In July, I went to New Orleans, a city I have long dreamed of writing a book about, to work on one there. I was beyond excited. It was a dream come true. Ever since I first visited the city back in 2008 when I was writing HCA’s fiftieth anniversary book I fell in love with New Orleans. My introduction to the city was magical in that I was privileged enough to interview someone who had been involved with the Hurricane Katrina rescue mission. I ended the day eating fantastic food with my photographer and flying out thinking what a great city. I hope I can one day write a book there.

From there, I was introduced to some of the leadership team at New Orleans & Company who also expressed interest in me writing a book about the city. They were big fans of my first book Word of Mouth: Nashville Conversationsa regional best-seller, and wanted me to do a similar version about New Orleans. While the project didn’t end up happening with their financial support I was always flattered that it progressed to the point of having in-person meetings and brainstorming subjects.

Then, in June I got a text from a best friend saying he had a wonderful woman who would be happy to host me in New Orleans. She and I connected shortly after and boy, was she, a native New Orleanian, amazing. We are still great friends to this day. She immediately took an interest in my project and started turning me on to all sorts of cool people, many of whom she so kindly made introductions to. As someone whose family goes back several generations in New Orleans, she was excited that an outside writer was coming in to profile the people of her hometown— the real people as we called it. Next, she graciously offered to let me stay with her while writing my book.

I spent the next nine weeks interviewing 47 people who ranged from culture bearers to boutique and bar owners, artists, musicians, and nonprofit leaders. Every day I woke up excited to read about the city as I sat and drank my coffee. I prepared for my interviews like nobody’s business. It was out of respect for a city founded in 1718 that has such an amazing culture upheld by upstanding citizens. I was thrilled to be welcomed into the most European city in America and have met many people who were enthusiastic about my work.

One of the subjects, a well-known photojournalist, whom I initially interviewed to be a part of my project stepped up shortly after meeting her and suggested that she should take some of the photos. I was thrilled. I needed some images to show to the three reputable publishers who were interested in it. She agreed, in writing, to do ten images for me pro bono and to be paid once the book was published. I even asked her for her Venmo in an email because I wanted to give her some cash for her time. She ignored the email and insisted many times that she was “happy to do this for her adopted hometown.”

However, my books have always featured black and white photography, and quickly she started to push me towards color. I considered it but truthfully, it didn’t feel right in my gut. Then, I started to realize that the images weren’t in line with my other books which have done so well because they have a specific style. After she told me that she would be mostly unavailable for the next few weeks due to paid work — totally understandable — I told her that I would like to start working with other photographers. However, as I told her, she would still be able to shoot 1/3 of the book. I told her that I wanted to talk the following day because I was busy until then and that we could work it out. I knew we could. I have always been a big believer in open, honest, and transparent conversations. I live and breathe my brand.

The following day I received a message from someone in New Orleans showing me an image of slander on the internet attacking my character, integrity, and worst of all saying that I am a “scam artist.”

The cyberbullying that ensued through Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, emails, and DM’s was so intense that I had to file a police report. I couldn’t even see any of the online comments because I was blocked on every platform and am thankful that I didn’t because I heard they were horrific. They were all from people who had never met me. However, I did receive many private messages all of which bullied me and threatened to ruin my career. These were immediately turned over to the cops and a New Orleans-based attorney who confirmed that I had done nothing wrong. Yet, It was like being in a nightmare. All because I said, “I would like to work with other photographers.”

After one week of enduring this, I left New Orleans because I was afraid to leave my accommodations, I couldn’t sleep, and I feared for my safety. The cyberbullying has since persisted and yesterday I landed in the ER because of extreme stress and anxiety and lack of sleep. I was shaking like a leaf and still am.

I say all of this because New Orleans is full of amazing, wonderful people who supported my book and it is sad that one bad apple ruined the bunch. The worst part is that the tourism bureau, New Orleans and Company, dismissed my emails asking for their help. The President told me to contact “this person’s employer” which isn’t possible because she is a freelancer. While they had no obligation to do this, as the project was entirely self-funded until this point, it would have been the right thing to do. 

The way this city treats outside journalists isn’t right.

I am not sure if I will be resuming my book any time soon because of PTSD however, I will always keep the people in my heart who were kind to me and shared their stories. They endeared me and I have since tried to focus on that. The people of New Orleans love their city and I can understand on many levels why. It is a unique, memorable, and incomparable place. I still would encourage people to visit to experience the museums, music clubs, restaurants, and culture.

For anyone who has experienced cyberbullying, I am so incredibly sorry. It is a horrible, isolating, and mentally/emotionally distressing experience that can obviously wreak havoc on your body. It needs to stop and I am doing my best by talking to friends and family and a therapist to deal with what happened. In the meantime, I have listed some resources below that I will be reaching out to myself.

Thank you for reading. Love, Lily


Stomp Out Bullying

Pacer Center’s Teens Against Bullying

Lily Clayton Hansen

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