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News Orgs Reflect on Lessons from Katrina - Broadcasting & Cable

News Orgs Reflect on Lessons from Katrina

Five years on, the media's ability to beat rescue operations to disaster zones has only grown
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News
organizations are returning to New Orleans for a progress report on a city that was
forsaken by government officials five years ago this week when Hurricane
Katrina floodwaters ravaged the city. While the devastation from the BP oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still very palpable, the fifth anniversary of
Katrina offers a picture of recovery and hope.

Anderson Cooper Katrina

"New
Orleanians will very proudly tell you that as of today there are 1,111
restaurants in the city and there were just over 800 pre-Katrina," says
NBC's Brian Williams, who arrived in New Orleans Wednesday (Aug. 25). He'll
anchor Nightly News from the region including an on-location interview
with President Obama on Sunday's broadcast.

"The
city has come back in different ways," he adds. "And there's
real optimism."

CNN's
Anderson Cooper, who all told spent about two months in the region covering the
BP oil spill, will anchor Anderson Cooper 360 from New Orleans through
Friday. He'll have a report on the city's resurgent education
system that now includes a burgeoning network of charter schools.

"They're
finally starting to see changes in a way that you weren't able to see
before," says Cooper.  The five year mark, he adds, is "an
opportunity for the city to highlight some of the changes that have been taking
place over the course of several years. It's certainly a milestone for
the city."

Katrina
is also a grim milestone for reporters who channeled the desperation of the
city's residents for a horrified viewing audience. If those early reports
had the tinge of advocacy journalism, it was only because the circumstances in
an American city in the 21st Century were so appallingly shocking.  

"Many
of us covering [Katrina] had covered some piece of the Iraq war," says
Williams. "Some of us had just returned from [tsunami ravaged] Banda
Aceh, Indonesia. I think it just turned us into witnesses. And it might have
sounded like advocacy because of the passion in our voices, but we were seeing
Americans dead and dying in the streets of this spectacular city. We were
reporting what we saw and, where the government response was concerned, what we
didn't see."

Technology
has altered newsgathering in many ways. And the media's ability to beam
live pictures from disaster zones so quickly after impact has at times made it
a more robust watch dog. The earthquake in Haiti is only the latest example of the
nimbleness of digital news operations.

"It
puts you in a place where you're able to see very clearly what previously
had just been described to you by politicians or by people who were running
[recovery] operations," says Cooper. In the days after Katrina made
landfall, he adds, "There was a very clear difference between and the way
things were being described by politicians who I would have on my air talking
about the relief operation and the way I and other people were seeing it every
single day all around us. I think technology is allowing us to be in those
situations more and more."

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