President Obama Celebrates New Orleans on Katrina’s Anniversary

28 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Democrat Donna Brazile says Bush got Katrina right: The Hill.

President Barack Obama traveled to New Orleans on Thursday to meet with residents of the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina as the city approaches the 10th anniversary of the storm that took 1,800 lives.NEW ORLEANS — Nearly three years on, Tom Lowenburg still regards the transformation of his hometown newspaper the way a jilted lover would regard his ex — with a mixture of nostalgia, bitterness and regret. “They chose to decimate their publication,” says Lowenburg, a local bookstore owner who grew up here. “News is important to a community, especially this one.

August 29, 2005–the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana, and became one of the greatest natural disasters in United States’ history–is one of them. Obama spoke about the city’s recovery from massive floods and its potential for growth as citizens work together on rebuilding the city and their lives. “You are an example of what’s possible when, in the face of tragedy and hardship, good people come together to lend a hand and to build a better future,” the president said at the Andrew P. A far lesser, but still lingering, punch came in late 2012 when Advance Publications, owner of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, launched a bold strategy to arrest the paper’s financial free fall.

To better understand the city–one so beloved by T+L readers–10 years later, we asked locals to offer thoughts on the hurricane, its destruction, and the city’s triumphs and failures as it continues to rebuild. She served on a recovery agency created after the storm. “Katrina was more than just a natural disaster, it was in every way a personal tragedy,” she said. “It has taken us more than, I think, 10 years to finish up some of the recovery. She said that Bush “made a commitment and I think he kept his word.” Brazile, who has been active on recovery issues, has praised Bush before, but probably not on Air Force One with President Obama.

With the swiftness of a cloudburst, Advance laid off 200 employees, including about 15 percent of its news staff, and reduced publication of the daily paper to Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Cedric Angeles, the NOLA-based photographer whose images illustrate this piece, puts it succinctly: “I would argue that New Orleans has the most beautiful and deepest soul of any American city.” People don’t realize the mental anguish that we went through in the Lower Ninth Ward. Both agreed that Bush was correct in his response – although the Bush administration was heavily criticized at the time. “I’m one of those individuals that believes that under President Bush’s leadership, we got it right,” Brazile said. “It was slow. All at once, New Orleans, a city that celebrates tradition and quirkiness in roughly equal measure, became the largest in America without a daily newspaper. Advance’s strategy has drawn the attention of publishers around the world, all of whom have the same question: Is this the way to ensure that newspapers survive in the digital age?

In our neighborhood people were always taught to be an active part of the community, to learn how to own your own land, and to be the best that you can be. The storm caused major damage to the Gulf Coast from Texas to central Florida while powering a storm surge that breached the system of levees meant to protect New Orleans from flooding. As the state’s largest paper in recent decades, the Picayune (the name refers to a coin from the city’s early Spanish days) developed a well-earned reputation as the scourge of Louisiana’s rascals and rogues, from the legendary Huey Long to Klansman David Duke. Video of residents seeking refuge on rooftops, inside the Superdome and at the convention center dominated news coverage as Katrina came to symbolize government failure at every level. Ultimately Katrina really served as inspiration–it inspired people to help one another and pull together, and it inspired artists to be more creative.

Henry, as well as “cadaverous smokers, hopeful novelists, skirt-chasers, functional alcoholics and one eccentric spinster who wore her hat indoors,” as Bruce Nolan, a 41-year veteran of the paper, wrote in 2012. In his planned speech, Obama said Katrina helped expose structural inequalities that long plagued New Orleans and left too many people, especially minorities, without good jobs, affordable health care or decent housing and too many kids growing up in the midst of violent crime and attending inefficient schools. The city has recovered much of its pre-storm population, new businesses are opening faster than the national average and better flood protection plans are in place. T-P employees proudly wore T-shirts reading, “We Publish Come Hell and High Water,” And so Advance’s announcement of a print cutback and “digital-first” approach in October 2012 was particularly stinging. Bobby Jindal, a Republican waging a long-shot bid for his party’s presidential nomination who told the president that the anniversary is a time to mourn the loss of loved ones, not espouse “the divisive political agenda of liberal environmental activism.” “A lecture on climate change would do nothing to improve upon what we are already doing,” Jindal told Obama in a letter Wednesday. “Quite the opposite; it would distract from the losses we have suffered, diminish the restoration effort we have made and overshadow the miracle that has been the Louisiana comeback.”

