2010 will go down as a banner year for the Independent News. We won national recognition for coverage of the BP crisis and did more investigative reporting than any other year in our 11 years on the Pensacola scene. With a small, gifted staff and an army of talented freelancers, the IN gave its readers insight into the major stories behind the headlines. We lived up to the motto of our very first year of operation: “A good newspaper for a town that needs one.”
Top 10 Cover Stories Of 2010
1. FIGHTING FOR PAPA BEAR
Deepwater Horizon tragedy through the eyes of one victim’s family
May 20, 2010
The IN traveled to Eunice, La., home of Blair “Papa Bear” Manuel, who was one of the 11 men killed on April 20 in the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, a floating oil drilling platform 48 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Our concern was that once the tar balls hit our shores, the loss of life on that fateful day would be lost in furor. This story also gave a unique, personal look at how the offshore rigs impact the small community of Eunice, with its Eunice Superette & Slaughterhouse creating fresh boudin and the completely one-of-a-kind “Nutcracker Museum.”
The misrepresentations, broken promises and puffery of the maritime park developer
Dec. 9, 2010
After a month-long investigation and a review of hundreds of pages of documents, the IN has discovered that Scott Davison, the front man for Maritime Park Development Partners, misrepresented his development team for the largest public/private project in the history of Pensacola and his financial capabilities in his original proposal in order to qualify to be the master developer. He actively lobbied for the support of the African-American community with promises of creating a Contractor’s Academy to increase the number of minority-owned contractors and skilled workers—promises that some black leaders believe Davison has failed to fulfill.
Community Maritime Park Associates attorney Ed Fleming is still investigating the contract formation and performance by Davison and MPDP, but the CMPA board has fired MPDP as the project coordinator of the public improvements at the park.
3. BRINGING BOBBY HOME
Missing WWII pilot honored by his nation and family
Nov. 11, 2010
Sena Maddison wrote this special Veteran’s Day cover story about her great uncle Bobby Bishop, a World War II bomber pilot who went missing on a mission over Germany, and the U.S. Army’s efforts to identify his and his crew’s remains and to return them to their families. The story tells of how the son of English immigrants returned to England to fight for freedom, the agony the family endured not knowing his fate, and the fact that the Army found and identified him from remains “small enough to hold in two hands.”
4. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM BP
Past experiences with BP may point to future issues
May 13, 2010
While Northwest Florida prepared for the BP crude oil set to hit its beaches and waterways, the IN took a break from the endless series of press conferences and babble from the “BP Barbies” to talk with experts who have investigated and dealt with British Petroleum in other disasters.
The IN interviewed Greg Palast, investigative reporter for BBC Television and The Guardian newspaper, who investigated the Exxon Valdez incident for the Alaskan natives, and Texas attorney Brent Coon, who battled BP over a refinery explosion in Texas that killed 15 people and injured 170 workers and residents. From them, we learned BP’s battle plan for dealing with the media and the public in coming months.
5. WHERE’S BUD BILLINGS’ MONEY?
That question remains unanswered a year after the grisly murders of the Beulah couple
July 8, 2010
The night of the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings, their daughter, Ashley Billings Markham, told the investigators that her father carried large sums of money in a briefcase because of his business—as much as $100,000. When former business associate Henry “Cab” Tice was interviewed on “Dateline NBC,” he told reporter Keith Morrison, “Bud normally carried $20,000 in cash in his briefcase.”
No briefcase filled with money was ever found. The State Attorney’s Office and Markham’s attorney, Robert Beasley, say that there wasn’t such a briefcase missing, but others aren’t so sure.
6. THE CANDY MAN STUMBLES
Claims czar Feinberg rebuilds trust
Sept. 23, 2010
Ken Feinberg, head of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, promised to streamline the BP claims process and put generous checks into locals’ hands before they lost their homes and businesses. With $20 billion in the fund established by BP, Feinberg, who had handled claims for the 9/11 disaster, Agent Orange and the Virginia Tech massacre, became “The Candy Man” for the Gulf Coast.
Unfortunately, Feinberg and his operation stumbled out of the box when BP handed over the claims process. The claims czar had to barnstorm across the Gulf region in September to repair the process and his reputation.
