- The Best of the Bayou Brief in 2019
- The Briefcase Awards
- Best Headline
- Most Fearless
- Best Sports Reporting
- Best Education Reporting
- Best Political Commentary
- Best Environmental Reporting
- Best Crime Reporting
- Excellence in Louisiana Journalism
A Note from the Publisher
All told, in 2019, the Bayou Brief welcomed more than 1.2 million unique visitors to our online home. Some of you showed up to get the scoop on the gubernatorial race. Others arrived to learn about Louisiana’s remarkable history, inimitable culture, and the men and women whose contributions were invaluable but whose stories had been largely forgotten. And many of you came here to read about a storm named Barry.
On behalf of our entire team, thank you to all of our readers and to everyone of you who liked, shared, commented, or retweeted our work on social media. Of course, none of our work would be possible without our extraordinary benefactors and supporters. Their generosity allows us the ability to provide all of our content free of charge to readers, without the need for a paywall or a subscription, and free from advertisements and spam mail. Our supporters are all people who share our passion about Louisiana and recognize the enormous value of fact-based, independent journalism and commentary, which is especially critical at a time in which corporate consolidation has decimated local newsrooms across the state and disinformation has become rampant online.
In 2019, the Bayou Brief‘s reporting made headlines on the Drudge Report and was mentioned in the pages of the Washington Post, Slate, the New Republic, Raw Story, the Advocate, the Times-Picayune, and Christianity Today. Students at Georgetown University, the University of Minnesota, Southeastern Louisiana University, Xavier University, George Washington University, and at least one of the sixteen campuses of Kentucky’s Community and Technical College System visited the Bayou Brief to read their homework assignments. Our election coverage inspired mailers and radio ads and more than a couple of television commercials about Eddie Rispone.
Someone even bought a billboard on I-10 that referenced our reporting on car insurance premiums.
Last year, our reporting made a difference, and as we settle into 2020, another hugely consequential election year, I can guarantee one thing for certain: The Bayou Brief will only get better.
On a personal note, during 2019, as we wrapped up the decade, I was honored and enormously grateful to receive two awards for my work here on the Bayou Brief. Gambit, one of the nation’s very best weekly publications and a New Orleans institution for nearly forty years, put me on their Top 40 Under 40 list. It was a tremendous privilege to be included in a roster of vastly more impressive artists, entrepreneurs, educators, and civic leaders, and it was especially meaningful to have been chosen by a group of writers whose work I’ve always admired. I even brought along my mama, who flew in from Texas, to the awards banquet.
Incidentally, one of the other honorees was the 19-year-old filmmaker Phillip Youmans, whose debut feature film “Burning Cane” won the top prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. I was recently able to catch his movie on Netflix, and it’s a beautiful and profound meditation on spirituality and suffering in a forgotten corner of South Louisiana. It’s made even more astonishing when you consider the film was written and directed by a teenager. He also brought his mama to the awards banquet.
I am equally thankful to the hosts of the Millennial Awards, who selected me as 2019’s Outstanding Millennial Journalist. I didn’t expect to win, so I stupidly neglected to write an acceptance speech. Instead, I just told the audience, “It’s www.BayouBrief.com.” But as I later mentioned on social media, although I was born and raised in Louisiana, I moved to New Orleans only a couple of years ago, and I will always be grateful for how this city has given me a home and allowed me the ability to share my voice alongside the most diverse and most unique community in the entire country.
Speaking of awards, we have a few more to hand out here before we completely close the book on 2019. But first, we look back on our own coverage during the 21st century’s final year as a teenager.
The Best of the Bayou Brief in 2019
A little more than a year ago, at the strike of midnight on Dec. 22, 2018, the federal government officially began the longest shutdown in American history, 35 days, after President Donald Trump refused to sign any appropriations bill that didn’t include billions of dollars to construct a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States.
As a candidate, Trump had put the proposed border wall at the center of his campaign and had famously told voters that Mexico would foot the bill. But two years later, with Nancy Pelosi set to take the Speaker’s gavel back from John Boehner, some of the president’s most influential advisors- that is, the rotating roster of right-wing pundits who appeared every night on Fox News- ramped up pressure for border wall funding.
Ultimately, the impasse was resolved, though not without significant controversy, when Trump declared an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, allowing him the ability to move money that had already been appropriated for other projects to his wall.
