The Sun Herald newsroom saw a lot of changes in 2018, just like the rest of the Mississippi Coast and the country.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to high-quality, investigative journalism — the kind TV stations and national websites can’t provide.
We enjoy writing about viral social media posts of local interest (like the Ocean Springs father who flew with his flight attendant daughter on Christmas), and covering some statewide issues and politics (with visits from not one but two Trumps), and offering practical information (like Cruisin’ the Coast schedules and how to report robo-calls).
But that’s not our main focus.
Our goal for 2019 is to keep giving you the kind of content — stories, videos and photos — that you can’t get anywhere else.
Here are the best examples of Sun Herald journalism from 2018:
Margaret Baker just happened to be in a Jackson County courtroom when a case involving the mistreatment of a special needs student came up. After obtaining exclusive surveillance video, she broke the story of how an incident on a school bus led to assault charges for a teacher and bus driver. The story also led to a state Department of Education investigation and policy changes at the school district.
One of the most-read stories was how black Republicans were voting for Cindy Hyde-Smith despite her “public hanging” gaffe.
With race a top issue of 2018, the annual black spring break event made headlines when law enforcement upped their presence and attendees said they felt unwelcome.
Readers were concerned to hear how the state is earning millions by selling Mississippian’s personal data.
One story took six years to come to light. Reporters had learned of the suicide of Michaela Hill in 2012 while reporting one of the largest investigations the Sun Herald has done in recent years. She worked for the state Department of Marine Resources, and tried to bring to light the wrongdoing that eventually landed its leaders in prison.
Those leaders also made headlines when the Sun Herald questioned how they could afford front-row seats at Shuckers games while owing thousands in court payments.
The Sun Herald shared stories of LGBTQ individuals in the Deep South for the podcast “Out Here in America.” Although both Justin Mitchell and Amanda McCoy moved on to other newspapers, their favorite episodes include how Margaret Baker uncovered the case that led to the first federal hate crime charge involving a transgender victim, and how a transgender man opening a CrossFit gym in New Orleans.
For the 45th anniversary, the Sun Herald recounted the out-of-this-world story of the UFO abduction in Pascagoula.
Gang violence and crime is unfortunately an ongoing issue on the Coast, and Sun Herald reporters have devoted time to uncovering its effects on communities, families and the justice system. Our focus is now to go beyond individual arrests, indictments and sentencings in order to offer a bigger picture.
In possibly the most high-profile gang killing this year, Anita Lee attended the trial of Simon City Royal Josh Peterman and recorded grisly details of how Tena Broadus was brutally murdered, recounted in testimony by people who were there and high on meth.
Another high-profile incident was the Super Bowl shooting in Moss Point, and Baker took time to investigate the workings of the gang operating there and in Pascagoula called Gunz, Bricks, Money.
Robin Fitzgerald explained one of the most popular crimes this holiday season — credit card skimming. She also continued a Sun Herald tradition of compiling a list of Coast law enforcement agencies’ most-wanted criminals.
She also covered the tragic police shooting of a mentally ill 15-year-old in his own Harrison County home, emphasizing how the mental health system had failed him.
The trial and re-trial of George County jail nurse Carmon Brannan went on for most of 2018. Her first trial ended in a hung jury before she was found guilty of causing the death of a diabetic inmate. Baker covered the trials and listed the 60 people who wrote letters of support for the well-connected Brannan.
One of the odder crime stories of the year was that of longtime Coast doctor Albert Diaz, who was convicted and sentenced in a conspiracy to commit health care fraud, falsifying records and distribution of ketamine. Many people came to the defense of the then-78-year-old beloved doctor.
Photojournalist John Fitzhugh spent months documenting what life is like for combat veterans as they transition back to civilian life. He was able to share the perspective of veterans’ family members, and also detailed how efforts by the Veterans Administration have yet to make a dent in the national problem.
Toxic mold in military housing has made national headlines recently, and Anita Lee uncovered lawsuits involving Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. As soon as one family would move out, the moldy surfaces would be cleaned, and another family moved in, the lawsuit said.
The Sun Herald also followed the fate of veterans when the Armed Forces Retirement Home when it raised rates to cover a budget deficit. Although concessions were made, many retirees still had to move out because of factors like existing debt.
Mary Perez has long covered the casino industry, as well as tourism and development across the Coast. Her stories on sports betting coming to Mississippi were shared nationwide, and Sun Herald readers particularly enjoyed her interview with the new vice president of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, who started as a dishwasher.
She and others at the Sun Herald stay on top of what businesses are coming to — and leaving — the Coast. Those stories are listed in our top openings and closings of the year, from the new amusement part at Margaritaville to an exclusive first look at Island View Casino’s new beach tower.
- Perez also reported why the Coast isn’t attracting more visitors, if we’ll ever get an Amtrak passenger line, and why Biloxi was paying a lobbyist $100,000.
Ocean Springs High School senior Kaylee Foster became a national star overnight when she won homecoming queen in pre-game ceremonies then kicked the game-winning extra point in overtime. Patrick Magee gave an in-depth look at how Foster became involved in football and the whirlwind surrounding her instant celebrity.
St. Stanislaus High School junior Chris Smith is a linebacker/fullback for the Rockachaws’ football team. He’s also a competitive dancer who helped start a class to help teach special needs children how to dance.
Biloxi football coach Bobby Hall created quite the stir when he stepped down in February after three years on the job. His decision was brought about after the school wanted to restructure his contract. With his departure, Hall also criticized the state of high school football on the Coast.
- Bay High School students started a letter-writing campaign to have their football coach, Benji Foreman, reinstated to his job. It worked out with Foreman leading the Tigers during the 2018 campaign.