Superintendent refuses final offer for Brownsville school
Nov. 18, 2010
The pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church had to give it one more try on Friday, Nov. 12. He knew that the Superintendent of Schools didn’t want him there and that his appearance may open him and his congregation up to criticism and scorn again.
On the surface, the church’s plan was simple: purchase the abandoned, aging Brownsville Middle School in what the daily newspaper had described as a “poverty-ridden, high-crime neighborhood” and convert it into a community center.
Rev. LuTimothy May walked into the school board workshop at the J. E. Hall Center knowing that Superintendent Malcolm Thomas had rejected the church’s final offer of $500,000 and refused to bring any recommendation on it to the board. However, he owed his trustees, congregation and the community one final attempt. Thomas didn’t budge. The school board refused to overrule him and the school remains vacant.
8. JUSTICE SERVED
Inside the Gonzalez murder trial
Nov. 4, 2010
Real murder trials aren’t like “Perry Mason,” where a witness collapses on the stand and admits guilt, or “Matlock,” when investigator Conrad McMasters finds a missing eyewitness at the last minute. They aren’t even like “Law & Order,” where the case is neatly closed in 60 minutes. When news broke of the home invasion and murder of a wealthy couple with nine special needs children, Pensacola was inundated with reporters. Press conferences were held daily as new information was released. The networks would break into regular programming to broadcast the latest reports. For six weeks, the investigation captivated the nation.
The trial of Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. for the home invasion robbery and murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings was over in five days. Monday was jury selection. Pat Poff, as he is also known, was found guilty of the murders. The jury recommended the death penalty, and he now awaits Judge Nicholas Geeker’s final ruling.
9. A CYCLE OF INJUSTICE?
A 1974 death reflects present-day frustrations with Steen case
March 25, 2010
Many who either witnessed or were a part of the protests involving the death of local teen Victor Steen viewed the marches, city council meetings, and the coroner’s inquest with both awe and frustration.
At times, it isn’t difficult to compare similarities between the protests that have happened as a result of Steen’s death to the marches and protests that occurred surrounding the death rattle of segregation in the South.
While there have been many local incidents in the past several decades of deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers with no indictment by the State Attorney’s Office, there is one incident which transpired in Pensacola in 1974 that particularly brings to mind the frustrations felt by those calling for further investigation into the death of Victor Steen: the death of Wendel Sylvester Blackwell.
10. COMING ASHORE
DeLuna Fest weekend is finally upon us
Oct. 14, 2010
The Pensacola Beach festival wasn’t our event. The organizers had promised all the interviews with the big name acts like Bush, Daughtry and Stone Temple Pilots to the daily newspaper, but that didn’t stop us from covering the biggest music event of the year for the Pensacola area. We devoted most of the issue to DeLuna Fest with interviews from The Submarines, Better than Ezra, The Honey Island Swamp Band, The Revivalists, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Kermit Ruffins, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Michael Franti.
We proved that our little alt-weekly knows how to cover music, even when we aren’t given the VIP treatment.
The Beast Corps
Local writers boost coverage of BP disaster
The story of the BP disaster was huge—with local, state, regional, national and international implications. The IN dedicated its time, talents and newspaper resources to telling the truth behind the environmental, health and economic disaster. From the paper’s staff’s perspective, the Gulf Coast was in a battle against a multi-billion dollar corporation that saw Northwest Florida as merely an entry in a financial report.
The IN convinced The Daily Beast to join forces with the IN to form The Beast Corps—a team of freelance writers, college students, photographers and others who covered the BP oil spill from Louisiana to the Florida Keys. In May and June, these volunteers helped us. The articles were posted online and published in the IN and gave our coverage of the biggest story of 2010 much greater depth.
THE BEAST CORPS ARTICLES
To read online, visit ricksblog.biz and search “Beast Corps.”
▶Beast Corps: Latest on Oil (May 14, 2010): Mobile, Ala. correspondent Dawn Butler reports on the tar balls hitting Dauphin Island.
▶Beast Corps: British Petroleum’s Greenwashing is a Slick Joke (May 15, 2010): Jamie Welch reports on the BP marketing machine and its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign.