Two months before the shutdown, in October of 2018, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a Republican from Louisiana’s Fifth District, quietly removed Terry Finley’s 2014 letter to the editor of The News Star from his campaign website. Finley’s letter praised the congressman for a promise he had made during his first election. Abraham had vowed to give every dime he earned to a hospital that treats children with cancer, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and the Independence Fund, an organization that helps double-amputee combat veterans. In his first term, that amounted to $348,000. In total, Abraham should have contributed at least $696,000 to the two charities.
But as it turned out, he didn’t make good on that promise, and if the federal government hadn’t shut down, it’s likely we would have never known the congressman had broken his word. That’s because a reporter surveyed members of Louisiana’s federal delegation to ask whether they would continue to collect their paychecks during the shutdown. Abraham’s office confirmed that yes, in fact, the congressman would take his salary, thank you very much. In doing so, they unwittingly revealed that meant Abraham had abandoned the pledge he made on the campaign trail. In many ways, it was his promise to donate a taxpayer-provided fortune to charity that distinguished him from the two other Republican candidates, the incumbent Vance McAllister and Zach Dasher, a cousin of the Duck Dynasty clan.
It was also the first major story of the 2019 gubernatorial election, because even before Abraham had been sworn in for another term in Congress, he announced his candidacy for governor. Here on the Bayou Brief, we called it the “Abrascam.”
Two days after the Abrascam story broke, a different kind of scam dominated the news here in Louisiana: The referees who officiated the NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints had missed a critical pass interference penalty that, if called, would have likely resulted in the Saints moving onto their second-ever Super Bowl.
Protests were held. Lawsuits were filed. The Rams player who had committed the penalty was fined. Saints fans refused to tune into Super Bowl LIII, which- fittingly- was only one letter off of the word “lie.”
In New Orleans, there was even a “Boycott Bowl,” a day-long, completely sold-out concert featuring Big Freedia, Dash Rip Rock, and Kermit Ruffins, among others.
Abrascam wasn’t the only featured series we debuted last January. During the very first week of 2019, the Bayou Brief’s Sue Lincoln introduced readers to the “Erector Set,” a small cabal of Baton Rouge-based construction magnates who had spent decades amassing their own fortunes and quietly accumulating enormous political influence and were now hoping to install one of their own, Eddie Rispone, as the state’s next governor.
Over the course of 2019, we published 30 different reports about the Erector Set, but throughout the year, we would continually return back to Sue’s initial four stories from January.
Not everything last January was either politics or football. We also published the first three chapters of a five-part series about the legendary Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter, none of which would have been possible without the insight and the contributions of the writer Ruth Laney and the foremost authority on Hunter’s life and career, long-time Northwestern State University professor Tom Whitehead.
In February, we kicked off the first season of our podcast “Briefly Speaking” by interviewing three of the most well-known political podcasters in the nation: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor of Pod Save America.
Although his corner of the Bayou Brief would later become known as the 13th Ward Rambler, Peter Athas published a pair of columns in February about one of his favorite subjects, Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
With much of the state in the throes of Mardi Gras, another grand Louisiana tradition- campaign season- was slightly interrupted, which provided the Bayou Brief with the perfect opportunity to tell the stories of two men from Louisiana’s past who were once again in the headlines.
On a forgotten patch of land in the outskirts of Pineville, a group of local historic preservationists commemorated the installation of a new landmark sign, and if you weren’t otherwise familiar with the unlikely backstory, then you’d be forgiven if you thought that it seems like the last place to expect to find a sign honoring Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
While the folks in CenLa were honoring “Cump,” those gathered inside of a federal courtroom in New Orleans witnessed another blast from Louisiana’s past, as Kenny Knight, David Duke’s former campaign manager, pleaded guilty to three felony counts related to his operation of a pill mill.
We wrapped up February in North Louisiana, with a report from Sue Lincoln about the ongoing saga involving orphan wells, natural gas, and an environmental emergency that had been declared but never publicly announced.
At the beginning of March, we published the kind of story that seems to occur once every three or four years in Louisiana: A politico with ties to a prostitution scandal. In this case, however, the scandal wasn’t about the politician himself; it centered around an aide to U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins. And it didn’t involve prostitution; the allegations were about something much more serious and troubling: A human trafficking ring.
