Is Katrina Five-Year Mark Really A Big Deal?

In fairly predictable fashion, news organizations are providing “milestone” updates on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

In the news business, we commit entire teams of reporters, photojournalists, videographers to look back and look forward on anniversaries.

But, with such a catastrophic event as Hurricane Katrina ordeal, we mark the anniversary every year.   So yet another anniversary seems like no big deal, or at least no bigger deal than the fourth anniversary or the third anniversary.  So what?

I suppose it’s useful to look at some of the projects that are on-air, in print and online.

FIVE Notable Examples of Katrina Anniversary Coverage


Even though I did not get a hard copy as it does not circulate in West Alabama, USA WEEKEND used CNN’s cover guy and frontline anchor, Anderson Cooper to “front” its cover story “Katrina 5 Years Later.”

Writing in the first person, Cooper gives a personal perspective to this story using the words of his father in his lead.   While I wonder how much of this piece he actually  “REPORTED” and how much was just a quite write-up from his many visits as a CNN anchor, his closer words are worth repeating.

We all must continue to bear witness to what happens here. We must visit New Orleans, walk the streets, hear the music. This still-great city has much to teach us about survival, resilience and moving forward while still remembering the past.

2. USA Today

While USA Weekend magazine appeared in millions of Sunday papers, days earlier Gannett’s flagship national news product, USA Today offered several noteworthy pieces, available on its Website:

Asking the provocative question “5 years after Katrina: Can it happen again?,” USA Today’s editorial board offered THREE (3) improvements needed to make the city safer: flood protection, natural barriers, and urban planning.

Elsewhere, the paper’s Thomas Frank explains in a USA TODAY cover story that FEMA’s flood insurance program is “running deeply in the red.”  Why?

Frank reports that  the program has paid people to rebuild over and over in the nation’s worst flood zones while also discounting insurance rates by up to $1 billion a year for flood-prone properties.

Even if you’re interested in marking a five-year anniversary, this news makes Katrina relevant to all of us.

And, USA Today editorial board opined on this later in the week.

3. Montgomery Advertiser

Here in Alabama, the Montgomery Advertiser put together a really good example of how to use multimedia to package the BIG STORY.

Anchored by a story by Rick Harmon, which was the centerpiece on the  today’s Sunday paper, the special section is a companion to a three-part series, fhe first of which ran this morning.


Backed by the resources of a sister newspaper, The (New Orleans) Times Picayune, brings together much of its coverage from five years ago in a special section similar to the Montgomery Advertiser.

The biggest value of this section is its reflection of the multimedia approach we as journalists can take to our coverage.  From transcripts of key speeches to interactive graphics and photo galleries, there is much to keep people on this site for more than just a brief visit.

5. The Weather Channel

Not exactly known for its Web-based news coverage, The Weather Channel’s Web site, even as it covers multiple hurricanes that are brewing this week, did devote some space to marking the anniversary.

I learned a new term, “editorial meteorologist” as I read Jonathan Erdman’s coverage.

NPR goes the distance with Katrina

Even as we watched the television networks like Brian Williams and his top-rated NBC Nightly News anchor their coverage from New Orleans many, many times after the tragedy five years ago (NBC opened a bureau there),  National Public Radio gets the award for its continuous coverage of this story.

Even when stories like the earthquake in Haiti or the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took centerstage, I would hear stories on NPR’s signature programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, from New Orleans on how the city was moving forward post-Katrina.

This is a commitment I don’t believe  this is a commitment other news organizations matched.   (Of course, it might be that I just missed what the other outlets did)

NPR’s  Katrina and Beyond section reflects that “continuous coverage” strategy even now, on this fifth anniversary.

UA’s textbook rental program makes Crimson White

It’s the first day of school at the University of Alabama and like clockwork, we’re talking about textbook prices, again!

This has become a bit of a cliche for the “back-to-school” edition of the campus paper.  But, I understand if you are a student, textbook prices are front-and-center on the first day.

The Crimson White, which publishes four days a week will have two editions this week and chose to position a textbook story on its front page.

As a member of the University Textbook committee, I know how much the Bookstore is excited about its textbook rental program, which allows students to access books at lower prices provided they are returned in good condition at the end of the semester.

It’s important to introduce yourself

There are many blogs online, which means you need to distinguish yourself and your blog.   In the Reporting and Writing Across Media class, we are learning how to post video introduction and how to use iMovie.

For my introduction, I produced a video of James McCanatha, my graduate assistant.

Shooting this video was fairly simple because I had a cooperative subject, who is very camera-friendly.  He is a photojournalist and knows what it’s like to be in front of as well as behind the camera.

What was a challenge is making sure I have my file saved in the right place because I don’t have my external hard drive today.

James actually shoots photos and posts them regularly to his blog, which is called Project 365.

He began this blog within the last few months.

A Working Saturday- Learning to Shoot with a Real Videographer

DONELSON, Tenn– One week after flying into Nashville International Airport from the AEJMC Conference, I’m demonstrating the in’s and out’s of videography on a real-world assignment here in a suburb east town.

