About the Bayou Brief

Half of Louisiana is under water. The other half is under indictment.”
Former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin
Grand Isle Highway One | Original work by Bonnie Taylor Barry
Anyone who thinks he knows everything there is to know about politics should go down to Louisiana and take a postgraduate course.”
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Connally

by Lamar White, Jr.

Founder and Publisher of the Bayou Brief

Our Mission and History:

Launched in 2017, the Bayou Brief is Louisiana’s first and only reader-supported, digitally-oriented news and culture publication.

Since our debut, the Bayou Brief has attracted more than one million unique readers every year, building our readership organically, entirely on the quality of our content, not by paid promotions or through mining anyone’s personal data on social media. All told, we’ve published more than 700 in-depth news stories, opinion columns and personal essays, profiles, photojournalism galleries, and academic reports.

As we declared in our debut edition, “Our mission here is simple. We are here to combat misinformation, to champion our shared future, and to promote the stories and the voices of people in all corners of Louisiana.”

To that end, we are particularly inspired by a story told by the late writer John Maginnis in his book The Last Hayride, which chronicles Edwin W. Edwards’ epic and audacious 1983 campaign for an unprecedented third term as governor. At the time, the 1983 contest in Louisiana was the most expensive “nonpresidential election” in American history.

This passage, more than anything else, articulates the mission we hope to accomplish here at The Bayou Brief:

The crowd in the darkness of the courthouse is with him, enthusiastic and involved. His words cut back through the years and the money and the power and all that separates him from his backyard beginnings, striking that chord with his old neighbors, reminding them what it was like growing up—together—at the bottom of the social order. They remember. No matter that Edwin Edwards now belongs to a different world of power and money—he came from theirs. One of the senior bar patrons who has worked his way up to the front of the crowd raises his Falstaff in salute: “Un de nous autres.” He’s one of us. It wasn’t the first time I had heard that phrase, in French or in English, while following Edwin Edwards across the state. Every candidate strives for that kinship, whether pitching rednecks or Eskimos. Edwin Edwards’ special gift is that it comes not only because of his nature but because of his background. For in Marksville, where north meets south, where divergent cultures, languages and values converge and coexist, to be one of us is to cover a lot of ground. The paradoxes of Louisiana are commonplace in Avoyelles Parish, nowhere more so than in the house Boboy Edwards built on the banks of the Red River.
John Maginnis, The Last Hayride.
Following his triumphant win to a third term in 1983, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards traveled to Paris along with, as the writer Roy Blount, Jr. once described the entourage, “617 of his closest friends.” The extravaganza was planned and hosted by the Edwards’ campaign as a way to retire $4.4 million in debt. Subsequently, the trip was often characterized as the biggest single campaign fundraiser in American history.

Edwards would later withdraw from a re-election campaign in 1987 after finishing in a disappointing second place to Democrat Buddy Roemer in the jungle primary.

Four years later, with Roemer having defected to the Republican Party, Edwards reemerged once again and defeated former KKK grand wizard David Duke in what remains most sensational statewide election in Louisiana history. Edwards won by a margin of approximately 400,000 votes in a contest that attracted more than 1,728,000 million people to the polls, a record that remains nearly 30 years later.

Original photograph by Philip Gould. Transformed by the Bayou Brief.
“The Chinese have a saying that if you sit by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river.” 
Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Washington Edwards

Note: Although Edwards has repeatedly claimed that this is a Chinese proverb, the first time it ever appeared in print was in James Clavell’s 1975 novel
Shogun.

Un de nous autres. One of us.

In Louisiana, “to be one of us,” as John Maginnis so eloquently explained, “is to cover a lot of ground.” Maginnis recognized a profound truth about the state he spent his career chronicling, one that is perhaps easy to forget, especially if your understanding is limited to its most iconic city, New Orleans.

Louisiana is both much smaller and much bigger than it appears to be, and the ability to grasp that paradox, as Edwin Edwards and Huey and Earl Long did in their prime, is the key to unlocking the state’s magic.

The Bayou Brief was founded with the expressed intention of answering a few fundamental questions: What does it mean to be a citizen of the entire state of Louisiana? How can a media outlet reflect and represent the diversity of voices and perspectives of the entire state? And is it possible to cut through the noise and the biases of the state’s predominately conservative legacy media without also becoming beholden to corporate America?

The afternoon edition of the New Orleans States-Item on Nov. 22, 1963. Credit: J.S. Makkos.

Beginning in earnest during the mid-1990s a small handful tremendously successful national newspaper companies began scouring Louisiana for potential business opportunities. Specifically, they hoped to find reputable, typically family-owned papers with respectful circulations and solid financial performance located in small to mid-sized markets in which they dominated.

It wouldn’t take long for Central Newspapers and then Gannett to acquire nearly all of the state’s major newspapers outside of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, even if it occasionally meant spending astronomically high prices.

Currently, Gannett owns newspapers in Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Opelousas, Lafayette, Houma, and six other towns on all corners of the state; GateHouse Media owns four daily newspapers and six weeklies in Louisiana, and video poker mega-millionaire John Georges now dominates both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, having purchased The Advocate, The Times-Picayune, and Gambit.

For the past 77 years, the Shearman family of Lake Charles owned their hometown daily newspaper, The American Press, making them the one notable exception. In late 2020, however, the family decided to sell the paper to Carpenter Newsmedia, an affiliate of Boone Newspapers, which owns and manages more than 70 newspapers across the country.

I have lamented this unfortunate chapter in Louisiana’s media history in a number of reports and opinion pieces, but the most critical aspect of the media transformed is this: In ways both big and small, the papers, some of which had been considered vertible institutions for more than a century, had been gutted and untethered from the communities they had once served. A decade or so later, their disconnection would become dramatically exacerbated by the proliferation of social media and the ways in which platforms like Facebook used its unprecedented ubiquity in order to become the planet’s single-largest news referral service and then not only poach advertisers away from traditional media but also to charge newspapers and other third-party media outlets as well.

The only solution, as far as we saw it, was to build a free publication, one that is open and accessible to anyone interested in the content we publish, that is not dependent on advertisers but instead relies on the beneficence and financial support of like-minded readers.

The Bayou Brief does not aspire to dominate, nor do we operate under the assumption of a zero sum game. We also do not publish news content merely for the sake of filling space, and we are not interested in simply regurgitating the daily Associated Press wire. We also have made a deliberate and conscientious decision to avoid spending any resources on covering national news stories that lack any substantive connection to Louisiana or the Deep South.

Instead, we exclusively publish original stories about what we know best, and we deliberately emphasize long-form journalism.

Four years after our launch, there’s no doubt about it: The Bayou Brief has been a spectacular success.

That said, we have made plenty of mistakes and have dealt with our fair share of setbacks and false starts, but because, to a certain extent, we are attempting to create something new—a publication that is a blend of a literary journal, a free-wielding forum for political commentary, a place for allies and advocates of the marginalized and fearless critics of racism, bigotry, and nativism, a magazine of investigative journalism and cultural criticism, and an unapologetic muckraker.

I encourage you to read through our archives. What you will discover is that the Bayou Brief is, as it promised it would be, a publication that covers each and every corner of the state.

Image credit: Lamar White, Jr. | Bayou Brief