▶Beast Corps: Notes on Meek’s Forum on Offshore Drilling (May 17, 2010): Logan Harrison gives his notes on Congressman Kendrick Meek’s visit to Pensacola.
▶Beast Corps: Watch Out for the Valdez Crud (May 18, 2010): Jen Bullock interviews Merle Savage who is battling health issues after helping with the Exxon Valdez cleanup.
▶Beast Corps: Hiding Behind Hotlines (May 20, 2010): Ryne Ziemba finds out who is answering the phones at the BP call centers.
▶Beast Corps: Cabinet Visits Escambia County (June 4, 2010): Franklin Hayes reports on Gov. Charlie Crist’s visit to Pensacola.
▶Beast Corps: 594 Birds, 250 Sea Turtles Dead (June 9, 2010): Jen Bullock interviews Kelly Overton, director of People Protecting Animals & Their Habitats.
Professional photographer Kim Carmichael and Pensacola Beach homeowners sent us several photos that we published online. Joe Vinson, Kevin Wheatley and Chris Hsu sent us designs that we used for our covers for “What to Expect from BP” (May 13), “Perception to Reality” (June 10) and “The Rant Issue” (June 17), respectively.
READERS’ PICKS FOR TOP 2010 COVER STORIES
1. HOODWINKED? The misrepresentations, broken promises and puffery of the maritime park developer
2. FIGHTING FOR PAPA BEAR: Deepwater Horizon tragedy through the eyes of one victim’s family
3. BRINGING BOBBY HOME: Missing WWII pilot honored by his nation and family
4. ASHTON NEEDS YOU: Readers offer suggestions to first strong mayor
5. WHERE IS BUD BILLINGS’ MONEY? Update on the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings
Feeding The Beast
BP disaster coverage propels IN to national scene
The IN expanded its reach beyond local boundaries when IN publisher Rick Outzen became a contributor to the national news website “The Daily Beast” (thedailybeast.com). In 2009, Outzen created a stir with his articles on the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, which led to him being profiled by The New York Times and within spots on “Dateline NBC” and TLC’s “Home Invasion Murders.”
The BP disaster propelled IN and its publisher to a new level. The stories—many of which also were published in the IN—gave a behind-the-scenes look at the largest man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history and increased threefold the online readership of inweekly.net and ricksblog.biz.
THE DAILY BEAST ARTICLES
Read online: thedailybeast.com/author/rick-outzen/
▶BP Tries Damage Control (May 3, 2010): BP has dispatched a “litigation mitigation team” to the Gulf, offering money to local fishermen and business owners.
▶BP’s Payoffs Backfire (May 4, 2010): The oil giant behind the spill is now apologizing after trying to get local fishermen to waive legal rights in exchange for $5,000.
▶BP’s $25 Million Insult (May 4, 2010): BP took credit yesterday for $25 million grants to states affected by the spill, but officials say they’ll blow through that within days.
▶A Florida Official Calls the Feds on BP (May 6, 2010): As oil spill victims await compensation, gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink says the petroleum giant doesn’t have a clue.
▶How BP Secretly Buys PR (May 19, 2010): Besides a stealth TV “tourism” campaign, BP is giving its local agents a blank check to “diffuse or deflect negative commentary” about the Deepwater Horizon spill.
▶Conflict of Interest in BP Legal Fight? (May 21, 2010): We discover the clerk of the judicial panel who will decide where the BP lawsuits will be tried is the first cousin of a former regulator of the sunken BP drill platform.
▶BP’s Shocking Memo (May 25, 2010): The infamous “Three Little Pigs” memo shows that BP, in a previous fatal disaster, increased worker risk to save money.
▶BP’s Windfall to the Rich (June 3, 2010): Exposing major problems with the Vessels of Opportunity program
▶How It Played in the Gulf (June 16, 2010): Gulf Coast’s reactions to watching President Obama’s Oval Office speech on the Gulf Coast
▶Cautious Optimism in the Gulf (July 16, 2010): The Florida seaport town of Pensacola has seen BP’s efforts to cap the well fail before. Will this one work?
