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

1. USA WEEKEND

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.

4. NOLA.com

Backed by the resources of a sister newspaper, The (New Orleans) Times Picayune, NOLA.com 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.

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Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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