A few days later, another Louisianian made headlines for being involved in a different kind of scandal. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the Bishop of Louisiana’s United Methodist Church, had the unenviable assignment of presiding over a vote at the church’s global conference in which hard-line, conservative delegates- a plurality of whom were from Africa- succeeded in adopting an anti-LGBTQ plan. As a result, the church now seems all but certain to permanently break apart.
After a drunk driver barreled into a group of bicyclists leaving the Endymion Parade, injuring several and killing two, Elizabeth Freudmann attended the funeral services for one of the victims, Sharree Walls, and shared with readers why Walls’ contributions to New Orleans were so remarkable and why so many were left devastated by her death.
Sue Lincoln returned with another installment in the Erector Set series, and although this particular report wouldn’t receive much attention until the waning days of the runoff election, it is perhaps the most critical in understanding the close friendship between Eddie Rispone and Lane Grigsby.
There are three other stories from last March that are worth particular attention.
After Jeff Landry attempted to force the governor to appoint Carolyn Prator, a conservative political operative and the wife of Caddo Parish’s Republican Sheriff, to the Red River Waterway Commission by issuing a laughable advisory opinion that asserted procedural ambiguity negated the governor’s appointing authority, a judge ruled in favor of the governor, effectively telling Landry to stay in his own lane.
Trey Poche’ explored the trade-offs as well as the pros and cons of the charter school movement in New Orleans.
And finally, we unpacked the ways in which Republican legislators attempted to use a phony audit to smear Medicaid expansion in Louisiana.
We were kept busy in April, as legislators descended back to the state Capitol for another session and we debuted “Wrecked,” a major investigative series on the high price of car insurance in Louisiana. But the month kicked off with another installment in ongoing series “Abrascam.”
Dr. Barbara Forrest contributed a fascinating report about Bro. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum and the ways in which an obscure set of beliefs known as Seven Mountain Dominionism has informed the powerful religious-right organization’s agenda.
Bro. Gene later referred Dr. Forrest’s report in a letter to his mailing list, urging recipients to send his organization money. Unfortunately, his fundraising pitch provided an incorrect link to Dr. Forrest’s report and grossly distorted her findings, brazenly inventing statements he then misattributed to her in order to bolster the ludicrous claim that he was somehow the victim of a vast conspiracy.
Casey Parks explored the ways in which LSU’s now-outgoing President F. King Alexander had prioritized diversity not only as a moral imperative but also as a financial necessity.
Sue Lincoln told the riveting story of St. Rosalie, Louisiana in this two-part report.
Like millions across the globe, we were also horrified by the fire-bombings of historic African American churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish.
As we mentioned earlier, April was also when we debuted the series “Wrecked,” and if you didn’t catch it the first time, you should consider taking the time to read the entire series soon, as it appears the legislature will once again consider the same bogus solutions it rejected last year.
Last but certainly not least, Peter Athas assembled this must-read/must-watch list of the Top 40 films set in Louisiana.
At the beginning of May, the media landscape in Louisiana changed forever when the Advocate’s owner, John Georges, a mega-wealthy entrepreneur and erstwhile political candidate who had turned his family-owned grocery distribution company into a multi-billion dollar video poker empire, announced he had purchased the Times-Picayune.
In May, we also continued our series “Wrecked” with five additional reports.
And U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham continued to provide ample material for another ongoing series, “Abrascam.”
It was only a matter of time before one of Lamar’s favorite subjects, Louisiana College, made headlines again.
And finally, Peter Athas followed up his list of the Top 40 films set in Louisiana with this must-read/must-listen list of the Top 50 Louisiana Tunes.
We kicked off the month of June with a pair of opinion columns about an issue that continues to divide the nation and had threatened to fracture the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Later that month, Sue Lincoln opened up to readers about the devastating loss of her husband Don, who had passed away in early May from a bacterial infection while awaiting a heart transplant, publishing this poignant tribute to his remarkable life and career.
We made a number of changes to the website in June, debuting a new template, a new masthead, and a series of new logos.
June was also National Pride Month, and Dylan Waguespack, a friend to our entire team and Louisiana’s most prominent trans advocate, wrote this extraordinary opinion column about why LGBTQ people and their allies “must name and claim Louisiana for the future of all.”
