Saturday, December 31, 2005

The New Orleans Media Are Just So Wonderful

What the NYPD and NYFD were to 9-11, the New Orleans media were to Katrina. Don't believe me? Just ask them, they'll tell you. Though I thought the Times Picayune performed admirably in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, I really thought it did the city a disservice after about the second week of September. Like I said before (links here, here, here and in numerous other posts), the T/P did less than or to dispel many of the Katrina myths that are still harming the city's reputation.

Now, in today's paper, Dave Walker informs us that:

Years from now, Katrina coverage will be remembered as shining hours for most local TV news operations

What local coverage did Dave Walker watch? All four local channels put all the important information in the feed on the bottom of the screen, while the anchors and reporters told us how much they cared. All four channels basically ran one long commercial/orgy of self-congratulation. I'm not alone in that opinion, during the two weeks I spent in Mandeville, I heard members of all three families (sharing a house) shout things at the TV like: "If you really cared so much, you'd tell us that stuff that's written on the bottom of the screen."

But the games that the local stations played with their network feeds really were inexcusable. I know that there were technical difficulties, but why did WWL refuse to let satellite subscribers see CBS. At times that you could get CBS/wwl on an old tv with rabbit ears, on a TV with satellite you just got the same newscast/ self-promotion repeated ad nauseum. All we could figure was that WWL had some kind of deal with Cox to prevent cable subscribers from switching to satellite. Angry emails to WWL went unanswered. On WWL radio, they scoffed at a caller who complained, wondering how anyone could want to watch Survivor at a time like that. Well first off, channel 4's newscast weren't very informative the first time around, there was no need to see them repeated endlessly. Also, at a time when we wondered what kind of New Orleans we'd ever see again, it would have been nice to see the Nevilles and the Funky Meters on Letterman. I'll never forgive channel 4 management for that, unless there's some good explanation they haven't made public.

That's all rather minor, but it's a gripe I've had for three months now. It's my blog and I'll vent spleen if I want to. Hey it's New Year's Eve and I always feel lousy on Saturday from the Peg-Intron shot that I take every Friday night; I'm entitled. On top of that, a lot of laid-off public library employees (myself included) feel like they've just had salt rubbed in the wound. I'm debating how much to post about that, but Bill Johnson (the city librarian) should be ashamed of himself. The man's being paid as much to oversee a system composed of a main library, two branches and 19 employees as he was to oversee a system with 12 branches and over 200 employees. I think he's being paid enough to do more than take the path of least resistance.

They (certainly the T-P) are probably going to get numerous journalistic awards for their coverage. They are much admired in many journalism reviews, and also by their "peers" (if one can call looking straight up a peer...).

Actually, in recent months, they've done a tremendous job (imho), particularly with the levee coverage and the corrections to the media's hysterical reporting (including their own).

But I'll always be mad, I think, at the damage perpetuated by the media (generally, not just the local NOLA media) in the immediate Katrina aftermath.
I've probably seemed too harsh on the T/P. They were great until at least Sept. 7, but by Sept. 15, something had changed. I don't know if it was fear of appearing to be small town booster types (like the ADN, at least one other local blogger and I have noticed it), fear of the liberal bias charge, trying too hard to be objective, the current preference for he said/she said journalism over fact checking or something else, but the T/P failed to nip several Katrina myths and distortions in the bud when it had the chance. Remember, it had a national readership in Sept. and Oct.

Since then, I've had specific complaints about specific stories-- it seemed to see a different document dump than the national media (even the daily show noticed that the White House waited until Sept 7 to inform Blanco that she needed to re-send her aid request, the T/P didn't) and I wish the paper would come out with an editorial similar to the DeBerry column I praised, before the Katrina report. But a critical reader will always have specific complaints about a particular paper, for years I've thought the Washington Bureau was staffed with Republicans, but I actually thought that the T/P was O.K.for a mid-market paper. I might be alone in feeling this way, but I'll always think that the T/P was in a unique position this past Fall and it chickened out. The conspiracy theorist in me will always wonder if it felt corporate pressure.
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