Former Advertiser reporter part of Pulitzer-winning team

Announced Tuesday, April 21, the prestigious Pulitzers included the work of a familiar name. Former Daily Advertiser reporter Angie Drobnic Holan, who wrote for Lafayette’s daily paper from 1999 to 2000, is a reporter and researcher for the St. Petersburg Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, an online service that aims to separate truth from fiction in political statements.

PolitiFact was launched by the Times in 2007, its Truth-O-Meter ruling on the accuracy of hundreds of statements made by politicians (and even anonymous chain e-mails) during the 2008 presidential campaign, according to The Poynter Institute, which owns the paper and online service. The site was relaunched in January with a broader focus on statements made by pundits and opinion makers and a new “Obameter” to track President Barack Obama’s progress on 500 campaign promises.

Reached on her cell phone the morning after the Pulitzer announcement, an elated Holan says she was taken aback that the unique Web-first site, which often incorporates editorial judgments tinged with humor in determining if someone is telling the truth, would be honored with a Pulitzer. “It was really surprising they would recognize something so new and different,” she says.

Holan, 36, has worked as a researcher at the St. Petersburg Times since 2005 and has a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining the St. Petersburg paper, she was a researcher at the Tampa Tribune and also worked as a reporter at Mobile, Ala.’s Press-Register from 2000 to 2002. Her mother, Faye Drobnic, lives in Lafayette. “I grew up in Patterson,” Holan says, “but when I go home, I go home to Lafayette.”

Here’s how site developer Matt Waite describes PolitiFact’s beginnings on Poynter Online: “PolitiFact was born when St. Petersburg Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair called me in very late May with an idea he had. He wanted to take the ‘truth squad’ idea and expand it. And he wondered if we could somehow use databases with this idea. He didn’t know how we could do that, just that we should, and that was why he was calling me. I was knee deep in learning Django, the rapid development Web framework, and immediately knew we could use Django to make this happen. Based on our conversation, I quick sketched out a series of related tables — models in Django parlance — and PolitiFact was born.”

Poynter also reports that PolitiFact is one of the first Web sites to be honored by the Pulitzers, which began considering online work in 2006.



ANOTHER PULITZER WINNER HONORED

It’s been a good month for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists with local connections, as Ken Wells — who grew up on the banks of Bayou Black — has been named a Louisiana Legend by the Friends of LPB. The acclaimed Cajun author joins retired NFL quarterback and four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw; retired United Negro College Fund president and former Congressman William H. Gray; community leader and philanthropist Joy Nalty Hodges; and longtime Louisiana legislator and educational leader Jimmy D. Long as this year’s Legends. All will be honored April 30 at the Friends of LPB’s 19th Annual Louisiana Legends Awards Gala at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.

Wells, who got his start at Houma’s Courier, has gone on to an illustrious career: a Pulitzer Prize finalist for the Miami Herald; editor of two Pulitzer Prize-winning projects for Page One of the Wall Street Journal where, over a 24-year period, he also roamed the globe covering the first Persian Gulf War and South Africa’s transition to a multiracial democracy.

Wells has since worked as senior editor for Condé Nast Portfolio magazine and is now is senior editor for Bloomberg Markets magazine in New York. Wells is the author of four well-received novels of the Cajun bayous: Meely LaBauve (2000); Junior’s Leg (2001); Logan’s Storm (2002); and Crawfish Mountain (2007). He has also penned two non-fiction books: Travels with Barley (2004), a travelogue through America’s $75 billion beer industry, and The Good Pirates of the Forgotten Bayous, a story of blue-collar heroism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Pirates was nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.

Begun in 1990, the Louisiana Legends Gala is a fundraising and public awareness project that draws support and participation across the state from viewers who value the instructional, educational and cultural programs of LPB.



Parish sales rebound in February

After sliding 7 percent in January — falling from $425 million in January 2008 to $396 million — Lafayette Parish retail sales rebounded right into the record books in February (see charts at right). February 2009 sales are the highest on record for any February, barely outpacing February 2008 by .25 percent. Retail sales for the most recent month available climbed to $410.2 million, which represents $9.5 million, or 2.3 percent, increase over January.

According to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, this is only the second time since 2005 that February sales are higher than January sales.

January’s 7 percent drop was not anticipated by most who keep a finger on the pulse of Lafayette’s economy. After all, the parish’s retail sales had held steady throughout the 2008 recession, posting a 3 percent increase over 2007.

Mall of Acadiana spokesman Brian Lutz, however, told Acadiana Business last month that he was not the least bit surprised by the drop (“Retail Sales Slide 7 Percent”). And so far, Lutz’s theory — that January 2009 sales would likely be down because of how Mardi Gras fell this year — is holding up.

Because Mardi Gras 2008 was Feb. 5, he explained, most holiday shopping took place in January 2008. That holiday spending translated into a whopping 10 percent increase in parish retail sales January 2008 versus January 2007 — a record-breaker for the month of January.

This year Mardi Gras was Feb. 24, which means local shoppers likely did their Mardi Gras spending that same month, Lutz said.

Because of the big January decline, year to date total sales are down slightly — 2.83 percent — from 2008.

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