LSU, Southern Students Win National Investigative Reporting Award

BATON ROUGE — Nine students from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and the Southern University Law Center have won a national investigative reporting prize for stories re-examining the shooting deaths of two Southern students by a sheriff’s deputy in 1972.

The prize for the best investigative work in 2022 by students at large universities was awarded by Investigative Reporters & Editors, the largest such organization in the country.

The four-part series, published in 2022, was based on dozens of interviews and nearly 2,700 pages of previously undisclosed FBI documents. It prompted Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to issue an apology to the families of the victims on behalf of the state. 

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The series examined the protests that led to the confrontation on Southern’s campus, re-created the day of the shooting and showed how the FBI narrowed its search to several sheriff’s deputies but could not prove which one fired the fatal shot. It also looked at how the deaths still haunt the families, the former protest leaders and the Black community as a whole. 

Seven Manship School students and two Southern Law students were named in the IRE award.

The team comprised Manship graduate student Drew Hawkins (who also writes for Biz New Orleans) and six Manship undergraduates: Claire Sullivan, Maria Pham, Shelly Kleinpeter, Annalise Vidrine, Allison Allsop and Alex Tirado. Pham produced videos to accompany each story.

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Southern Law students Brittany Dunn and Adrian Dubose, who graduated from the Manship School in 2021, also provided crucial reporting, including interviews with family members, protest leaders and law-enforcement officials.

Four other LSU students — Olivia Varden, Ayatt Hemeida, Cayli Pham and Brea Rougeau — assisted in the research.

The students worked on the project for 10 months, with funding provided by the Data-Driven Reporting Project created by Google News and Northwestern University’s Medill School. Each of the stories was published by 20 to 25 news outlets.

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“Researching these stories was an incredible experience for all the students,” said Christopher Drew, who led the project as the Manship School’s Fred Jones Greer Jr. Endowed Chair. “The LSU and Southern students worked seamlessly to digest the new material in the FBI documents and talk to just about every key participant who is still alive.”

The series was produced by the LSU Cold Case Project, which Drew runs with adjunct instructor Stanley Nelson, who has written two books on unresolved killings from the civil rights era. Professor Angela Allen-Bell of Southern Law also played a key role.

The Southern stories and videos are available at lsucoldcaseproject.com. The LSU Cold Case Project began in 2009, and the website contains other stories and more than 175,000 pages of FBI documents that students have gathered on a variety of cases.

Over the last three years, students also have been honored for stories on the killing of four Black men in Monroe in 1960 and on the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the only armed Black resistance group in Louisiana during the 1960s.

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