Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Exposing a cyber scum bag made for a compelling read, but the arithmetic of readin’ and writin’ really had readers abuzz.

I anticipated an avalanche of comments on our website following the posting of last week’s issue, and since we moderate comments posted to our site — we read and approve them as opposed to simply allowing readers to post as they please — I also anticipated a more frenetic week than normal. My expectation was met. The cover story, “Busted: Busted in Acadiana,” investigated, detailed and identified the sleaze ball behind a Facebook page that effectively operated as a legal extortion ring — an unsavory public-shame machine, as we characterized it in the story’s sub-headline, that posted mug shots from local law enforcement and then charged individuals to have their pictures removed — and intimidated and harassed others who tried to intervene on family members’ behalf.

Indeed, the story resonated with readers and was much commented upon, and there’s a follow-up in this week’s issue. But, to my pleasant surprise, it wasn’t “Busted: Busted in Acadiana” that generated the most chatter; it was another topic in last week’s issue, an analysis of the Lafayette Parish School System property tax proposition on the Oct. 22 ballot titled “Dearth & Taxes” and a blog posted online the day before about a pro-tax political action committee that had readers talking the most. “Dearth & Taxes” took no editorial position on the proposition, but while it explained what the tax would mean for the average household if the proposition passes, it also pointed out that even if the proposition passes, Lafayette Parish will still be the one of the least taxed parishes in the state and the least taxed of all metropolitan parishes.

There was plenty of sturm und drang in the online discourse arguing vehemently against the proposition, but for the first time in our reporting on the topic of the Master Facilities Plan and its rather enormous price tag, there was roughly an equal amount of comments in favor of the tax prop. If there is any take-away from the comments it is that decisions by past school boards — especially using maintenance funds for non-maintenance purposes, which has a lot to do with the crappy condition of our school facilities — have the current board and central office fighting a deficit in public trust.

I say I was pleasantly surprised by this development not because I wrote the analysis, which combined with the blog generated twice as many comments as the Busted in Acadiana cover story. I was pleasantly surprised because the tax proposition is an important issue — a dry, unattractive topic that is yet vitally important to our community. That it trumped in digital discourse a well-investigated take-down of a salacious website and its immoral administrator speaks well of our readers.

Don’t get me wrong: “Busted: Busted in Acadiana” is a compelling read — if you haven’t read it I urge you to find it at theind.com and give it a twirl — and Christopher Hebert, the purveyor of the now-defunct BIA phenomenon, deserves every bit of notoriety he has gotten. He deserves to be institutionalized, if you ask me, although that’s a matter for others to decide.

But public education in Lafayette is more important than Busted in Acadiana will ever be. It simply is.

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