We had an 8:30 a.m. start in an area that’s become somewhat familiar — Donelson, a town not far from the airport.  Our assignment was the interview Mary Moran, who heads the Nashville Irish Step Dancers (NISD), a group she founded 20 years ago.

The “our” is the story refer to the videographer Elizabeth Varin from Inland Valley Press and I.    Varin formerly worked as a videographer.  Now she’s full-time as a reporter.

She didn’t even reveal to me that she was a videographer until AFTER we were headed back from our assignment.  That forced me to try and fail in some things on our assignment.

We took two cameras so that I could chronicle the videographic experience for sharing later in my class.  I even managed to do two stand-ups.  But at this moment, I don’t know how they came out.

So far, Boot Camp, Day 4 is keeping me very busy.

Boot Camp Day 3: The Video Shoot That Didn’t Go So Well

Sybril Bennett, Belmont University (better known as "Dr. Syb") and I play get accustomed to shooting with the Canon 7D in front of a bright open window, a no-no when shooting video.

NASHVILLE– What started out as an exciting day– one where we would be shooting our first videos at the Multimedia Boot Camp here at the Freedom Forum’s John Siegenthaler Center– turned out to be a big learning experience in what not to do when you shooting with a high end camera.

After 400 plus people have been through this 5-day intensive workshop, our class of 12 is the first to use digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras that shoot both video and stills.    The $1600 dollar Canon 7D can shoot HD video and high quality still photos.

“This is really the next thing, ” said Val Hoeppner, who directs the Diversity Institute’s Multimedia Boot Camp.  “This is what all the newsrooms are doing.”

It’s nice to know that we’re truly working with cutting edge equipment here.   But, that doesn’t mean there were no challenges along the way.

But, after doing two takes for our video, we hit a big snag when we began to edit our video in Final Cut Express– no audio.

We thought we had manage to effectively troubleshoot.  But, then when we re-shot our video,  it still was not satisfactory.

As it turns, the cable connecting our microphone to the digital SLR camera was not tight enough and that caused the feedback.

I found myself slipping into “producer” mode with my teammates, Sybril Bennett of Belmont University and Joe Sheller of Mount Mercy College.

To make matters worse, I’m not as good as I thought I was at manually focusing my shots.  So some of our video was a little out of focus.

This project was done on-site.

Tomorrow (Saturday),  we will shoot out in the heat on-location.

Boot Camp Day 2: Videos are About Action!

NASHVILLE-   It’s 7 p.m. and we’re just wrapping up from a 10-hour day as the Multimedia Boot Camp continues here on the Vanderbilt campus.

We didn’t go out into the field today as much as we worked for hours and hours on the audio for our first audio and photo project.   Clearly, i’ve been emphasizing the wrong things when it comes to teaching my students how to use the popular photo gallery-producing software, Soundslides.

What I learned today about how to work in the Audacity audio editing program is going to be immediately put to work as a I try to edit some audio gathered last week at the AEJMC Conference in Denver, Colo.

Even something as simple as having a project presentation at the END of the project completion (instead of waiting until the end of the course) is an important lesson.   I’m used to doing end-of-semester presentations  (usually during final exam days).   But, starting this fall, we will be taking time as we go through the class to have students present and critique each other’s work.

Video Revelations

Usually when it comes to shooting video, I think I’m reasonably informed.  Boy was I wrong!   After we all presented our projects to the class, we were not only were introduced to quick keys in editing with Final Cut Express (similar to those in Final Cut Pro) but also sent to start  cutting and organizing video clips in minutes.  Wow!

Then, minutes later Val Hoeppner, our instructor dropped the BOMb of the day: “If there is no action, there is no video”

All of this time, I’ve been focusing on video for the Web as shooting and cutting soundbites and video of places.  But, what about video of action?

not me!

Well, until now.

Hoeppner’s point is that action is key to making the best story with video camera.  Duh!  I should know that as a broadcast television producer.    The problem is I have not been doing it with my camera.

Tomorrow– Day THREE.. we will be shooting and editing our first video pieces.

it’s going to be another grueling day.  But, I’m ready for it.

Boot Camp Day 1: A trip to Pegram with a Pregnant Woman

Colleen Olson, a freelance voiceover artist from Sioux Falls, SD, helped me learn how to edit audio on Day 1 of the Boot Camp.

NASHVILLE–  Greetings from the Music City where I am just starting a five-day multimedia boot camp designed to help me as a instructor learn to better shoot, edit and tell stories across platforms.

I’m here at The Freedom Forum’s John Siegenthaler Center on Vanderbilt University’s campus with 11 other colleagues from various universities, newspapers and other outlets.

Today’s highlight was our first assignment– to shoot photos and gather audio for an audio photo gallery.   We worked in teams of two and I had the pleasure of having a top-notch freelance voiceover artist from South Dakota, who is with child.

Don’t get me wrong– the fact that my partner, Colleen Olson, is pregnant  had little impact on her abilities behind the camera or in front of the computer when it comes to audio editing.

