Skip to main content

Kopplin | New York Times Style Guide: How to Write About New Orleans

Helpful tips for an authentic portrayal

 

Your article must include the following: at least one Sazerac, one voodoo priestess, a row of shotgun houses, a gator poboy, a bayou, vampires, a jazz funeral, dancing with Mardi Gras Indians, and a mention of the humidity. This adds local flavor. While you’re picking Spanish moss out of your hair, make one of these your lede. Don’t forget to talk about how you discovered mosquitos.

While exploring this backwater, you will immediately recognize New Orleans is not cosmopolitan. Paris is cosmopolitan. New Orleans doesn’t even have éclairs. Having a few French street names and a Vieux Carré does not mean you get to call yourself Old Europe. You’d never find beignets at a continental breakfast.

Anyway, while you’re enjoying your morning pastry from La Boulangerie, don’t forget that although New Orleans is your personal playground, it’s also gritty and dangerous. Things are rundown, but unlike New York, it’s not because a stylist designed them that way.

Fancy restaurants are the exception here (poboy is short for ‘poor boy’ after all). Still, despite the dirt and murder rate, many New Orleans restaurants, like Sylvain, wouldn’t be out of place in New York. Between their rustic decor, inventive foods, and authentic Southern style, you can pretend you are still in Brooklyn. Be sure to mention that, for the full New Orleans experience, you can still get robbed while eating your veal sweetbreads.

Make sure to point out New Orleanians are always late. If a restaurant says it’s opening at ten, it still won’t be open at noon. Call this New Orleans time. (The New York Times is liberal, so this is not racist.) And, of course, mention that despite the wait, the crawfish étouffée is to die for.

It’s been over ten years since that storm, you know, the storm, but New Orleans still needs our feel-good projects and pity. Be sure to let your readers know they can spend a week laying drywall at an orphanage during the day and drinking hurricanes at night. New Orleans is like the third world, but with slightly safer alcohol.

The best people to interview about local culture are transplants from New York. They have already located bohemian parts of New Orleans and can introduce you to the right scene. But, if you need a quick guide to New Orleans neighborhoods, here’s how to understand them: the French Quarter is Chelsea, because there are gay people. The Garden District is Tribeca, featuring lots of rich people. Uptown is Long Island. It’s remote.

New Orleans is known for its music. One highlight of New Orleans: you can hear music from New York’s homegrown jazz superstars, like Wynton Marsalis.

For people looking for something more local, recommend listening to bounce. Bounce is electronic dance music with obscene lyrics about sex. This has kept the style from spreading too far beyond New Orleans’ borders. When dealing with such questionable musical styles, include warnings like the following: Women who dance to music in this cultural gumbo do so in the most sexualized way imaginable.

You could also visit during one of the lesser-known, more authentic local festivals like Bayou Country Superfest.

If you leave New Orleans to cover a story somewhere else in Louisiana, make sure you file from whatever small town you can find on Google Maps, like Thibodaux or Meraux. (Find one with an “X” in the name.) It doesn’t matter if you’re in Lake Charles or Lafayette, pretending to report from towns with under 10,000 lends you credibility.

If you still need a few more ideas on how to give your article the texture of alligator hide, just remember New Orleans politicians are crooked, stepping foot in the Marigny neighborhood makes you more creative, and the city is a hazy fever dream. There will always be a local who says something that makes no sense or a tattoo someone will regret once they move out of New Orleans. Southern charm hangs in the air like a warm breeze.

Don’t forget that there are plenty of local superstitions. If you see a blue dog on Mardi Gras, it’s lucky, like seeing a Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day. In Cajun French, they call this creature a loup garou. It’s a curse to leave your house without a go-cup of liquor.

Eat the crawfish with the straight tails.

If you need any more advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to David Brooks. He took a vacation to New Orleans once.

Have fun covering Brooklyn South!

Zack Kopplin is The Bayou Brief’s Contributing Editor. 

Privacy Policy Modal
Close