Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?

While parts of Louisiana became literal islands, much of the country was cutoff from the story by scant media coverage.

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Reporters are lining beaches along the Florida panhandle this morning, making sure their mics pick up as much wind as possible as Tropical Storm Hermine approaches. It’s the top story on every morning news program – the journalistic convention for landfalling tropical systems (what do I mean? I wrote this lead last night, then confirmed with a quick flip through the channels over breakfast).

A few hundred miles west, Louisiana is still recovering. Some areas only recently arose from the flood waters that first submerged them three weeks ago. Personal possessions line streets in garbage heaps. Many schools are still closed.

The scope is staggering. Over 100,000 homes flooded in and around Baton Rouge and Lafayette; 13 people killed. When the waters crested, many small towns had become islands, separated from hospitals, gas stations, and grocery stores.

I know this largely because of family and friends on Facebook. From the outset, locals accused media of ignoring the story. We have to be careful about this – Southerners can be thin-skinned about perceived attacks from “the mainstream media,” including those greatly distorted or possibly fabricated.

[Related: Did ESPN Commentators Call Mississippians Poor?]

But I had to admit, I wasn’t seeing much coverage either. And eventually, the media turned a critical eye on itself. The New York Times waited three days to move their staff writer in New Orleans to the scene of the devastation 75 miles away. Public Editor Liz Spayd lamented the paper’s aggregation of media reports instead of conducting original reporting, concluding that “A news organization like The Times – rich with resources and eager to proclaim its national prominence – surely can find a way to cover a storm that has ravaged such a wide stretch of the country’s Gulf Coast.”

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather took to Facebook to blame television news for choosing “the easy ratings of pundits playing the schadenfreude game in air conditioned studios” over sending reporters and resources to the flood zone.

I don’t have empirical data to analyze the amount and prominence of coverage compared to other natural disasters (though it’d be a fun study; anyone want to help?). For now, I’m relying on anecdotal evidence and observations of those in the industry. And that tells me the flooding in Louisiana was, and continues to be, drastically underreported.

Why?

To try to begin answering that question, I did my usual media scanning, and asked two meteorologists to help me fill in the gaps.

Continue reading “Why did media ignore flooding in Louisiana?”

Katrina 10: Two stations, one studio

As someone who studies media, I was fascinated by local coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Television stations in the affected region began broadcasting uninterrupted coverage ahead of the storm, and many continued for almost a week afterward.

The situation was particularly unique at WAPT, the Jackson, Miss. ABC affiliate (which, full-disclosure, I would later work at for a brief time). The night before landfall, they welcomed sister Hearst station WDSU from New Orleans, and for days, the two news teams covered two cities on one network.

Hearst issued this release in September of 2005, describing the scene at WAPT and in Jackson generally. It doesn’t appear to be available online anymore, so for the 10th anniversary of Katrina, I’m reposting it below:

HURRICANE KATRINA
Candy Altman
Vice President, News/Hearst Television
09/13/05

It is Wednesday …the first Wednesday after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. There is a frantic energy in the air and the halls are crowded at WAPT in Jackson Mississippi, where there is no running water and phone service is barely operable. I turn the corner walking swiftly toward the WDSU makeshift newsroom, and there I see the story of Hurricane Katrina in a microcosm. Longtime New Orleans anchorman Norman Robinson, a rock of a man in personality and stature, is crying uncontrollably. It’s his 8-year-old granddaughter. He can’t find her. She is the light of his life, and she was staying in an area damaged by the storm

And so goes another day in the new world of WDSU-TV, Hearst’s New Orleans television station. Reporters, photographers, producers, technicians all covering a story that dramatically impacts their own lives under working conditions which can best be described as primitive. Forced out of their home base by the threat of rising floodwaters and a tide of violence, the television station never stopped broadcasting, whether it was over the web or over the air. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This coverage re-creates the meaning of service to the community.

Continue reading “Katrina 10: Two stations, one studio”

Katrina 10: Our world changed and brought us closer together (among other stories)

Ten years ago, we came together.

~

I am a weather nerd. As a kid, I pretended I was covering severe weather from my bedroom (and sometimes the front yard in the middle of a monsoon). I learned about latitude and longitude tracking hurricanes, copying coordinates from The Weather Channel onto a photocopied map. In elementary school, I visited not one, but two of the local television meteorologists.

Storms frightened me and yet I was drawn to them. I swear I was destined to be a weatherman until I discovered how many calculus courses they have to take (College Algebra put a strain on this brain).

