Writer Bryan Rolli took a deep dive into the once buzzing TarryTown Shopping Center that now stands desolate. Since inheriting the shopping center in 1999, Jeanne Crusemann Daniels has enforced strict rules that have resulted in the elimination of businesses that used or sold animal products. Long-time Austinites and former business owners remember what the shopping center was once like.
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Californian who wrote viral op-ed attacking Austin life tells Austonia he 'didn't include the positive stuff'
The California exodus has made headlines for several years now, and even more recently, with thousands of West Coasters seeking tax relief, less-expensive real estate and a simpler lifestyle in Texas' capital city.
However, a California man's scathing review of Austin, which was published in Business Insider on Wednesday, reveals that some are less than satisfied with their move.
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