Advance, based in New York, said it wasn’t selling. “It was like a death,” says Anne Milling, 75, a longtime philanthropist and civic leader who helped organize opponents of Advance’s plan. “Everyone here depended on the T-P. My husband and I often sit on the back steps in the morning with our coffee and try to come up with a short list of places we’d move to if “the big one” happened again. A Web site isn’t the same thing.” High atop’s offices on Canal Street, the Times-Picayune’s managers are determined to look forward, not back. Ricky Mathews, its president, and longtime editor Jim Amoss say remaking the paper was a necessity, compelled by the stark facts of the newspaper business.

Though they won’t disclose financial details — Advance is privately held by the billionaire Newhouse family — they strongly suggest the combined operations of the Times-Picayune and have been losing money since 2012. “Our company recognized that iteratively changing the business culture was not going to solve the problem,” says Mathews, whose face appeared on mock “Wanted” posters at the peak of the “Save the Picayune” campaign. “We could no longer do it incrementally.” Amoss, a 67-year-old New Orleans native who has run the newsroom for 25 years, likewise says standing pat would have been “like Kodak holding on to the film business” — which it did until it went bankrupt. Because despite the violence, which ebbed for a while and is now back in full force, the gentrification, and the sad, gap-toothed reality of neighborhoods yet to be rebuilt–this is still a unique city of friendly and interesting people, funky culture, and great food that appears to be on the upswing. Over the past decade, the nation’s 1,300 daily newspapers have lost about 25 percent of their revenue and an equal percentage of their daily subscribers, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Its journalists, about 130 in all, work in ultra-modern offices on the 31st floor of a downtown building, with sweeping views of the Mississippi River waterfront. By emphasizing digital news and cutting its print schedule, Advance is betting that it can save money on overhead, such as running presses and fleets of delivery trucks.

Other companies may be reluctant to follow out of fear of inciting the kind of public-relations backlash Advance faced in New Orleans, says Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute. “The seven-day reading habit is hard-wired into people’s lives,” he says. “You disrupt it at your own peril.” Of course, many publishers would gladly switch entirely to lower-cost digital publishing if they could profitably do so. They say Georges launched the paper merely to raise his profile among voters in southern Louisiana, that there’s no business rationale for a second paper, particularly one as small as the 31,000-circulation Advocate. “I may be the flea having sex with the elephant, but I’m having a good time doing it,” he says. “I’m very comfortable promoting the virtues of a locally owned, seven-day-a-week newspaper.” (And no, Georges adds, he has no plans to run for office). To get a jump on its rival, the Advocate has hired a number of the Picayune’s former stars, including Walt Handelsman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. The passion that stirred in us all defied both Mother Nature and the failed federal levees by creating a better city with more opportunities to share in her culture and where dignity for all was a priority.

Last year, it added home-delivered “bonus” editions on Saturdays and Mondays during the football season. (It’s not clear whether those will resume this fall.) Advance was forced to add the editions by the Advocate’s arrival, says Rebecca Theim, a former Picayune reporter. Amoss says the answer is yes, that digital news gathering tools offer far more flexibility and interactivity for readers than a traditional newsroom could ever muster. A 2013 investigative series called “Louisiana Purchased” (conducted with TV station WVUE) exposed numerous irregularities in state campaign spending and won several national awards. One article, about a Saints player’s postgame tweets, was all of three sentences long. “Neither and the T-P nor the Advocate is as strong as the T-P was right after Katrina,” asserts Leslie Jacobs, a business executive and education-reform advocate who subscribes to both papers.

But he won’t say no, either: “We’re not hiding from the fact that we’ve got to constantly work to change our cost structure to put it in line with our revenue,” he says.

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