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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

What I Couldn't Fit on the Page Fits Here

5

March

One of the growing frustrations in today's newsroom relates to a simple issue: space.

Or, more precisely, the lack of it.

For today's story about the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper, I spent four days hanging out in the Crescent City, logging countless hours with staffers at the paper and long stretches traveling through the myriad neighborhoods of a town which Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped off the map.

And although I got nearly 40-inches of space in today's newspaper to tell the amazing story of how the newspaper left their newsroom for weeks following Katrina's impact and returned to keep putting out a newspaper, there were lots of things I had to leave out. But thanks to the blog, I can still get them before a few eyeballs.

One thing, was the rhythm of the Crescent City, nearly a half-year past the worst disaster in its recent history. Many traffic lights still lack power, temporary four-way stop signs hastily posted at intersections; visitors can drive through a mostly intact neighborhood and turn onto a street where devastated homes stretch for miles. And the city's frustration over the
slow pace of rebuilding is almost palpable.

One of the people I cut down in my story was Jon Donley, editor of NOLA.com, the web site which also features material from the newspaper. During a reporter's visit to his downtown office, Donley flipped over his laptop to show a moving video he assembled of the newsroom's evacuation, displaying still photos and camcorder footage over his emotional narration and The Tragically Hip's 1989 tune, ""New Orleans is Sinking.''

Even then, five months later, watching the images brought tears to his eyes. (Listen to Jon's emotional narration here).

""It's tough seeing your city so destroyed when we don't have any assurance it will be rebuilt,'' said Donley, who wound up featured in a G.Q. photo spread dubbed Heroes of the Storm. ""The mayor's pretending, so he can convince people to come back. Even though many of them have nothing to come back to.''

Another person I had to clip from my piece was Leslie Williams, a reporter at the newspaper. Leslie, a brilliant writer, was sent to Bay St. Louis to cover the likely landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Cut off from his newsroom -- unaware they had evacuated to Baton Rouge -- Leslie said he became a "feral reporter" scavenging for supplies with family members around their ruined ancestral home while editors dispatched a reporter to determine if he was alive or dead. Read his story here.

While hanging out with a crew of Times Picayune employees who gather each weekend to help gut the homes of fellow employees, I met Ullrich Darensbourg -- a 30-year employee of the newspaper who helps out at guttings since the crew worked on his home. Ullrich was sweeping rubble, despite a metal prosthetic leg which made navigating the ruined home's interior difficult.

A big, barrel-chested guy who runs foot races despite his physical challenges, Ullrich also contracted Hepatitis while getting blood tranfusions during his amputation and struggles with diabetes. But his eyes didn't tear up until he started talking about the way his fellow employees banded together to help him clean out his ruined home.

""This situation is like having a handicap,'' said Darensbourg, who lost his leg 25 years ago when a car hit him while he was delivering bundles of the Times-Picayune. ""If you let negative thinking progress, it will deteriorate everything and bring your whole life down. We can use this to bring life back to our life together, and prosper.''

Truer words were never spoken. And after many days spent chronicling the amazing story of the Times Picayune's survival, I found their continuing perserverance and relevance to readers a bit inspiring. If they could reach inside during their deepest challenge and find strength to do such work, surely others of us the journalism profession can do likewise.

New Times Online Portal

If you click onto our sptimes.com URL, you will notice there is a new portal pulling together many web sites maintained by the newspaper and its parent company, tampabay.com. It's glitzy and new and bundles together lots of content created by Times ublishing Co., including florida Trend magazine, tbt* and the newspaper.

Of course, I rather selfishly worry that this will make it even tougher for web surfers to find my stories, and especially this blog. With so much more content to feature, it will be easier for any individual effort to be lost. Hope the extra convenience for users translates into more audience for all of us...

Your Comments Can Make an Impact

I've noticed a couple of you have left your thoughts here about the site redesign. Please feel free to continue that discussion, as the folks who organize our web site often read the blogs to see what's what...

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]

    

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