Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Brian Thevenot, New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter

Apocalypse in New Orleans: A firsthand account of how a small band of Times-Picayune journalists covered devastation and misery in their shattered home:
The Saturday after Hurricane Katrina drowned my city, I sat alone in a rented Jeep in front of the latest headquarters of the Times-Picayune's "New Orleans bureau" – our fifth in as many days – pounding furiously on a laptop, taking belts of Johnnie Walker Red to beat back tears. I was locked out of the staff's Uptown house, awaiting the return of the tiny team of colleagues that now represented the entirety of the paper's presence in the city we once dominated. On the advice of cops who warned us they couldn't patrol the area – and to forget 911 – we'd arranged for a shotgun and two .357 revolvers that would arrive before nightfall.

As I typed, I struggled desperately to do justice to the scene I'd witnessed that morning, amid a mass of refugees at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, one that had laid bare the beauty and the horror of mankind and reduced me to a sobbing wreck.

Sitting in the Jeep, air-conditioning on full blast, the scene through the windshield turned even more surreal: A building collapsed 30 yards in front of me. A dozen men dressed in black flak jackets and shirts marked simply "security" raced toward me and away from the cascading bricks, glass and wood.

I leapt out of the car to help but found no one hurt. My heartbeat returned to whatever had become normal after days of rushing adrenaline, sporadic food and listless sleep on hard floors.

It had come to this: During the worst natural disaster on American soil and the biggest story in its 168-year history, the Picayune's roughly 200-member city-based editorial staff had been reduced to about a dozen editors, writers and photographers. We'd set out four days earlier, as the rest of the paper evacuated to Baton Rouge and Houma, to cover the storm out of one delivery truck. Since then we'd gathered a canoe, a kayak, two bicycles and several staffers' cars. We'd foraged in journalists' homes for food, water, housing, computers, notebooks and sporadically working landlines. A wind-up radio served as our only connection to fast-breaking news of the storm.
Via a glowing review by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at "Making Light."

In a way, this one doesn't fit with the general "no media voices" idea here, but maybe that's not so much the idea as "no second-hand stories, the storyteller lived the story." This is a lived experience narrated by the man who lived it.


Blogger eRobin said...

Great find. I agree that it fits the theme. It's good to have some personal reporting from trained journalists.

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