McCleod Series, Hector San Miguel Memorial Fund team up to focus on future of journalism

Published 6:42 am Monday, April 8, 2024

This summer CBS reported on a news outlet that found a way to fund investigative journalism. Stories on elected officials’ conflicts of interest, and the misspending of tax dollars triggered state investigations and audits.

In Southwest Louisiana, seeing the CBS report triggered a conversation – what would that model look like here – and thanks to the legacies of Hector San Miguel and William “Bill” McLeod, Autumn Phillips, the editor and chief of the CBS-featured Post and Courier will be at McNeese State University Thursday, April 11 at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Phillips, a newspaper editor for 20 years and a reporter before that, will talk about how “Uncovered” helped keep investigative journalism alive during a time when 2.5 news outlets are closing every week. Journalism, she said, serves many roles. It  informs conversations, decisions and debates. Its most important  role is accountability.

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“If no one is watching, the powerful take advantage. If no one is watching, the quality of the people who get elected goes down because they have not been vetted. If there is no local news, community conversation begins to erode and splinter, and be driven by the national conversation,” she said.

This event marks the first time that the Hector San Miguel Memorial Fund and the McNeese Banners Bill McLeod Lecture Series have teamed up for a program, and the perfect opportunity to pay homage to the contributions of these two men.

Hector San Miguel believed in the relentless pursuit of journalism. William “Bill” McLeod was relentless in his pursuit of civic engagement, identifying and addressing issues of public concern by listening, really listening, necessary to ensure government of the people by the people for the people.

Hector San Miguel

For 32 years, Hector San Miguel worked at the American Press as an investigative reporter and then as city editor.  He lost his battle in 2009 to Leukemia at the age of 51. The Hector San Miguel Memorial Fund of the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana account began not long after San Miguel died. A group gathered to form an initiative in his memory, and that initiative is helping journalists further their education.

Sonny Marks, a friend and coworker, was part of that group. “We were fellow staff writers from 1993-2004 at the American Press,” Marks said, “and we sat across from one another in the cubicles in the center of the Press newsroom.”

Marks, now deputy general counsel for a local company, said he can still visualize San Miguel’s excitement at getting a scoop and remembers how he guarded his sources, supported his colleagues’s work and how they would go for “beers after deadline at OB’s or after election returns at Papania’s.”

“When I think of Hector, I think of the best of local journalism – keeping the community informed, letting folks know where and how their tax dollars are spent, he said. “Hector was passionate about investigative journalism. He cultivated sources for decades in the city where he grew up.”

Bill McLeod Jr.

“My parents wanted us to understand the importance of how democracy works, the im- portance of civic engagement. I don’t know if we use that now like we did then,”said Sara Judson, daughter of the late Bill and “Cissie” McLeod and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana.

Born February 1931, McLeod died in January 2003. His obituary listed his roles in government, community and professional associations: retired judge of the Fourteenth Judicial District Court, House of Representatives representing Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, 1968-1976, Senate for 15 years who rose to the chairmanship of the Senate Retirement Committee and served as dean of the Southwest Louisiana delegation.

He was involved with the Lake Charles Kiwanis, Salvation Army, Lake Charles Symphony, Boy Scouts of America, Southwest Louisiana Speech and Hearing Center, the American Red Cross, Ziglar Museum, Masons, Shriners, Clan MacLeod Society, First Presbyterian Church elder, Sunday School teacher and choir, Southwest Louisiana, Louisiana State and American Bar Association and the Louisiana Law Institute.  He worked as an attorney. He was busy. But not too busy to engage with his constituents.

Judson remembers that before every legislative session, her father would take the family’s folding-leg card table and chairs to different grocery stores in the district. Before the visit, he would buy an ad on the front page of the community’s newspaper to let the public know he would be there to share what would be happening soon in Baton Rouge – and more importantly, listen to their concerns.

Paul Hart Miller no longer lives in Lake Charles, but he keeps up with happenings via local news reports. He sits on the McNeese/Banners Lecture Series board.

To Miller, McLeod was a mentor who listened to him when he was just a boy who rode over on his bike to talk. Those talks turned to conversations. The conversations to lessons and finally to Miller wanting to emulate McLeod, who had nothing to gain from his time with Miller.      

Miller thinks it was McLeod’s very nature – “a born teacher” – that got his friends and family thinking about the McLeod Lecture Series, helping expand the archives at McNeese and providing money for professorships and a McLeod scholar.

“He was born to educate, and it all started when he’s in that household with a daddy who is preaching,” Miller said.

As the son of a Presbyterian minister, McLeod showed early on as a young boy that he had the discipline and the consideration to be recognized as a statesperson, quite a different thing than a politician.     

This is the 20th McLeod lecture, and themes have focused on similar topics before, reaching across the aisle, protecting democracy and protecting the fourth estate. (The fourth estate is used to emphasize the independence of the press.)      

“I think he (McLeod) would find it one of the most important programs the McLeod Lecture Series has ever had,” he said.

Phillips will speak in Stokes Auditorium in Hardtner Hall, on 4175 Allen Drive, located on Common Street just south of Sale Road.  No admission will be charged.