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April 18, 2006

Unstoppable Katrina Coverage Wins Two Pulitzers for Times-Picayune

There's a lot wrong with the MSM, but when they do their job well, it's only right to applaud their efforts. One of the bright spots in the Hurricane Katrina mess was the truly indefatigable efforts by the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper to continue providing area residents -- and the world -- with vital information. This the paper did, even though its facility was flooded and the paper published only online for a period.

The journalists' efforts have been justly recognized by the paper's receipt of two Pulitzer prizes for its coverage of the hurricane and its impact on the region. One of the prizes is a gold medal for meritorious public service. In addition, Chris Rose was honored as a finalist in the commentary category, for his columns about toll of the storm on the community's residents themselves.

The quotes below, from the paper's account of its receiving the awards, allude to the paper's vital service, which included posting missing-person notices online so friends and families could find one another after the disaster.
In the aftermath of Katrina, rising flood waters from collapsed seawalls forced more than 200 staff of The Times-Picayune and their family members to flee the paper's downtown offices in delivery trucks on Aug. 30. But photographers, reporters and editors stayed in the area continuously, and the newspaper never ceased publishing, posting online editions for three days, then returning to print editions as well on Sept. 2.
n the immediate aftermath of the storm, The Times-Picayune’s continuously updated online blog, as well as its online editions of the paper posted each night on its affiliated Web site,, became the source of information for more than a million area residents who had evacuated, and for much of the world.

In his remarks [to staffers when the awards were announced, editor Jim] Amoss acknowledged the contribution of the staff at, "who were integral to everything we published, and made us an around-the-clock vital link to readers scattered across the nation." Times-Picayune pages on, increased from an average of about 800,000 page views a day before Katrina to more than 30 million page hits a day in the days after the storm. Excerpts from those blogs, as well as stories from the online editions of the paper, made up a portion of both of the newspaper’s winning entries.

Chased from the city by flooding and a lack of power and water, much of the newspaper’s staff worked out of temporary offices in Baton Rouge for six weeks, printing first at the Houma Courier, a New York Times-owned paper, and then at the Mobile Press-Register, a sister paper that is owned, like The Times-Picayune, by Advance Publications, Inc.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, another team of journalists worked in the powerless and chaotic city under difficult and dangerous circumstances, siphoning gas, charging computers and cell phones with car batteries and moving from house to house -- partly to stay ahead of danger, and partly to find the rare working phone lines out of the city.

Moving around in a newspaper truck, the journalists also equipped themselves with a boat, a kayak, bicycles and vehicles loaned to them by other staffers. Friends who evacuated gave them permission to break into their houses for food and shelter.

Police at one point advised the newspaper’s staffers to arm themselves. Reporters and photographers had guns pointed at their heads, either by nervous residents who had stayed and feared looting, or by law enforcement officers who mistook the working journalists for looters.

"We didn't know what the next moment might bring. But we knew we were on the biggest story in the world, and it was in our town," said City Editor David Meeks, who led the team in the city. "We were determined to tell it, and through tremendous teamwork and resourcefulness, we did."

Sometimes, in order to file stories or photographs, reporters and photographers were forced to drive to Houma in the evenings, then return to the city at night to continue working.

In Baton Rouge, meanwhile, the paper set up a newspaper operation from scratch at two locations. Having left the city with only limited supplies, the newspaper needed everything from computers to pencils to rental cars to places to sleep for more than 100 staffers.

Like tens of thousands of New Orleans residents, staff members of the newspaper worked while knowing that their houses and belongings were destroyed, and often while not knowing the whereabouts or well-being of their loved ones. But they knew that the newspaper would still publish, as the paper’s owners made their commitment to that task clear from the outset.


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