She was great as we traveled to Pegram, Tennessee, a small town about 20 minutes west of Nashville.

Photos and Sound  in Pegram

It was like I was working at the TV station all over again.  I felt like I was a reporter or a field producer as I went out on assignment.

We found our interview subject, Teva, to have a great story, but under less than optimum conditions for recording audio.  My job was to make sure we had good, clean audio for our project.

It’s a miracle!   I think we actually managed to get some usable audio.  And, we didn’t use a very high-end recorder to gather it.

Day 1’s Most Important Lessons

Even before we went out on our first assignment, our instructors here at the Siegenthaler Center,  Val Hoeppner and Anne Medley, started filling our heads with what is nothing short of the best multimedia insight I’ve received since my days doing a workshop at The Poynter Institute.

It was all set up by Jack Marsh, the vice president for diversity programs and the director at one of The Freedom Forum’s other locations, the Al Neuharth Media Center at University of South Dakota.

“We believe the walls are gone between broadcast and print,” Marsh said.  ” Print majors and broadcast majors– these days are gone.”

Yeh, I heard this talked about years ago.   Now as a broadcast news producer by trade sitting next to an veteran photojournalist from Hagerstown, Maryland, I can see what Marsh was saying.

Coleen’s specialty clearly was in taking photos and doing voicework.  But, she edited the audio in our project like a pro.

I teach multimedia journalism and think I know a little about the subject. But, there were some definite lessons to take back to Tuscaloosa from this first day:

  1. The “broadcast model” of talking and telling doesn’t work well online.
  2. Multimedia is more than just video and still photographs.
  3. Multimedia includes such things as a panorama, data and graphics, timelines , maps and a time lapse.
  4. Good audio makes you “feel more deeply.”
  5. Use blog postings like this or copy blocks and bullets to give the 5 w’s and H instead of trying put every story detail in a video or photo piece.
  6. There’s a difference between “enhancing the story” and “mirroring the story.”
  7. In the online environment, it’s all about “time on site.”
  8. Our online audience wants depth and TV stations shoveling out news packages aren’t providing it.

If you can’t say something nice about Anne Garrels, then?

NPR’s Anne Garrels gives opening address to AEJMC Attendees on Wednesday, but hits the skids in the final minutes of her talk.

DENVER– The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication is winding down, only one more day of presentations.  

Between meetings, events, presentations and off-site events, it’s been hard to find time to write anything here on my blog.

But, thinking back over the last three days, I have to say the biggest disappointment was the keynote by NPR’s Anne Garrels.    While she provided some great insights about how her reporting experience has changed in the digital media world,  the end of her speech was not very outstanding.

Maybe it’s because we had higher expectations than we should have of someone who is not a frequent public speaker.

She talked about the technological shifts that she has had to make.

“I’m a neanderthal” were the first words of her keynote address, which was easily the most well-attended events at his convention that draws thousands of journalism educators like myself from around the world.

At least one blogger posted a good summary of her main points.

She explained how “sound has become truly important again”  referencing her work as a correspondent for National Public Radio.

Speaking of sound, I have an audio recording of her address, which I will listen to  listen to and cull for a later, more substantive posting.

Things went downhill

Despite all the great advice she gave at the top of her address, Garrels took a turn about 15 minutes into her address and never seemed to recover.  She started making points, but not finishing them.

Finally after several attempts to re-start, she just admitted that she had lost her place in her prepared remarks.  And, quickly brought things to an end.

Even though we’d like to think we are, all broadcast journalists are not great speakers.

Garrels may have been a tad bit uncomfortable addressing an audience of fellow journalists, now journalism professors.

She may have just been working through some of her ideas in her mind before getting up to speak.

I don’t know.  But, I couldn’t resist pointing out this lowpoint of the AEJMC Conference.

Still, thanks to former CNN Correspondent  Charles Bierbauer (now dean at University of South Carolina) who helped secure Garrels to be our opening speaker, we were exposed to a less stellar side of a stellar international correspondent.

I want to write more about what she did say– perhaps in a day or so after the hectic days of the conference are behind me.

Advice to faculty: Encourage your students to build their brand

Andy Koen from KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs gives attendees at AEJMC 2010 reality check on the life of a TV reporters in 2010.

DENVER– Journalism professors need to encourage their students to work on building their personal brand.

That’s the first piece of advice coming out of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference here in the ‘Mile High’ City.

This morning’s panel “Preparing Students for What’s Next in Student Media” featured a couple of academics (journalism professors who work with students every day) and a full-time video journalist from KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs.

It was Andy Koen from KOAA-TV who gave the advice about personal branding, a reality he faces as he also shoots and edits his own television stories.

Andy talked about the challenges of having time to add things to his blog while doing the other things that television news reporters have to do.

Koen also showed off some of his videography  on his YouTube channel.

In one example, he explained how a posting of his news package from the Air Force Academy  graduation has had hundreds of views.

Meeting Andy and seeing his work, getting his advice for my students is the reason we make the trip to Colorado for AEJMC each year.