BEST COLUMNIST Minneapolis 2002 - Nick Coleman
The story was a doozy. Billy Baldwin, a 63-year-old parking-lot attendant in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, loses his son in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Two months later four of his family members are killed in a head-on collision in Wisconsin. Overcome by compassion, the office workers who park at the ramp raise $6,000 to help Baldwin pay for funeral costs and other needs. No doubt Nick Coleman began sniffing around this story with every intention of writing about a man besieged by more bad luck than anyone should have to face in a lifetime. But Coleman didn't accept the melodramatic tale on its face. Instead he did his legwork, searching for accident reports and death certificates. What the veteran Pioneer Press columnist unearthed was the (equally heartbreaking) story of a con man who had fabricated his saga of familial woe in order to exploit post-9/11 communal gloom and generosity. The pair of columns that Coleman wrote delicately punctured Baldwin's tale--and laid raw the best and worst of humanity. They stand as a testament to the columnist's ability to skewer conventional wisdom, his willingness to get off his duff and do some reporting, and his unrivaled knowledge of St. Paul. While we also admire Doug Grow's tireless shoe-leather work and D.J. Tice's eloquently contrarian opinion pieces, Coleman's dispatches top our breakfast reading list.