▶BP’s Worthless CEO Shuffle (July 26, 2010): Across the weary Gulf Coast, BP’s dismissal of Tony Hayward failed to garner any goodwill.
▶Exclusive: BP Oil Spill Cover-Up (Aug. 17, 2010): While officials claim most of the oil from America’s worst-ever spill has disappeared, fishermen hired by BP are still finding tar balls—and being instructed to hide their discoveries.
▶Why the Gulf Misses BP (Sept. 15, 2010): Locals thought it was hard getting money out of the oil giant—until they had to deal with the government.
▶New Outrage in the Gulf (Nov. 30, 2010): Could Congress have prevented the BP mess? A report reveals that a law enacted after the Exxon Valdez to avoid future oil spills was deprived of cash by lawmakers.
TOP 10 NEWS AND BUZZ ARTICLES
By IN Staff
The IN staff spent more time on the road this year traveling to Tallahassee for a Tea Party rally, Washington, D.C. for the labor unions’ feeble attempt to counter Glenn Beck and to New Orleans to hear what the political professionals had to say about the midterm elections. We also broke news about leaky pipes, naughty emails, a botched Watergate-type dirty trick and sales tax audits.
1. LEAKY PIPE DAMPENS
Jan. 14, 2010
IN discovered that the closed Brownsville Middle School had a damaged underground pipe that leaked nearly 1.4 million gallons. No big deal, right? It is a big deal when the Escambia County School District is trying to sell the school “as is” for $1 million to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
2. IN CRASHES PARTY
April 22, 2010
The IN staff traveled to Tallahassee on April 15 to report on the “We the People Rally,” hosted by the Tea Party. Our YouTube videos of the event, featuring a purple Spiderman, Ben Franklin and angry protesters, became viral hits on the Internet.
3. CITY ATTORNEY BLASTED
Aug. 19, 2010
IN posted the infamous emails of City Attorney Rusty Wells. At the Pensacola City Council’s request, City Manager Al Coby requested the emails be returned. We refused.
May 6, 2010
The IN first broke on Rick’s Blog the story of Mark Clabaugh, a George Touart supporter, being arrested for allegedly attempting to break into the home of Karen Sindel, Touart’s opponent for Escambia County commissioner. The IN followed up with this article that gave a brief history into dirty trick operations in Escambia County.
5. ESP SALES TAX PROBLEM
Nov. 25, 2010
IN broke the story on local businesses being hit with ESP bills for sales taxes going back to 2006. A state sales tax audit determined the City of Pensacola owed $343,258 in back sales taxes because of miscoded customer information.
6. ELEMENTARY LETTER CONTROVERSY
Sept. 16, 2010
The letters the Escambia County School District sent home to explain each school’s FCAT grades created a controversy when some principals singled out African-American and Economically Disadvantaged students for not making adequate yearly progress. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told the IN the letters were required by federal law. However, the IN found no such requirement to word the letters as local principals were instructed to do. In fact, the Mississippi Department of Education advised against listing specific subgroups that didn’t make adequate progress.
7. FIGHTING FATHERS
Dec. 2, 2010
IN reported on the website FightingFathersofDistrict1.com, which has taken on the local judicial system and its recent rulings in family law cases.
8. 2010: THE MIDTERM RUMBLE
Oct. 28, 2010
IN reported on a panel discussion at The Daily Beast’s Innovators Summit held in New Orleans. The panel featured BC’s chief political correspondent George Stephanopoulos and included James Carville, political consultant; Harold Ford, Jr., executive vice chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Democratic Leadership Council chair; Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast; and Leslie Sanchez, founder and CEO of Impacto Group, LLC. The panel’s discussion focused upon the midterm elections.
9. FUNGI VS. THE BP OIL SPILL
July 8, 2010
IN had an exclusive interview with Paul Stamets, a renowned mycologist who believes his discovery of the oyster mushroom’s appetite for oil particles could help fight the BP oil disaster.
10. ONE NATION WORKING TOGETHER
Oct. 7, 2010
IN reported on the “One Nation Working Together” rally held Oct. 2 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to bolster support for Democratic candidates. Needless to say, it had little impact on the Nov. 2 general election, which saw the Republicans take control of the U.S. House.