Hurricane Katrina Media Analysis Archive
I've done several entries on media coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Here are all of them in one place.
Note that some of these links are short term and will expire after two weeks. If you have access to Lexis-Nexis at your college or university library, you can retrieve many of the stories that are no longer on the web.
Main Archive List
Friday - December 16, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. Part VI - A Look Back At Ethics, Accuracy & Katrina Coverage
It's now been three months since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore and changed our understandings of both costal living and journalism. I was reminded of this today while listening to the podcast of NPR's On The Media. OTM had two stories looking back at Katrina coverage in the 12/09/05 edition.
The first was an interview by Bob Garfield with New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot on the creation of myths about events that supposedly took place during and following the storm. Among these were reports of baby raping, people shooting at helicopters, and dead bodies stacked in freezers. Thevenot talks about why such errors are inevitable during such a big and difficult story, and how corrections need to be handled.
The second is an interview by Brooke Gladstone with American Journalism Review's Rachel Smolkin about the ethics of journalists getting personally involved with the people they are reporting on. The issue, which has always been somewhat controversial in the journalism business, came to a head during Katrina as reporters felt they had to get involved with the story by helping victims of the storm. She discusses the division reporters think they must sometimes make between being a journalist and being a human being.
While the stories from OTM and AJR raise excellent issues, I think there is one that may have been missed - that is, journalists aren't just doing their job when they work as reporters, they are fulfilling an important human role as witnesses. And bearing witness to what happened may ultimately be of more value than adding one more pair of hands to a massive relief effort.
That said, Smolkin makes the excellent point, "Your humanity is something that you bring to the journalism. It's not something that's separate from the journalism." She also points out that helping someone out in New Orleans did not involve taking sides in on an issue: "Brian Thevenot ... made the observation in this case you don't have to pick sides. You're not on the side of the Mayor or the City Council. You're just on the side of giving someone a sandwich."
Tuesday - October 4, 2005
- Ummm, You Know That Story About the Baby Rapers At The Superdome? All OK, Except for the Part About the Baby Rapers
Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler bids goodbye after five years as serving as a readers' advocated with a column that looks at some of the problems to come out of coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Among the biggest flaws he saw in papers across the nation were stories accepted uncritically about supposed atrocities committed by the refugees / evacuees. As he points out, it's not that there weren't lots of great stories, its just that reporters often seemed willing to get carried away with poorly documented sensationalistic claims.
Monday - September 26, 2005
- Katrina Extends TV's Attention Span
USA Today's media reporter Peter Johnson suggests that one lesson the media has learned from covering Hurricane Katrina is that weather stories don't end when the storm is over. Because with Katrina, most of the damage came from the storm surge and flooding that occurred after the storm had passed.
Thursday - September 22, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. Part V
Once again the media is looking at how it has covered first Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Rita. Fishbowl DC continues to bring some of the most interesting thoughts on the topic. In one item, the editors look at the cover of the Sept. 19 issue of The New Republic which features a photo of a floating corpse in New Orleans on it. Is running photos of dead bodies on a cover of a national magazine crossing a line? And on the topic of race, is the press more willing to run such a photo of a person of color than of a white person? After all, we are used to seeing photos within magazines of atrocities in Africa or Asia. But we don't generally see such photos that are so close to home. Fishbowl even goes poetic on us, asking what happens to coverage of Katrina as other news makes it into "a story deferred."
Other reporters are looking at what is to me one of the big problems that the press has to answer for: Why is there so little meaningful coverage in the press about the poor? WP media reporter Howard Kurtz looks at the issue and poses a strong question for the press:
A Sept. 12 Washington Post story was headlined "Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at Bush." An equally apt headline would have been, "Katrina Pushes Issues of Race and Poverty at a Media Establishment That Has Largely Ignored Them."
Kurtz looks at how the press has covered poverty and why it has done so in the way it has. The Post seems to have taken these charges to heart, and is examining them in a Page 1 story today. But it will be interesting to see how long this coverage will last.
Tuesday - September 13, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. Part IV -
One last day of hurricane media analysis before moving on. Here are several links without a lot of commentary that haven't quite fit in previous entries.
Monday - September 12, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. Part III - Photo Edition
Some of the biggest controversies to come out of news coverage of Katrina has been the photography - both still and video.
- Howard Kurtz - Rappin' About Race 'n' Rap
One aspect of Katrina that has been unavoidable if you've been watching television coverage is that there is a lot of poverty in New Orleans and Mississippi, and that many of those poor people are African-American. One of the legitimate criticisms of the news media, in my mind, is that it focuses way to much on the actions of the rich and powerful (whether they are black, white, Asian, or Hispanic). But coverage of Katrina has highlighted that there are a lot of folks living in poverty and that we don't generally see them on the news.
