BATON ROUGE—LSU Alumna and former Reveille Opinion Editor Rachel Mipro is among the top five winners of the Explanatory Reporting Competition of the 2021-2022 Hearst Journalism Awards Program. Her LSU Cold Case Project story, which raises awareness about a racial injustice incident in Louisiana, earned her third place in the competition.
The Explanatory Reporting Competition had more than 100 entries from journalism schools across the nation. The program announced winners Feb. 23.
“I’m grateful to have been selected, and especially grateful to be able to promote more awareness of the case,” Mipro said.
Mipro’s story, “Horrific 1960 Louisiana Killing of 4 Black Men Leaves Unanswered Questions,” is part of the Robert Fuller Cold Case Series, which students in the Manship School’s Field Experience course worked on. Fuller was a sanitation business owner-turned-statewide Ku Klux Klan leader who shot five of his Black male employees in Monroe, Louisiana in 1960. Consequently, four of the men died.
Fuller claimed he shot the employees out of self-defense because they were swarming him with knives. An all-white jury charged the surviving employee of the shootings with attempted murder. Students in the Field Experience course used dozens of interviews and FBI files to write stories that challenge Fuller’s self-defense claims.
The LSU alumna’s story was the first piece published in the series. In the story, she explains Fuller’s violent past, his former neighbors’ commentary on how he isolated his family from the neighborhood and the tensions he had with the five employees to help unveil what really happened on the day of the incident.
“I feel honored to have been able to help tell this story,” Mipro said. “Everything about the piece was really enriching, especially listening to the stories of those in the neighborhood at the time.”
The reporting process was challenging for Mipro. It was hard for her to keep the story concise because there was so much information about the case. For instance, the former Reveille opinion editor and the Cold Case team found that a Black family moved into Fuller’s house without knowing the history of the shootings, which was not published in print for the series.
“It’s heartbreaking when you think about everyone who was affected by this horrific event, and how many people are still affected by it today,” Mipro said.
The LSU alumna and her team hope to provide a sense of closure to people in Monroe who were affected by the incident.
“On a larger scale, there has been a worrying rise in hate crimes in the past few years,” Mipro said. “One interviewee told me that the Klan isn’t dead —it’s still alive and well. Examining injustices done in the past helps us look at patterns happening now.”
Former New York Times Investigative Reporter and Editor Christopher Drew leads the Manship School’s experiential journalism curriculum and taught Mipro for three semesters. He said Mipro dedicated much time to the project and developed one of the most crucial sources of information for the series by digging into military records about Fuller’s psychological problems and interviewing people in Monroe.
“Rachel was one of the sharpest thinkers and most graceful writers I’ve taught at the Manship School,” Drew said. “She also was one of the most dogged reporters.”
Founded in 1960, the Hearst Journalism Awards Program supports, encourages and assists journalism education at the university level. The program awards scholarships to students for outstanding performance in writing, photojournalism, audio, television and multimedia competitions. Read more about the 2021— 2022 Hearst Explanatory Reporting winners at http://www.hearstawards.org/hearst-explanatory-writing-competition-winners-announced.