KXAN-TV, the NBC affiliate owned by Nexstar Media Group, Inc. serving Austin, TX (DMA #39), announced that its team of investigative journalists won the Headliners Foundation of Texas Showcase Silver Award for its investigative story, “TxTag Troubles.” The Headliners Foundation of Texas honors journalism that has made a significant impact on Texas government, public policy or the conduct of a business, non-profit or other organization.
Eric Lassberg, VP and General Manager of KXAN-TV states, “I am extraordinarily proud of the work the KXAN local news team has done, and continues to do every day, to uphold our commitment to serving the people of Austin and the great state of Texas. By pursuing the local stories that matter to our viewers and their families, KXAN has been able to help make positive changes in our local community. We applaud KXAN’s exceptional investigative reporters on the acknowledgment of their outstanding journalistic contributions with the Showcase Silver Award and thank the Headliners Foundation of Texas for this tremendous honor.”
Chad Cross, News Director of KXAN-TV, added, “KXAN has a history of responding to the needs and concerns of our viewers. The Showcase Silver Award for our investigative series TxTag Troubles is the latest example of living up to our promise of investigating and raising awareness of important issues, holding the powerful accountable, and ultimately getting positive changes for our Central Texas community.”
Following dozens of viewer complaints about a sudden and massive spike in their toll bills, KXAN investigators discovered millions of TxTag toll accounts sent to collections, racking up a billion dollars in late fees. The Texas Department of Transportation blamed customers for simply not paying up and refused to explore whether the system itself had problems. Following the initial report, TxTag customer service representatives came forward to KXAN as whistleblowers, sharing their own frustrations with management and how they were instructed to handle distressed customers.
For three months, KXAN investigative journalists gathered new tips and sources from people who had issues successfully uploading their bills through a secure online form and were unable to get help through TxTag customer service. After KXAN delivered its findings to TxDOT, some of the customers impacted had their accounts resolved and many of the massive fines waived. In addition, TxDOT ended its contract with an aggressive collection agency, rolled out a new law to cap fines statewide and consolidated its customer service process to improve overall efficiency.
During the course of KXAN’s investigation, both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick reacted, ordering TxDOT to cease plans to build more toll roads across the state. State lawmakers also called for an overhaul of the toll billing system and are now working to craft legislation to address the problems KXAN’s team of investigators uncovered.