There was another major report in our investigative series “Wrecked.”
And an important addition to the “Erector Set” series.
We ended the month with a meditation about and a reaffirmation of Louisiana’s magic.
When we launched the Bayou Brief, we vowed to do as much as we possibly could to amplify the important stories that are too often overlooked by a state media largely centered around Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In July, Sue Lincoln brought readers the saga of a power struggle between the Chief of Police and the Mayor of the small but mighty town of Many (Man-e) in Sabine Parish, located about thirty miles west of Natchitoches (if you can’t pronounce Natchitoches, chances are you don’t know where it is on a map either).
It wasn’t the only geography lesson Sue would provide that month. She followed up her report on the fireworks in Many with a travelogue of sorts.
In July, as Louisiana braced itself for Barry, we also featured this astonishing debut story from the Bayou Brief’s cultural editor, Lydia Y. Nichols.
And speaking of Barry, our criticism of the parachute press and its demonstrably over-hyped coverage of the looming storm became our most-read story of all-time.
Although the storm was a
There was this report by Sue Lincoln about Ralph Abraham continuing to operate a medical practice, despite his promises to the contrary.
And there were three others about Abraham’s fellow Republican opponent, Eddie Rispone.
Finally, after a months-long investigation, Lamar shared his findings about the ways in which Alexandria had turned an award-winning city festival into an embarrassing debacle.
In August, we lost two extraordinary Louisianians, the New Orleans-based “superconnector” Ray Nichols and the beloved trailblazing Queen Bee, former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.
Sue camped out at the Secretary of State’s office and provided us with dispatches about what was happening behind-the-scenes as candidates lined up for qualifying.
She also gave us the skinny on the races for the State Senate, Insurance Commissioner, and Agriculture Commissioner.
Lamar shared the timeless classic about the Louisiana mayor who hoped to get his city into the catfish farming business by transforming an old city swimming pool into a fully-stocked catfish pond but whose bold vision had one tragic blind spot: The pool-turned-pond’s razor-sharp fan blades.
Troy Gilbert also dove deeply into Louisiana’s past and retold a story that had once fascinated the entire world but had since been all but forgotten for nearly 150 years.
Lamar’s friends at Louisiana College would make another round of headlines in August after he revealed the school’s new draconian policy on social media use.
But without question, the most consequential report in August was about two small pharmacies in rural Louisiana, a massive quantity of opioids, and a congressman who was running for governor.
With the jungle primary now only a month away, Lamar’s series “Pharmland” would dominate the Bayou Brief’s coverage for most of September.
Also in September, the Bayou Brief’s Cayman Clevenger decided to take a trip to Lafayette to learn about the story and the artist behind the year’s iconic “I Voted” sticker.
And Lamar took a trip through the forgotten pages of Louisiana history in order to tell the harrowing story of a massacre on Alexandria’s Lee Street.
With the jungle primary finally within sight, we kicked off the month of October with- what else?- a biographical essay about the life of LSU’s “founder,” George Mason Graham, and a fascinating story by Troy Gilbert about the “negro captains” that had helped rebuild Louisiana in the aftermath of the Civil War.
There was one critical race that we had neglected until only a week before Election Day: Acadia Parish Clerk of Court. But in all seriousness, the race between the incumbent Robby Barousse and challenger Emily Stoma provided us with the opportunity to tell the story of how the Barousse family has dominated Acadia Parish since before the place even had a proper name and how three consecutive generations of Barousse men have controlled the clerk’s office in Crowley like the Crawley family control Downton Abbey in Yorkshire.
And speaking of aristocracy and Crowley, in October, we also published a series of colorized photographs of John and Jackie Kennedy’s epic 1959 visit to the 23rd annual Rice Festival. With an estimated attendance of anywhere between 97,000 and 125,000 people, it wasn’t just the single-largest campaign event of the entire 1960 presidential election season; since then, with the exception of presidential inaugurations, no other American political candidate has drawn more people to a single event. (This will be the subject of an upcoming story).
Prior to Election Day, we featured a lengthy recap of our campaign coverage.
And afterward, with the gubernatorial field now winnowed down to John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone, we published a pair of stories unpacking some of the most interesting details contained within Rispone’s campaign finance reports.
