Media storm over ‘Barnestorming’

By: - August 12, 2019 7:13 am

Isthmus article on Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes

This week Isthmus writer Dylan Brogan wrote an in-depth story on what makes Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes tick.  About 20 paragraphs into the story, Barnes divulges that he received an incomplete in a class at Alabama A&M and never turned in his paperwork to rectify that, so he never completed his degree.

Isthmus could have led the piece with that detail. It turned into at least a dozen news stories in other outlets and sparked a firestorm on Twitter from editors, reports and critics. Brogan says he expected it would grab attention. 

He chose to weave that detail deeper into Barnes’ story regardless, he explains, “because it’s part of a bigger story. People are complicated. I didn’t want it to be all about that.”

Brogan wanted to allow other interesting facts to come through. “I thought it was noteworthy he’s playing a different role as lieutenant governor than his predecessors have,” adds Brogan. “Obviously, he’s so young — the youngest lieutenant governor in the country. And he’s taken risks to get to where he is.” 

The full Isthmus profile ‘Barnestorming’ is a longer-form story that gives a much more complete picture. Should you need any more encouragement to read it — here are a few fun facts and deeper details you will discover:

  • He skipped two grades and graduated from Milwaukee’s Marshall High School at age 16.
  • His first name is actually Jesse, after his father. Mandela is his middle name.
  • He’s the point person in the Evers Administration coordinating efforts to combat climate change.
  • He owns old-school orange Nikes the “envy of any sneakerphile.”
  • He has embraced his role as Gov. Tony Evers’ “hypeman.”
  • His first post-college political job was receptionist for Mayor Tom Barrett.

That’s all you get here. Read the piece to learn about his unusual relationship with Evers, what he dubs, “the worst period of my life” and a whole lot more.


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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.