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L.A. TACO’s Staff Investigative Reporter Wins Second Place Anthem Award In Health Innovation Category

12:59 PM PST on February 15, 2023

Lexis-Olivier Ray, L.A. TACO's Staff Investigative Reporter, won second place in the Anthem Awards Health Innovation Product, Innovation, or Service category for his text messaging service catering to unhoused residents and service providers.

Ray launched the service on Subtext, a texting platform that connects reporters with their audiences, in 2021, with a grant and support from the USC's The Center From Health Journalism. He utilized the platform extensively while reporting on hygiene stations that the city rolled out to homeless encampments at the start of the pandemic. The multi-part investigative series revealed that the city failed to maintain the units regularly. And pushed the city to invest millions of dollars into handwashing stations and portable toilets with better oversight to make sure they’re properly maintained.

Ray’s also used the platform to share information on COVID-19, vaccines and other resources with the unhoused community in Los Angeles. As well as answer questions and find sources for stories. The campaign reaches more than 140 subscribers with a 20 percent engagement rate and 95 percent open rate.

Ray currently uses the platform primarily to send out daily sanitation schedules to unhoused residents, outreach volunteers, and journalists. Although these schedules are considered public documents, the city has at times refused to distribute them to unhoused residents, service providers and reporters before cleanings.

Giving people advance notice of sanitation cleanings, which are sometimes called "sweeps" and often lead to unhoused people being displaced or their belongings being confiscated, has helped unhoused residents better prepare for sanitation cleanings and outreach workers monitor them. In one notable example, a subscriber who found out about a sanitation cleaning through the texting service, was able to administer Narcan to someone who was overdosing during a sanitation cleaning, likely saving their life.

Presented by the Webby Awards, The Anthem Awards honors “purpose & mission-driven work” and “people creating long-lasting impact.” This year’s winners were picked from nearly 2,000 submissions from more than 40 countries around the world. Anthem Winners are selected by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Past winners include comedian Trevor Noah and Ethologist Jane Goodall.

Among this year’s honorees are Emmy-award-winning entertainer Billy Porter. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. And National Youth Poet Laureate, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman.

“Find creative ways to give the people who are most impacted by the issues that you write about easy access to your reporting,” Ray said in an acceptance speech.

L.A. TACO is a member-supported independent newsroom that was founded in 2005 to celebrate street-level Los Angeles. In 2017, it relaunched as a news and food culture platform. In 2020, it received a James Beard Award and received the prestigious “Emerging Voice” award.

If you love our reporting and are down for our vision of Los Angeles, we invite you to join us and help keep the L.A. TACO dream alive. Our members are the reason we have been able to continue redefining local journalism.

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