But October’s most-read story wasn’t about any of the candidates running for office; it was about a man who described himself as a “kingmaker,” Lane Grigsby.
Although the runoff election was imminent, we weren’t quite finished with the “Erector Set” series. In early November, after discovering a document that listed Rispone as a member of a company headquartered in Nevada, we reported on how he had established a shell company in the tax haven sometimes referred to as the Silver State in order to hold his Louisiana-based business’s retirement fund.
But the governor’s race wasn’t the only thing on our radar. We were also the first to report on how Louisiana Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin violated state law when he participated in a rally hosted by Donald Trump.
In our final report about candidate Eddie Rispone, we revealed secretly-recorded audio of Rispone at a high-dollar, closed-door fundraiser explaining why he decided to dodge all but one debate during the runoff election.
And on the eve of the election, we reported on how early voting numbers presaged the emergence of a new electorate than the one that had shown up during the jungle primary. .
John Bel Edwards, of course, beat Eddie Rispone in the runoff and secured a second, four-year term as Louisiana governor.
Sue Lincoln provided her take on the campaign season’s biggest blind spot.
And Lynda Woolard explained the ways in which a ground game that fired on all cylinders proved to be critical to Edwards’ victory.
Although the election was now in the rear view mirror, there were a couple of more critical takeaways that demanded our attention. In “The Winning Message,” Lamar explored how John Bel Edwards benefitted from a well-disciplined messaging strategy and effectively neutralized Donald Trump’s effort to turn the race toward Rispone by simply never taking the bait.
And Stephen Handwerk, the veteran executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, explained how Edwards’ campaign brilliantly utilized the party’s sophisticated data management tools.
Last month, we also debuted the first episode of our new limited podcast series “Combat in the Courtroom,” which is about the remarkable sixty year career of Louisiana criminal defense attorney Mike Fawer. In Episode One, Mike recalls his successful defense of Aaron Mintz, a well-known New Orleans furniture store owner who had been accused of murdering his wife Palma and whose 1984 trial became the city’s first TV show trial (despite the fact that cameras were not allowed in the courtroom).
The Briefcase Awards
Recognizing the Best Louisiana Journalism in 2019
2019 was a great year for Louisiana journalism and for journalism about Louisiana. The Advocate won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Local News Reporting and was named as a finalist for Best Editorial Writing. There were riveting stories about corrupt judges and corrupt district attorneys, about high school football in the tiny town of Erath, and about how petrochemical plants have polluted a part of the state now known as Cancer Alley.
There was also some truly terrible journalism about Louisiana, but truth be told, the worst reporting wasn’t published by a Louisiana outlet or written by a Louisiana reporter.
In Part One of our Year-End Brief, we revived a series of awards- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- that Bob Mann once handed out every year in the pages of the Times-Picayune. In the second and final installation, we are launching a new annual series of prizes, the Briefcase Awards, which recognizes the very best of Louisiana journalism.
That’s right. We’re not interested in lampooning our fellow Louisiana reporters and columnists, even if they definitely deserve a little good-natured ribbing (see: Dan Fagan’s column in the Advocate about Conrad Appel; see also: Dan Fagan’s other columns in the Advocate). Instead, we want to share some love and appreciation for the people and publications here in Louisiana and across the country that have enriched our knowledge and commanded our respect.
Its last two call letters may be “BS,” but there’s nothing inaccurate about the headline that one obviously bemused web editor at Shreveport’s ABC affiliate, KTBS, used to update their online followers about a legal challenge over outgoing state Rep. Barbara Norton’s residency.
Unable to seek another term in the state House due to term limits, Norton qualified to run for a seat in the state Senate. There was just one problem: Norton didn’t actually live in the district. And when her would-be opponent challenged her qualifications, Norton, who became somewhat of an internet sensation after a video of her introducing the state House to a performance of the song “Halle Berry” by her nephew Hurricane Chris went viral, concocted an elaborate and ludicrous plan to convince a judge otherwise.
As KTBS’s headline indicates, Norton claimed to reside in the same small home as a registered sex offender, and unfortunately for Norton, the sex offender had a parole officer who regularly checked in on the man and knew that his roommate was not a three-term state representative. The man actually lived alone, and Norton, as it turns out, didn’t even know his name.
