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Katrina still on reporters' radar

Despite extensive media coverage, the New Orleans mayor says there are still hurricane stories that need to be told.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published August 19, 2006


INDIANAPOLIS - Facing a cavernous meeting room packed with black journalists Friday, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin delivered a simple prescription for his city's current problems as the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's impact neared:

Better media coverage.

"I came here with a message for you as black journalists. ... You need to tell this story, and you need to look for angles your boss wouldn't approve," Nagin told members of the National Association of Black Journalists during a plenary session titled "Covering Katrina: Truth and Consequences."

"If I were to tell you that in trying to get grants to come back to the city of New Orleans a citizen has to go through a process where they treat you like a criminal - they fingerprint you and question you ... would that be worthy of coverage?" he said. "Don't be hoodwinked ... into thinking the people of New Orleans can't get the job done. Nobody's telling that story."

It was an unusual observation, given the amount of national and local media coverage New Orleans' struggles have received so far; NBC and National Public Radio maintain bureaus in the city, and CNN's Anderson Cooper has regularly challenged ineffectual relief response in a segment for his evening news show called "Keeping Them Honest."

Still, over a 10-minute speech and brief Q&A session, Nagin blamed problems with rebuilding the city on a "bureaucratic" state system, which has kept New Orleans from getting relief dollars as quickly as cities in other states. Though the city has received about $120-million in federal funds and $1.3-million in state grants, the relief hasn't come quickly enough or in large enough amounts, he said.

Nagin declined to say if any friction with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco could be blamed for the delay, but he did stress the issues of race and class revealed in the Katrina aftermath.

"What happened in the city of New Orleans could happen in any American city," said Nagin, who admitted only two mistakes of his own during the crisis: failing to call for a mandatory evacuation sooner and failing to move hundreds of school buses that were rendered unusable by flooding.

"It exposed the soft underbelly of America as it relates to race and class," he added. "I truly believe that if the disaster would have happened in Orange County, Calif. ... we would have had a different result."

But Nagin's words rang hollow for New Orleans native Tiffany Zeno, 31, who could barely hold back tears as the mayor finished his speech. Now working as a producer for Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR-TV, Zeno noted her family only recently received a trailer from federal authorities to use as a temporary home - nearly a year after Katrina's Aug. 29 impact.

"I'm not impressed. ... I think he sidestepped questions and didn't address the issues," she said. "He's talking about people getting $5,000 signing bonuses to work at McDonald's, but my mother has a master's degree. There are professionals who want to come home, but they can't find jobs."

Nagin's appearance fell on the third day of the conference, which lasts until Sunday and will draw more than 2,200 attendees. Speakers such as civil rights leader Al Sharpton and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf have addressed the convention, considered the largest gathering of minority journalists in the country.

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 19, 2006, 01:19:59]


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