AP State News Reports: Documenting dangers of Cowboys’ facility and others

July 31, 2012
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Cowboys facility collapse
In this Saturday, May 2, 2009, file photo, firefighters investigate the collapsed canopy that covered the Dallas Cowboys indoor football facility in Irving, Texas. The company that designed and built the ill-fated Cowboys’ practice facility knew long before the giant, tent-like structure collapsed three years ago that it was in danger of falling and concealed the problem, company documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal.  (AP Photo/File)
In this July 31 memo to the Associated Press staff, Managing Editor for State News, Financial News and Global Training Kristin Gazlay recounts how AP Dallas reporter Danny Robbins has led the way in investigating the dangers of a Dallas Cowboys practice facility and others built by the same company.

The 2009 collapse of a Dallas Cowboys practice facility that left one scout paralyzed and a coach with a broken vertebrae has been followed by years of litigation and investigation. And Dallas reporter Danny Robbins has followed every development, building a network of sources that has kept the AP competitive. 

Robbins' sourcing also helped set the groundwork for an AP Exclusive last week that put the collapse in new context: Unreleased documents revealed the company that built the facility knew it could fall and covered up the problem. Robbins' story was a thorough piece of investigative journalism that raised questions about the safety of many similar facilities that Summit Structures LLC has built nationwide. He pieced the story together by negotiating the release of stacks of documents, emails and handwritten notes that shed light on the events that led to the facility collapse.

The scoop played well in news and sports circles and forced the local media in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to run AP's story in full. Besides several on-air credits, the story was the centerpiece of the Dallas Morning News website and used above the fold of the Star-Telegram's print edition the next morning.

Robbins' work was just beginning when a source agreed to give him an initial set of documents. Some of the papers carried handwritten notes with startling acknowledgments that had to be verified through other means. He had to return to his source and negotiate access to further confidential depositions to substantiate the notes before they could be included in the story. The papers also included complicated architectural language and diagrams that Robbins sought expert help to understand. Then he had to find several reluctant sources implicated in the cover-up to round out the story. In all, Robbins sifted through about 1,000 pages, discovering that 11 of the company's other buildings fell before the Cowboys disaster -- a much larger number than previously reported.

Read his work here: 

For producing a distinctive, hard-hitting exclusive that underscores the essential value of the AP on the state level and beyond, Robbins wins this week's Best of the States $300 prize.

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