- Captions & Race - Looting v. Finding Groceries
There have been numerous accusations that the press has been racist in its captioning of Katrina photos. The most notorious of these are two photos taken by two different photo agencies. One shows a black man and calls his actions "looting." Another photo shows two white people carrying groceries, and the caption says they "found" the groceries. You've probably read about these two photos in previous entries. This is a thoughtful entry from the urban legends site Snopes.com that shows the actual photos and their captions, and gives a reasonable analysis of what happened. Essential reading. Thanks to photo professor Joel Beeson for this link.
- FEMA Says "No Photos" of Dead Bodies. Is It a Request or a Directive?
The current administration has attempted on several occasions to stop negative press coverage by keeping the press away from what is happening. For a brief while last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) attempted to keep the press from taking pictures of the recovery of dead bodies from New Orleans. This link takes you to commentary from several folks at the Poynter Institute.
- Defining Images of Hurricane Katrina From Poynter
Thursday - September 8, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. - Part II
One more day of looking at what is by far the biggest story in the news - Hurricane Katrina
- Playing the blame game
Sometimes news stories take on a rhyming catch phrase that seems to show up everywhere. With the O.J. trial, it was, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." For Katrina, reporters and government officials seem absolutely in love with quotes that deal with "the blame game." A quick search this evening on Google News shows more than 1000 stories out there on news sites dealing with the little ditty. Why is it that we seem so in love with these phrases that say so little? I mean, on Wednesday NBC reporter David Gregory tried to get President Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan to give a simple yes or no answer to a question about whether the president still had confidence in FEMA. All he could get in response was an extended treatise on, you guessed it, "the blame game."
- Front Pages from the Day After Katrina
The Newseum always has a daily archive of more than 400 front pages from around the world. It's a great place to see how news stories are playing in different locations. The problem is that they go away each day for a new set. But every now and then the folks at the Newseum keep particularly newsworthy covers up as part of an exhibit. You can see about four days of Katrina coverage, along with those from 9/11, the tsunami, and the revelation of Deep Throat's identity.
- The T-P is Mad As Hell
Looking for passion in an editorial? Read this one criticizing the government's initial response to Katrina that ran in the Times-Picayune on Sunday.
- When Stories Take the Networks by Surprise - Why the 7-Second-Delay Isn't Just to Stop Naughty Words.
Rapper Kanye West gave the federal government an earful during his appearance as a speaker at a Katrina charity concert on NBC last week. The person who was running the 7-second-delay system designed to keep obscenities off the air apparently didn't realize that West was criticizing the president and let him go on speaking. When the concert aired on a delayed basis on the West Coast, however, the rapper's criticisms of the president were cut. (Washington Post)
Wednesday - September 7, 2005
- Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season Dept. - Part I
Back from being out of town. It is almost impossible to try to come to terms with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but I would like to take a look at how the news media have reacted to their own coverage of this disaster.
- For the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Katrina is a hometown story, not a national tragedy. Throughout it all the T-P kept up web publication, though it had to suspend printing the paper version for three days. This, the paper has shown that as a newspaper it is a key member of the community. The paper's web site includes missing person's links, pet rescue, the definitive photo galleries, photos from readers, Steve Kelley's editorial cartoons, and everything else you would expect.
- Although we are all fond of trashing the quality of television news, USA Today's Robert Bianco says that the first several days of television coverage gave Americans a realistic view of the hurricane's devastation in a way that holds public officials responsible for their actions (and inactions). He writes:
"Yet no matter how it covers the debate to come, there's no question the debate itself has been framed by television's coverage and might not even exist without it. When disaster struck, TV's newscasters did what they do best: They showed us what was happening as it happened, a service we too often take for granted.
Television made it impossible for government officials to say the situation was under control; we could see that it wasn't. Television made it impossible for government officials to say they couldn't get into New Orleans to help; if Harry Connick Jr. could make it in, so could they. Indeed, NBC put Connick on TV so often, you might have thought he was the head of FEMA."
- The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page has written a provocative column where he examines how coverage of Katrina has brought uncomfortable issues of race and class to the forefront. Most notably, he mentions two photos, one that shows a young black man "looting" a grocery story and another that shows a white man and woman "finding" groceries.
- Howard Kurtz takes on the partisan rhetoric that is firing up in the aftermath, looking at how columnists and commentators are using Katrina as an opportunity to fire brickbats at the president. (Even the conservative and normally supportive Wall Street Journal has been critical.)
- Some of the best actual coverage of Katrina, IMHO, has come from NPR's interviews with flood victims. There was a thoughtful (and heartbreaking) story on All Things Considered Tuesday evening on how the small, rural, poor towns in Mississippi feel they are being ignored while the big cities like New Orleans get all the attention. It seems to me that news far too often focuses on the wealthy, the powerful, and the connected rather than the poor.
- My teenaged son, a big fan of Google Maps, pointed out that if you go to the site and view the New Orleans area, you can see the before and after satellite images of New Orleans, combined with the great street-level maps. If you are ever looking for a good way to get a handle on the geography of a story, Google Maps is the place to go.
- Questions Worth Asking