Thursday, December 29, 2005

'The Press Has Moved on Too Fast'

When it comes to journalists covering New Orleans, Editor and Publisher's Mark Fitzgerald suggests we stay with it a little longer:

"New Orleans is a devastated city. I know, that's not exactly breaking news. But I just got back from there, and all I can say to everyone I've talked to since is: New Orleans is a devastated city, almost beyond belief.You've got to see it, I told people again and again this weekend, back home in Chicago. Everyone in America should see it.Because you're not seeing it in your newspaper.

Not really.The press, of course, is famous for rushing to disasters, and then moving on. But it's moved on too fast in New Orleans, with the result that Americans either figure the city has descended into anarchy, or is doing just fine.Instead, block after block, mile after mile, New Orleans is a landscape of houses bumped off their foundations, spray-painted by National Guardsmen with big X's, inscrutable markings except for the bottom number that signifies whether a body, or two or three were found inside.

New Orleans is a pile of TVs on every other street. It is a highway underpass converted into a graveyard of flooded cars. It's a New Yorker magazine poking up from the silt a few hundred yards from the breach in the London Avenue levee, the really bad breach that nobody outside of New Orleans has heard about.

It's a city of refrigerators duct-taped and dumped on the sidewalk, some of them converted into advertisements for itinerant demolition crews: "Gutting," the spray paint legend will say, followed by a phone number.

True enough, New Orleans can still make the front pages in America, more than 100 days since Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore. Everyone headlined President Bush's commitment to rebuild the city's levees with $3.1 billion, and The New York Times reported over the weekend that just about every person who stayed in New Orleans during Katrina did so by choice--news, perhaps, to the rest of America, but a fact long-ago documented by The Times-Picayune.

A few out-of-town papers have made a commitment to ongoing coverage of the struggle to clean up and rebuild New Orleans. But making my first visit since Katrina to New Orleans--a city I've visited nearly a dozen times for the past two decades, thanks mostly to newspaper industry conventions--I was struck at how little prepared I was for what I saw.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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