Living Katrina: 10 Years Later
The shared tragedy – between our journalists, and friends and neighbors across the Mississippi Coast who suffered such massive losses together – fostered a sense of compassion and empathy that we’ve carried forward over the last 10 years.
Once it became clear that the New Orleans levees had failed, most national media coverage was directed there, leaving our newsroom as the principal teller of Mississippi’s story. But it also provided us with a unique perspective and shared experience with those who suffered in the storm’s wake, and led to an urgent sense of advocacy in our coverage and editorial voice.
The Sun Herald community was profoundly affected. Many lost everything – homes and possessions – and many more suffered significant damage. Almost everyone was contending with the same issues they were covering.
Around the Sun Herald building, Knight Ridder, our then parent company, immediately set up a support base complete with RVs, tents, food, water, and portable toilets, as well as a full complement of technical support to help keep us going. This included an embedded psychologist, Dr. Joyce Aaron, who stayed with us for several weeks, holding regular staff sessions to talk about issues of trauma that almost everyone was dealing with. Dr. Aaron was also available for individual counseling, and I believe most of us checked in for a session.
Our exposure to widespread suffering impacted us in haunting and traumatic ways, but the demands of our jobs also kept us focused on the story, and gave us fewer opportunities to dwell on our personal problems.
The most important lesson I learned in those hard days was what I’d call the righteous purpose of journalism. We took great pride in delivering an edition of the Sun Herald every day after the storm. All of us – from newsroom personnel to ad reps to delivery staff – found satisfaction and reward in placing a newspaper in the hands of people standing in lines and sifting through rubble. I’ll never forget the genuine appreciation from members of our community upon receiving the daily paper. It was an important reminder of a newspaper’s value to a community that was trying to stand back up after the largest natural disaster ever suffered in America.
South Mississippi’s journey of rebuilding and recovery has been chronicled over the last decade by Sun Herald journalists whose own lives and jobs were altered by Katrina, all during a time that’s seen the biggest changes in the history of American journalism. While our newsroom has been battered by these forces I can say, with certainty, that we have not been defeated.
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Russell Lewis: Passion and Patience