But that’s not the only hilariously absurd part of the story. Barbara Norton, anticipating a visit from an officer of the court, arrived at the man’s home (presumably he was sub-letting it from her tenant), made herself a sleeping palette on the living room sofa and when the officer arrived in the morning, she greeted him at the door in a nightgown. She’d thought of everything except for one critical detail: She forgot her wigs.
The court ruled against Norton, disqualifying her as a candidate.
But the truly unfortunate thing about this whole story is that KTBS changed its epic headline within only a few hours of publication.
Big Easy Magazine
When Scott Ploof founded the digital publication Big Easy Magazine in 2018, he didn’t exactly attempt to conceal its political perspective. “Unapologetically progressive,” Ploof announced. It became the online magazine’s calling card; they even sell t-shirts of the slogan.
But in New Orleans, there’s nothing necessarily controversial about being “unapologetically progressive.” There is, however, one inviolable, albeit unwritten commandment in The City That Care Forgot: Thou shalt not bear false witness against Saint Drew Brees.
Last year, Ploof’s publication made national headlines after its editor and contributing writer, Kentucky-transplant Jenn Bentley, helpfully pointed out to Brees that he had a years-long history of promoting the virulently anti-LGBTQ organization Focus on the Family, led by Madame Tussaud’s James Dobson. To be sure, the initial iteration of Bentley’s article, which quickly went viral, was considerably more skeptical about Brees’ mens rea (that’s Latin for “guilty mind”), and presumably after being made aware of Brees’ not-so-great record of off-the-field gullibility (believe it or not, a word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary), she decided to retool the report and provide him with enough room to avoid the sack and throw a strike downfield. (Incidentally, all of this was set into motion because of a tweet from the Bayou Brief’s own Ed Branley).
Instead, Brees scrambled, sharing a video on social media of him reading an over-workshopped word salad that managed to take every side of the issue while presenting himself as an earnest do-gooder and Big Easy Magazine as big ol’ meanies who traffic in “click bait.” It was a clueless sport agent’s idea of crisis communication.
Suffice it to say, it was not his finest performance. In fact, he managed to only make things worse. Ploof and Bentley were both bombarded with hate mail from sycophantic Brees fans who apparently never paid attention during Sunday School, and instead of serving as his final word on the kerfuffle, the ham-handed video opened Brees up to a second and third round of questions: How could he not be aware of Focus on the Family’s track record? How could he square his claim that he’d never support an organization that promoted intolerance against LGBTQ Americans with his promotion of Focus on the Family? Brees attempted to suggest that the criticism had solely concerned his most recent video on behalf of the organization’s Bring Your Bible to School Day, which, incidentally, is a right that has never been infringed- on any day- in any public school in America, but Big Easy Magazine’s report wasn’t just about the most recent video; it was about his years-long advocacy on behalf of Focus on the Family.
Ultimately, Brees acknowledged that he hadn’t been previously aware of the controversial and divisive positions the organization has taken on LGBTQ rights, and undoubtedly, he won’t ever cut a commercial for Focus on the Family again. Regrettably, he didn’t retract his criticism of Big Easy Magazine, the locally-owned independent publication that brought the issue to his attention, but considering he is the greatest quarterback of all-time and led the Saints to victory in their first-ever Super Bowl, we’re okay with cutting the guy some slack.
Best Sports Reporting
“When My Louisiana School and Its Football Team Finally Desegregated” by Jeré Longman, New York Times
At its very best, sports reporting can be a sublime and profound meditation on the vicissitudes of life, human triumphs and tragedies, and the lingering and sometimes oppressive residue of history. At its very best, sports reporting can transcend its genre so much that the label “sports reporting” seems to cheapen or trivialize what the story is really about. At its very best, sports reporting doesn’t require the reader to know a damn thing about sports.
Jeré Longman’s story about his old high school football team, the Eunice High Bobcats, and his old high school football coach, Joe Nagata, is more of a personal essay than it is a dispatch from the gridiron, but at its core, there’s still a game being played. And Longman is, in fact, a sports reporter.
In order to tell this story, which is about football but also about the lifelong friendship between an Asian American coach and an African American player, Longman, who is himself white, first has to return to his hometown of Eunice, Louisiana, a small city cradled in between St. Landry and Acadia Parishes— 30 miles northwest of Lafayette as the crow flies, 44 miles as the road winds.
