Seventeen months ago, we launched the Bayou Brief together. Whether you are a sustaining donor or a one-time contributor, whether you attended one of our early events or shared our most recent articles, and whether you provided us a news tip, told us your story, or simply offered your kindness and encouragement, you built this publication with us. From the very beginning, our mission has always been based on a French expression known in parts of Acadiana: Un de nous autres. It means “One of our own.”
During past year and a half, we have tried to live up to that by telling the stories of Louisiana, and we have learned more about the spirit and the truth about this inimitable, occasionally maddening, and occasionally magical place than anyone could possibly learn through a class or from a book.
We owe all of this to you, our readers.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
A Brief History of the Brief
This venture was, in part, the a result of a series of informal brainstorming sessions held at (but unaffiliated with) LSU on a weekend in December of 2015. The state had just elected a new governor, and a small group of us- primarily people in their twenties and thirties- gathered to answer some daunting questions.
The biggest question was: How do we advance meaningful change in Louisiana?
This wasn’t a elite group of paid partisans or ambitious lobbyists; most of those in attendance were from places far outside of Baton Rouge. We were there to consider the big picture, to view our shared future through a wide-angle lens.
One thing emerged over and over again: The old media stand-bys weren’t doing their jobs.
Local newspapers were cutting newsroom staff, shutting down, or being gobbled up by out-of-state conglomerates. Similar corporatization of radio stations had cut radio “news” down to one-minute updates that weren’t much more than a brief reading of recycled headlines; the airwaves, instead, became dominated by national conservative commentators. Television news had shuttled issues-oriented stories to the third or fourth block of their shows – if they covered any at all – as ratings races (and the resultant revenue boosts for higher ratings) kept stations stacking their stories based on the premise of “If it bleeds, it leads.”
With so many in Louisiana turning to the internet and social media for their news updates, we knew there was an opportunity to fill the gap — with longer-form journalism that could delve into topics and issues from around the state, providing the in-depth coverage so often lacking in local conventional media outlets.
We wanted to make this accessible to all.
Political issues were going to be a big focus; this is Louisiana, after all. But what we didn’t want was media funded by oil and gas interests or reliant on campaign advertising. Preferably, we wanted no dependence on advertising whatsoever. That meant this new enterprise would have to be a non-profit, but a 501(c)(4), social welfare organization focused on educating the public on issues of significant importance.
Lamar White, Jr. had already been writing about Louisiana for more than a decade, and although his website CenLamar had garnered recognition and a reliable readership, it was a hobby rather than what we recognized Louisiana truly needed.
So, Lamar decided to go “all-in;” he drained his savings to provide seed money, and he began to pitch the idea to like-minded friends and people who shared the same type of passion and hope about Louisiana.
You know who you are, and we thank you for your vision and faith!
La douleur exquise
There is another phrase in French, but it’s not as easily translated into English: La douleur exquise. Roughly, it means the pain of unrequited love. While the expression may primarily have romantic connotations, it also captures the relationship so many of us born, raised, connected, or simply in love with Louisiana have with this beautiful but often baffling place.
It also describes how we felt during the time it took to bring this idea to fruition.
Yet finally, in June 2017, BayouBrief.com published its first story, an 8,000-word piece about the Colfax Massacre.
Creating a better future requires all of us to take an unflinching look at the past.
The conservative-dominated online media that was ascendant during Gov. Jindal’s administration trafficked in gossip and mean-spirited innuendo for so long they weren’t sure what to make of us.
By the end of our first calendar year, an anonymous conservative blogger who had previously claimed to be a Republican state representative publicly questioned our sustained viability, in online Republican-affiliated trade publication.
At the start of 2018, what can be termed “a great blessing” came our way: Sue Lincoln joined the staff. We’d been asking (begging, actually!) her to write for us since the Bayou Brief’s inception, but her contract with Louisiana’s NPR-affiliate stations prohibited it. Her retirement from radio gave her the freedom and the time to cover the Louisiana legislature for us. Little did we know (though she guessed) that it would be four legislative sessions, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, over more than five grueling months.
Your support and appreciation of her work allowed us to to make it a permanent arrangement, and, as our investigative editor, she has worked tirelessly on uncovering environmental issues that plague our state – as well as contributing to our coverage of the midterm elections.
You’ve helped spread the word about the stories we’re telling — sharing our articles with friends and followers on social media. That’s meant that important information, like Lamar’s videos of Cindy Hyde-Smith and Sue’s piece about the Bayou Bridge pipeline protesters, have gotten national attention. We’re grateful for your assistance in extending the reach of these articles. We couldn’t have done this without you!
Mistakes, we’ve made a few
We admit we’ve made some blunders, too: We concentrated (some say too hard) on writing and publishing good stories, rather than on growing our donor base widely and expanding to the full range of content topics we hoped to cover. But we’re hoping to remedy that in 2019 – with your help.
We wanted to encourage new, young writers to develop into regular columnists, yet because of their real-life demands, too many turned out to be one-and-done article authors.
We will always remain committed to providing opportunities for talented freelance writers to contribute, but we recognize that we need a more robust editorial and news team to mentor and assist emerging voices.
We struggled to find a development and donor management professional. Ultimately, we are to blame for the boxes of undelivered coffee mugs that we had hoped to send out to those who supported us financially. Some of those boxes may be lost forever, but we will keep our word.
We’d like to start a newsletter for our subscribers and supporters. This would provide additional content, including news briefs on topics of interest that don’t warrant a full article, and follow-up info and results regarding articles we have published.
We’d like to expand our content and hire at least one other full-time reporter, with a primary focus on poverty and education-related issues.
We want to change the look of our website – give it the look and feel of a complete news source, with room to accommodate our growth. Migrating all our current content to the new format will require the services of a web guru.
We need to engage the services of a development director; to seek out grant opportunities, co-operative endeavors with other publications, and organize events for you, our readers.
We’re expanding our Board of Directors (don’t worry– we don’t pay them!) to provide guidance and engagement in advancing the goals and mission of the Bayou Brief. We’d also like to add an Advisory Board to the mix (also unpaid), to give us fresh ideas and a bit of cachet.
Here’s the hard part – the ask. Achieving most any of these goals requires funding. We don’t have any intention of putting our content behind a paywall. And we certainly don’t intend to start cluttering up the content you see with any advertising whatsoever.
You’ve supported us with your likes and shares on Facebook, and with your likes and retweets on Twitter. Now we’re asking you to support us financially, as well. It doesn’t have to be a big dollar amount all at once (though we’ll accept that, with much gratitude!) It can be as little as five dollars a month – less than the expense of one run to the fast-food or coffeehouse drive-thru.
And while your donation isn’t tax-deductible like a conventional charity, you can claim your contribution as a business expense. Additionally, your anonymity is assured. As a 501(c)4, we are not required to divulge our donors.
What we are required to do – by the strength of our convictions – is once again express how much we appreciate all your support and encouragement: past, present and future!