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Katrina: News departments cover storm’s aftermath from afar

Originally published in Current, Sept. 19, 2005
By Mike Janssen and Karen Everhart

At stations evacuated along the Gulf Coast, no one stayed to cover Hurricane Katrina firsthand. But broadcasters farther removed from the hurricane’s path have taken in displaced colleagues and expanded their small news departments to provide special coverage.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting did not send either of its two radio reporters to the Gulf Coast. But working from its Jackson headquarters, its radio staff and borrowed TV producers provided around-the-clock coverage from Aug. 28—the day before Katrina made landfall—into the following week, informing listeners about shelters, water distribution and power interruptions. The station has since reported on the thousands of evacuees living in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson and on the state’s handling of displaced students, says Teresa Collier, news director.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Robyn Ekings stayed away from the coast until the week after the storm, when she reported on residents of Jefferson Parish returning to their homes. Ekings is managing editor of Louisiana: The State We’re In, a weekly half-hour show that expanded to an hour Sept. 2 to cover post-Katrina fallout.

Ekings, a New Orleans resident, stayed in her French Quarter apartment through the storm but decamped to Baton Rouge when looting began. On her return, she passed through military checkpoints to find a scene blanketed in black water and a heavy stench. “It was truly like everybody says — like a war zone,” she says.

LPB’s coverage is now focusing on Katrina’s financial and environmental impact on the state. Ekings says her reporting can’t match the immediacy of commercial stations’ coverage, “but I can try to put it in perspective.”

KRVS-FM in Lafayette, La., took in producers of American Routes and pubcasters from WWOZ-FM as it scrambled to add news and information to its music-centered format.
“ We are just spinning with activity here,” said David Spizale, KRVS’s g.m. “As a station that’s typically a music station, we are now trying to deliver a lot more information on the air. We’re somewhat equipped for it.”

The station is in the center of Acadiana, a region of Louisiana distinguished by a rich musical and cultural heritage and French dialect, Spizale said. “We share a lot in terms of music, food and authenticity” with New Orleanians, said Spizale, who estimates that about 40,000 have moved to Lafayette.

Spizale expected Beth Fertig, a reporter from WNYC in New York, to arrive shortly and begin filing stories for NPR from KRVS and, he hoped, assist with local coverage as well.
“ We do need that kind of help and expertise,” Spizale said. “The staff has been doing a great job of interviewing people who have come into Lafayette, particularly the musicians from New Orleans” and others with stories of hasty retreats from Katrina, he said.

Web page posted Oct. 4, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Current Publishing Committee


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