Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Media's New Orleans Burnout

I started blogging a few months ago for several reasons.

First, I felt the need to write about what I was experiencing. I realized this is a historic time for my city, my family and myself. I've often told my Precious Daughter that for the rest of her life whenever she tells someone she is from New Orleans, they will immediately ask her about Hurricane Katrina.

I also realized that I lost a lot of mementos and memories in that flood, and I needed to start a new collection of memories to replace them. And perhaps most of all, I needed to write about all these things just for the good therapeutic value.

And finally, it occurred to me one day that I didn't recognize any of the voices I was hearing on the news. The stories they were telling were not stories about people I knew, neighborhoods that I remembered, nor even the city I lived in. Sometimes the stories were touching, yes, but I felt distant from the people I heard and read about.

And that's how I came to realize the problem: Only a New Orleanian can tell this story. Only someone who has marched in a Mardi Gras parade, greeted a friend with "Where y'at!", and legally purchased and consumed a cold beer at 7:20 a.m. on a Sunday morning could relate to what has happened and is happening to this fair city.

I am New Orleanian, therefore I blog.

The reporting from major media is not all bad--I don't mean to say that. Some are doing as good a job as they can for folks not from here. The New York Times and The Washington Post both get kudos from me for their continuing attention to the ongoing catastrophe here. My fellow Big Easy bloggers have said it quite succinctly: We Are Not OK. Recovering, yes, but still not out of the hospital, not even out of intensive care yet.

Howard Kurtz at The Washington Post recently wrote an excellent column on this topic. Under the headline, "The Media's New Orleans Burnout," he describes it this way:

"After eight months you assume they must be making some progress. Downtown and the French Quarter basically look fine; the worst damage by now must be limited to a few of the hardest-hit areas, such as the Lower Ninth Ward.

"But then you come here and see the devastation up close, and discover that things are far worse than you imagined. And you realize that, despite the millions of words and pictures devoted to the hurricane's aftermath, the normal rules of writing, photography and broadcasting are just not equal to the task.

"When Katrina struck, television thrived on the dramatic footage of attempts to rescue thousands overwhelmed by water and wind or suffering under horrid conditions in such places as the Superdome. But the painfully slow reconstruction of a city taking place today doesn't yield great video; the absence of progress is the story."

Yes, even I can forget. From our comfortable apartment in the Sliver by the River, I sometimes go several days without leaving this oasis of normalcy. But then I travel down Carrollton and see once again the empty brown houses and the shuttered businesses, and I am surprised by it every time.

Thanks, Howard, for reminding America, and for trying to explain it to the many who have not been here to see it for themselves.

We Are Not OK.


ashley said...

Amazing post. I am seriously honored that you linked to me.

Sophmom said...

We're an ADD nation, Tim. The tragedy has exceeded our attention span. It's up to all of us to keep the subject alive. You're more than doing your part, and doing it beautifully. Keep up the good work.

saintseester said...

Timely post. I just had someone ask me about our trip to NO in March. "All back to normal, right?" Not by a mile. I was shocked by what I saw, not because I couldn't fathom it, but because of the lack of seeing it in the media. I know more about what Bagdad looked like than my former city of residence. Keep getting the word out.

dangerblond said...

This is a great post and thanks for it. I live on a tiny island in what should be called the Archipelago of Denial. I drive through the depths every day, and I worry that I am becoming innured to the devastation. It's starting to look normal. I hate TV, but I read all these N.O. blogs to be reminded that it IS NOT normal. I share your impulse to write about it in order to take control of our own story.