The 32nd annual conference of the
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
“New Orleans, We Haven’t Forgotten.”
Mike Argento, NSNC President, opens the 32nd Annual Conference in New Orleans.
Lt. Governor of Louisiana, Mitch Landrieu, says Katrina was a life changing event for the people of New Orleans. Things are spoken of now in terms of pre-Katrina and after Katrina. Many of the problems were not only from Katrina, but social problems like race, poverty, transportation, health care and emergency response. American was forced by the media attention to face these things and didn’t like what it saw. New Orleans is a lab of democracy and a symbol of all that can be better.
Mayor Ray Nagin spoke to the NSNC on June 20th about the situation of New Orleans. Business is coming back, he says, for example, Shell Oil and Winn Dixie. There is high employment and opportunity. Many construction projects are going on. A new VA hospital has opened and another new 400-500 bed hospital has been announced.
Over 100,000 volunteers have come to New Orleans to help. The American people have been incredible about helping.
Katrina is a different kind of storm as there is nowhere to point anger. There is no enemy as there was with 911. Katrina exposed the soft underbelly of the U.S.
Population is down from 455,000 pre Katrina, to 327,000, per the mayor. However, he agreed that the top population prior to the storm was about 600,000. Much of the lost population is middle class because they were able to transition successfully.
New Orleans lost about 500 policemen and the National Guard is still there. Crime is down as drug trafficking was shaken up too. Fraud has increased as there is big money to be made out of disaster.
Homelessness was a problem before, but has increased. Post traumatic stress is an issue. The system for hurricane protection is not complete. Another category 5 hurricane could overtop levees, but there should not be another catastrophic failure.
When asked what message we should take to our readers, the Mayor said. “We are not under water.”
“I am afraid for America. We have not changed one single thing since Katrina.“ The government needs to focus on the infrastructure of America, he believes.
Many in New Orleans are still struggling to recover. New Orleans believes that the rest of the world either does not understand their situation or no longer cares.
Panel of journalists from Times-Picayune discuss Katrina’s impact on the city. Ted Jackson presented a powerful photo show of Katrina victims and talked about how he could not be objective when people were trapped in water and he couldn’t help them. Journalists lost their own homes, but continued to cover the story so others could know. Jarvis DeBerry, editorial writer, talked about the need to report local events after Katrina and answer the question, “What happened to my house?” He spoke of the anger and the disrespect New Orleans felt when others were asking whether New Orleans should be rebuilt, even while people were still on rooftops. Jim Amoss, editor, said the world as New Orleans knew it ended in 2005. We were urged to meet and talk to the people of New Orleans and to take their story home.
Rod West, CEO of Entergy, the electric company of New Orleans. He talked about the difficulty of restoring power. They started where it was dry and followed the falling water level. The water did not differentiate between race or socio-economic status. It was simply a matter of geography. They had to fight corruption, gloom and doom to restore the basic services needed.
A panel spoke on whistle-blowers in government. Deepa Fernandes, journalism fellow at the National Institute, investigated the mysterous disapperance of Asian Americans after 9/11. Families were unable to find out who arrested them, what the charges were, or where they were being held. She is currently investigating the displacement of families from FEMA trailers who have no place to go.
Past president, Suzette Martinez Standring, discusses becoming a columnist and her book on “The Art of Column Writing.” She also talked about the book NSNC hopes to write from our conference and how we might make it a book that is not only a collection of columns, but also has information on the craft of writing that could be used for journalism education classes.
Spencer Bohren, New Orleans songwriter, guitarist, and singer performs. You might be saying, “Who?” But this extraordinary New Orleans songwriter, guitarist and singer is an amazing talent.
Spencer performs all over (he’s between gigs in Europe, and made a special effort to be in town for our meeting), has been on “Prairie Home Companion” and pops up often on NPR’s weekend music shows.
If there is any one song that captures the heartbreak of post-Katrina New Orleans, it’s his “Long Black Line” — about the watermarks left on homes once the flood waters went down. Don’t miss him.
Thanks to our sponsors and contributors:
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Fertel Foundation
The Louisiana Lottery
The McIlhenny Co.
Basin Street Records
Gulf South Bank