As staff members of southern Louisiana sister papers the Houma Courier and Thibodaux Daily Comet started preparations for an annual Oil and Industry section, some realized the yearly product was yearning for a new look.

“We’ve done this special section for years,” said Jacob Batte, a senior staff writer for the two publications. “But in the past couple of years, the section had become stagnant, with stories that remained mostly the same, but with updated quotes.”

That’s when Batte — who got the go-ahead from Executive Editor Keith Magill to manage the section — started talking with editors and co-workers, brainstorming for new assignments.

Waves crash into the coastline near an oil facility on Port Fourchon. Abby Tabor/Staff
Waves crash into the coastline near an oil facility on Port Fourchon. Abby Tabor/Staff

“We came up with about 25 fresh story ideas for this year,” Batte said. “I’m also a big believer in big colorful photographs, so I sat down with our two staff photographers, Chris Heller and Abby Tabor, and together we planned five photo pages and pictures for most of the stories in the section.”

And, since the print section needed fresh content, staffers decided to spruce up the web presence, as well.

“Digitally, the special section had a very negligible presence in recent years. I wanted to create a separate landing page that featured some of the really great photos our guys took for the section,” said Batte, who was one of GateHouse Media’s Rising Stars this year. “I also wanted something that would also look great on a tablet or smart phone. So myself and our Online Content Producer, Caroline Hilton, scoured WordPress for a theme that fit our needs and I’m pretty proud of the final product.”

The result was this slick exterior site. Batte said the modern look, and new approach to content has drawn rave reviews.

“The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve received emails and calls from sources and readers complimenting the photos, the website and the stories,” Batte said. “A few have already pitched ideas for next year’s section.”

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