There’s no need to spoil anything about Longman’s story, except to say that by the time you reach its ending, many of you will undoubtedly disagree with notion of characterizing it as sports reporting. We agree. It’s much more than that.
Best Education Reporting
“From prison to dean’s list: How Danielle Metz got an education after incarceration” by Casey Parks, The Hechinger Report
It’s true: This story did appear in the Bayou Brief, and it was written by Casey Parks, who is listed somewhere on our masthead as a contributing editor. But we’re not violating our own self-imposed prohibition against self-dealing because this particular story was first published by the Hechinger Report, a fantastic nonprofit outlet that covers education policy both across the planet and right here in our backyard.
Casey tells the remarkable true story of Danielle Metz, a New Orleans native who was able to turn her life around following a stint behind bars and graduate from college near the top of her class, all thanks to a pair of massively consequential actions, one undertaken by former President Barack Obama and the other by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
During Obama’s final year in the White House, he commuted the life sentence Metz had been given in 1993 for her involvement in a cocaine ring operated by her then-husband, a man she described as physically and psychologically abusive. A year later, John Bel Edwards signed into a law a bill that prohibited public colleges from asking about an applicant’s prior criminal history, making Louisiana the very first state in the country to successfully “ban the box” from college applications.
There’s a fantastic coda to this: Casey’s story about Danielle Metz eventually made its way onto the pages of USA Today, which is how it caught the attention of former President Obama, who graciously sent an encouraging handwritten note of congratulations to Metz.
Best Political Commentary
“The Louisiana Governor’s Debate Was an Absolute Car Wreck” by Charles Pierce, Esquire
Although he was born and raised in Massachusetts, where he still lives full-time, and despite the fact that he even wrote an entire book about the New England Patriots, there are very few- if any- national political columnists who possess the kind of command about Louisiana politics, both past and present, like Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce. “There absolutely is not enough gild in the world for this lily,” Pierce wrote about the 2015 story, first broken by the Bayou Brief’s Lamar White, Jr., of how David Vitter’s paid spy was caught eavesdropping on Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand by Newell’s friend, who also happened to be a paid spy. “God love Louisiana.”
Throughout Bobby Jindal’s eight tumultuous years as governor, Pierce paid close attention, and every now and then, whenever he felt inspired, he’d turn his pen against Jindal with devastating, laser-like precision. “There is no bottom to the barrel that is ‘Bobby’ Jindal, wandering governor of Louisiana and walking asterisk in the presidential contest,” he once wrote. “There is no national tragedy that this charlatan cannot make worse.” Jindal was like “the battered bit of old presidential timber presently warping out behind the bait shoppe.”
During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Pierce stood with our delegation during President Obama’s speech. “On the crowded convention floor on Wednesday night, as the President of the United States gave his heart and his soul to the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton to succeed him, I found a spot to stand with the delegation from Louisiana, which has been the center of so much heartbreak and redemption over the past 10 years, and which also is the place where the American concept of cool was born, the one that captured the world through a million silver trumpets,” Pierce wrote.
But Pierce isn’t getting our Lifetime Achievement Award (that belongs to someone else). This year, after watching the one and only runoff debate between Eddie Rispone and John Bel Edwards, Pierce said what most political writers in Louisiana had been either too polite or too muzzled to admit openly: Eddie Rispone knows nothing about government. Zero.
“On Wednesday night, while Game Seven was in commercial, I switched over to Louisiana Public Broadcasting to catch some of the debate between Edwards and Rispone. I thereupon missed most of the middle innings because I couldn’t look away. Some debates are car wrecks. This was Figure-8 racing from Islip, Long Island. Every candidate cranks up the old fog machine in the latter stages of a campaign, but Rispone’s is a threat to commercial aviation.
“The man knows nothing about government. Not in the sense of ‘unfamiliar with the nuances of how political institutions operate,’ but in the sense of ‘ab-so-fcking-lute-ly nothing.’ His entire campaign seems to be based on the phrase, ‘I’m a businessman and I know how to get things done.’ (Huey Long would be appalled.) On occasion, Edwards had to use up half his allotted time to answer for the purposes of explaining to Rispone that, no, votes in the state legislature are not decided by rock-paper-scissors. For his part, Edwards, who was handed a dead fish by outgoing governor Bobby Jindal, defended his record and tried to get Rispone to respond to a question without sounding like he’d beamed in from Alpha Centauri.
