Covering Katrina

Covering Katrina

Exhibit Opening: Katrina Reminded Editors of 'Importance of News'

August 26, 2010

Guests: Jim Amoss, Stan Tiner and Shepard Smith

WASHINGTON — Hurricane Katrina forever changed the journalists who covered it, according to three people who led news teams through the deadly 2005 storm.

"It changed everybody in my newsroom and made them better journalists," said Jim Amoss, editor of New Orleans's Times-Picayune.

Amoss, along with Stan Tiner, editor of the Sun Herald in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., and Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, spoke at an Aug. 26 Newseum program that marked the opening of "Covering Katrina," an exhibit that explores the news media's coverage of the storm that took 1,800 lives and displaced 1 million. The exhibit features artifacts from the Sun Herald and The Times-Picayune, who both won the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for public service.

The mission to deliver the news was paramount. Two Times-Picayune reporters on bicycles discovered that the levees had been breached and the city would soon be flooded. One realized his house was gone but continued reporting.

"That mission came before anything, including their personal losses," said Amoss.

The reporters' bicycles are displayed in the exhibit. About a fourth of the Sun Herald staff lost their homes, said Tiner.

"One man came in my office and wept. He dried his tears and went out and did what the rest of the staff did," Tiner said.

Government's failure still stuns the journalists.

"It's still baffling and appalling that this storm happened Monday morning and the federal government arrives Friday afternoon," said Amoss.

"Every level failed, and every level lied," added Smith, who said reporters prepare themselves mentally to cover big stories but "you don't anticipate the collapse of society around you."

The Sun Herald ran front-page editorials pleading for help.

"We had to speak for the people of South Mississippi," Tiner said. "That was an important role for us."

As the news industry endures a rough transition from print to digital delivery, Tiner said, Katrina brought back "the organic feeling of the importance of news."

"People felt they went through the most traumatic event of their lives with the newspaper, and that created a bond," said Amoss.

"Covering Katrina" is at the Newseum through Sept. 5, 2011.

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