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season remains the most active on record, with 28 tropical storms – so many that the list of names was exhausted, leading to six storms named for Greek letters, including one forming in December and another in January of 2006 – the latest on record. There were 15 hurricanes, 7 major hurricanes (Category Three or greater), and 4 Category Five hurricanes… all records. The strongest hurricane that season was also the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic (and, no, it’s not the one you are thinking).

The first forecast models for Katrina predicted a weak hurricane brushing the Florida coast and turning off into the Atlantic. Instead, Katrina went through the peninsula and into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And when it finally did make its northern turn, it was toward the Gulf Coast.

Continue reading “Katrina 10: Our world changed and brought us closer together (among other stories)”

Oh, the weather outside is frightful… Celebrating southern Christmases from the storm cellar

Driving home for Christmas, I was doing my best to get into the holiday spirit by listening to carols on the radio.

Have a holly jolly Christmas
It’s the best time of the year.
Well I don’t know if there’ll be snow
But have a cup of –

**Signal Tone**

The National Weather Service has issued a Tornado Warning for the following counties…

 

Bah humbug, indeed.

If you traveled across the Deep South on Festivus, you likely encountered similar conditions. While the carolers on the radio were content to Let It Snow, I was thankful I remembered to replace my windshield wipers that morning, lest I drive off the road and into the lake… which was quickly becoming one with the road.

Rather than tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago, my family back home manned their laptops and smartphones to find out exactly where the storms were and whether I needed to stop, detour, or push the pedal to the floor.

On a winter day in the South, you could have an ice storm, a tornado outbreak, or just about anything in between. Christmas in particular has been an active time as of late. Last year, in spite of our generally cold winter, Christmas Day was so warm that the jackets were traded in for t-shirts and shorts. The year before, Santa arrived just ahead of a tornado outbreak/blizzard, producing this colorful array of watches and warnings. Continue reading “Oh, the weather outside is frightful… Celebrating southern Christmases from the storm cellar”

What was Clickworthy in 2013

Back when I had time to blog, I’d occasionally write quick comments about popular topics circulating around the Internet, usually highlighting one article, essay, or video in particular that had an especially interesting or useful take on said issue. I labeled the posts “Clickworthy,” and if you search for that tag, you’ll find them.

If you follow me on Twitter (which you should!), you know that the Clickworthy principle captures most of what I do there. But alas, 140 characters doesn’t leave much space for introspection (or even a summary).

So, in the spirit of the overused year-end list, I have combed through a year of Tweets to present to you a lists of links that promise to be entertaining, informative, sometimes both, and occasionally neither. Without further ado, What was Clickworthy in 2013.

Clickworthy 2013 Features:
Boston Marathon Bombing  |  Surveillance, Snowden, and the Press

Continue reading “What was Clickworthy in 2013”

Arctic cold sets unusual winter landscape in the Deep South [Photos]

Southerners don’t know how to act when the weather gets cold. I’m living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the supermarket shelves ran out of milk and bread days ago, and schools are shut down not because of snow or ice, but because the temperature dropped below 20 degrees. I shouldn’t act too high and mighty – not actually owning cold weather clothing, I’m wearing multiple pairs of socks and pants, along with two or three sweaters and light jackets… and that’s just to sit inside and type this.

I also behaved like a tourist, because when I drive down a road in the South and see something like I did today, I don’t act like I’ve been there before; I pull over and whip out my camera.

All photos were taken along Jack Warner Parkway, in between the Black Warrior River and University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa. Non-commercial usage is welcomed with proper attribution. Contact Dylan for commercial rights.

 

Oklahoma meteorologist advises viewers to drive away from tornado – Time to revisit severe weather coverage

Oklahomans must be thankful to see the calendar turn to June. The month of May was devastating in the heart of tornado alley, right down to the final day. On May 31, a tornado rolled over the Oklahoma City metro area, killing nine. As the ingredients came together for a particular dangerous storm, the right mix was also present for a media catastrophe.

On NBC-affiliate KFOR, chief meteorologist Mike Morgan told viewers in the storm’s path to get underground or “go south” – advocating evacuation as a tornado approached. Telling people to leave their homes and get in their cars earned criticism from fellow meteorologists, and made this blog post written one day earlier seem prophetic.

Continue reading “Oklahoma meteorologist advises viewers to drive away from tornado – Time to revisit severe weather coverage”