“‘I am a person,’ Rispone replied on one occasion, ‘of myself.’”
Best Environmental Reporting
“Polluter’s Paradise” by Tristan Baurick, the Times-Picayune; Lylla Younes, ProPublica, and Joan Meiners, the Times-Picayune
In their absolutely essential multi-part series “Polluter’s Paradise,” reporters with ProPublica, the Times-Picayune, and the Advocate* reveal the frightening truths about Cancer Alley, the carcinogenic corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans home to the nation’s largest concentration of oil and gas and petrochemical plants.
Throughout the series, a team of investigative reporters use the harrowing accounts of people living in a part of the country that has produced unimaginable wealth for a handful of multinational conglomerates to tell a larger story about government and corporate negligence, greed, and multigenerational poverty. Some of these stories may be familiar. For example, they spend time in St. Rosalie, Louisiana, the community that Sue Lincoln chronicled earlier in the year for the Bayou Brief. But much of their reporting is new and urgent.
*As a general rule, when a reporter’s byline includes the Times-Picayune and the Advocate, publications that are under the same ownership and feature the same content, the Bayou Brief lists only the Times-Picayune in order to avoid the confusion created by its publisher’s frivolous attempt at co-branding.
Best Crime Reporting
“Cain and Abel and Oil” by Ian Frisch, New York Magazine
The wild and sordid saga of the Knight brothers- Bryan and Mark- is already well-known to the people of Acadiana, largely thanks to the diligent and exhaustive reporting of the local media. Still, it’s somewhat surprising that it wasn’t until this year that the Brothers Knight earned national attention.
We will defer to the Current’s Leslie Turk to set up the story. From her interview with writer Ian Frisch:
“There is so much we didn’t know outside of the narrative investigators painted: In a fit of desperation to keep control of the lucrative family business, a filthy rich oilfield CEO allegedly hires a bumbling fool and two dirty cops to set his younger brother up in a June 2014 drug bust.
“Red flags everywhere, prosecutors opt not to pursue the charges the following January.
“A few months later, after being threatened by said bumbling fool, a frightened company employee tips off (legit) law enforcement, and the perps are arrested and charged in the conspiracy.
“The story dropped like a bombshell, rocking the community. It was the beginning of the end of Knight Oil Tools.
“Now comes a detailed story of what led to the sibling rivalry that left a mother and sister caught in the middle and ultimately stripped each sibling of tens of millions of dollars of net worth.”
Excellence in Louisiana Journalism
When Jim Beam was 10 years old, Old Tub Distillery of Clermont, Kentucky decided rebrand itself in honor of Col. James Beauregard Beam, the great-great-grandson of the distillery’s founder Jacob Beam and the man who saved the family-owned company from the brink of ruin during Prohibition. Henceforth, the distillery and its signature bourbon would be known simply as Jim Beam, which has either been an occasional source of amusement or a constant annoyance for the younger Beam.
The rebranded distillery slapped the slogan “None genuine without my signature” on every bottle of bourbon that made its way out of Clermont, Kentucky, which, in another context, may have proven to be a huge problem for a writer who signed the same name on everything he wrote as well.
Around 20 years ago, in the Alexandria Daily Town Talk, you could occasionally find a syndicated column by Jim Beam published alongside a letter to editor by the prolific local epistolarian, Jack Daniels. No doubt, Daniels’ chances of finding his letter in the paper were directly correlated to Beams’ decision to find something worth writing about.
At 86, the long-serving columnist for the Lake Charles American Press is more than a familiar name; he is a Louisiana institution. Six years ago, he was inducted into the state’s political hall of fame. Last September, outgoing state Senate President John Alario donated $15,000 to McNeese State University Jim Beam Scholarship in Journalism. And last year, Beam was prodigious, relentless, informed, and razor-sharp in his analysis of the issues and the cast of characters that comprised the governor’s race.
He is the dean of the Louisiana media, a hard-working columnist- perhaps the hardest-working columnist in the state- and someone who is always ready with an opinion but never unnecessarily cruel or hasty.
We could think of no one better to honor than the legendary Jim Beam, a voice that those in the news business in Louisiana recognize as wise, decent, and, yes, genuine.