Louise Esola, who has served as a Business Insurance staff reporter and freelancer for more than 10 years, is the 2017 winner of ASBPE’s Stephen Barr Award for her December 2016 investigative feature package “Who Pays to Heal Mental Injuries of First Responders?” Previously, she worked as a reporter and columnist for the North County Times, a newspaper serving the area north of San Diego, where she still lives. A writer of great skill, Louise is prized by her Business Insurance editors as someone willing to tackle any subject, and able to adopt the right tone, style and voice to draw readers in and explain complex issues with clarity and empathy.
For her gripping first-responders story, she focused on repercussions from recent mass shootings in Orlando, Fla., and San Bernardino, Calif. While most media coverage centered on the terrorism, and issues such as gun control and security, Louise studied a relatively unknown insurance angle that was of great importance to her publication’s readership. Her reporting analyzed how such events cause mental injuries among employees we trust to respond, and shocking deficiencies in the care those workers get, and how poorly insurance pays for what care they do receive.
Louise talked with first responders and workers-compensation experts to assemble a disturbing account of the tough battle employees face in getting coverage for their mental injuries. In fact, she found, the insurance industry is poorly equipped to deal with the issue financially. Said Business Insurance in entering her work: “Louise’s package tells the story from all angles and shines a light on an issue that an increasing number of risk managers are having to address.”
One Stephen Barr Award juror described her work as “original and fresh, and told with drama and edge.“ A second juror called it “a compelling read, informed by good, ambitious reporting. It was a story that reveals an aspect of tragedies such as the Orlando nightclub shooting that I wasn’t familiar with. With a few tweaks this could have run in an number of general-interest magazines.”
In the time she has to spare between work and raising her young family, Louise also has written an award-winning narrative nonfiction book, American Boys. It is a “fog-of-war” tale of the Vietnam conflict, and of the fight to get the names of 74 sailors killed during a training exercise included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Since that book, she has completed a novel set in California during and after World War II, and is at work on a second novel.
Business Insurance, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is the leading publication for the risk management sector. Through its magazine and website, Business Insurance publishes news and analysis of the commercial property/casualty insurance industry, workers comp and risk management. Its primary readers are corporate insurance buyers, but it is also widely read in the insurance industry.
This is the 14th Stephen Barr Award to be presented. It is named for one of ASBPE’s most honored journalists, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 43. Unlike other ASBPE awards, it honors individual writing across our feature categories, and especially work that shows inventiveness, insight, balance, depth of investigation, and impact on readers. A check for $500 accompanies the award, endowed by Stephen Barr’s parents and administered by the ASBPE Foundation.