new orleans, journalism thoughts

Jesus. The news out of New Orleans keeps getting worse. Water still rising. The Ninth Ward and the whole east part of town are, in essence, destroyed. I can’t even begin to think about the long-term impacts of all this. The extraordinarily poor people who live in much of that area will have nothing. Most of them are older homes, and I’d bet good money they don’t have homeowner’s insurance. They’ve become refugees — people without homes and without belongings, wandering.
I mean, Jesus.
Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune is available online. A few journalistic thoughts:
– First of all, bravo to everybody at the T-P, who did amazing work in impossible circumstances. I know it’s cool to slam the network guys who do stand-ups in their windbreakers by the shoreline. But most of those TV guys skipped town during the worst of it — which is why you saw a lot of Mandeville and inland Mississippi at the storm’s height. The newspaper folks, who have no camera-ego to feed, stayed hunkered down in the city and just got the news.
(Not that the TV guys have anything to be ashamed of. Jeanne Meserve filed this terrific report of the devastation. I hope everybody who thinks it’s cool to reflexively hate the media saw it.)
A particular thank you to the T-P folks since their building is being evacuated at the moment. The “-30-” at the end of that post — the traditional reporter symbol for “the story ends here” — is heartbreaking.
– Reading the T-P makes you realize the strength of newspapers in this sort of situation: All the facts, edited down and synthesized in a useful, communicative way. Look at the photos in the PDFs versus the endless slideshows you see on something like Yahoo News — the photos are more powerful because they’ve been whittled down through the editing process.
– That said, a newspaper comes out once a day. There’s no doubting that a blog is the absolute best way to communicate breaking news in a situation like this. You’ve got a lower threshhold to write, so you end up sharing more information. A blog can have a more personal, human voice — the sort of thing people need and want in a situation like this. (Although the main T-P blog mostly maintained a sort of journalistic distance — not how I would have done it. The posts where the human voice broke through were the most effective. It’s why parts of the T-P’s on-the-scene blog were better reads than their [much more informative and more frequently updated] main blog.)
The other good thing about a blog’s format is that it’s easy to tell what’s new — unlike a wire writethru where you have to search for what’s changed from the last version. ( has been particularly bad on this front. They keep updating the same main story, drawn from wire and CNN sources. They’re trying to create single summation of all the news — essentially a newspaper model. But the result is that, if you check in on the story again an hour after reading it, you have to rummage for the three new facts buried deep in a 2,000-word story.)
Today’s T-P coverage does fall into some of the story-bunching problems newspaper coverage can bring — like stories broken out for geographic rather than thematic reasons and end up repeating material. (Stories that say, in essence, “By the way, it’s also really fucking wet in this neighborhood too.”)
– At the risk of being picky: The T-P is, for obvious reasons, not being delivered to homes today. It’s only being distributed electronically. With that as a given, it doesn’t make much sense to me that they’re still laying it out in broadsheet form. Reading broadsheet PDFs online is awkward, and you can’t print them out easily without shrinking the text to levels below legibility. If they’re going to go through the process of laying pages for online distribution, it might be worth reformatting them to 8 1/2″ by 11″, or at least tabloid format.
I mention this only because I think online distribution will be the way the T-P gets read for weeks, if not months. So if you stick with broadsheet format, you’re sticking with it for a long time.
– Finally, if you want to see prescient reporting, check out the T-P’s five-day series from 2002 essentially predicting the events of this week. Including this great graphic. I wrote about this series back when it was published.

3 thoughts on “new orleans, journalism thoughts”

  1. Grrr – those editorials that are starting to surface in the Times, Salon and other places that place blame on people of New Orleans for somehow “taunting nature.” Such bad taste. I dare you go down to the ninth ward and tell people that. Here is good example:
    html. While there are some good points to be made in the article, the tone is just all wrong. Assuming that this columnist indeed lives in New York, I wonder how he/she would feel if I said on 9/12 that you shouldn’t have built those tall buildings that taunted the terrorists.

  2. My husband and I are in Houston heading to Dallas tomorrow. I simply cannot believe Nola continues to fill up with water. I don’t know when we can return, but it looks like we’ll have no home to return to. I can’t believe I’ve worked so hard to be homeless.

  3. I’ve revolted against broadsheet pdfs online for years. It’s like playing radio programming over your tv. But it’s sentimental.

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