There's nothing like a big story to energize journalists, and there was no bigger story last year than Hurricane Katrina and its effect on New Orleans. As a result, while the city itself continues to slowly rebuild, New Orleans media today are arguably more robust than they've ever been.
"In many ways there's more opportunity now - both in journalism and PR," says John Deveney, president of Deveney Communication. "Over the past year, there have been some real career-defining moments for the media here. The New Orleans Times-Picayune won two Pulitzer prizes, and the Gulfport, [MS], paper, 60 miles away, also won a Pulitzer."
Even the local advertising base is proving surprisingly resilient, thanks to public and private funds pouring into the city's recovery.
"I wouldn't say thriving, but most are doing quite well, and we're all hanging in there," says Mark Singletary, New Orleans Publishing Group president and publisher of New Orleans CityBusiness. "Our magazine is running at about 80% of the ads we were doing last year."
But Deveney points out that the area now boasts more than just local outlets. "We have national bureaus, such as CNN, ABC, NBC, and NPR, that were never here before," he says. "It may be a smaller city going forward, but it will have a much higher profile in terms of awareness and interest."
Although not all of the coverage is about the recovery, Singletary points out that most stories inevitably have a Katrina angle, forcing local outlets to look beyond the city/region for news.
"We've always been a personality-driven publication and still have those personalities, but we now do more stories on government, education, and other things affecting the workforce," he says. "Labor, finance, insurance - all those issues are indistinguishable from Katrina."
Amy Ferguson, head of the local PR firm Ferguson Freelance, adds: "[The stories that] are most interesting to reporters now are [ones] focused on the future. We've been supersaturated with disaster coverage, and people want stories on what's happening next."
Deveney says outlets are also adapting to the changing demographics, boosting their Spanish-language content, for instance, in response to the increased Hispanic workforce.
"There's still plenty of emerging stories," adds Val Marmillion, president of Washington, DC-based Marmillion & Co., which has clients in the area. "The wetlands issue has increased media interest in eco-tourism. There's also more focus on civil rights and social justice issues linked to the plight of the citizenry."
PITCHING... New Orleans media
Virtually every aspect of New Orleans media, including traditional entertainment radio, has recommitted itself to news gathering, so pitch widely
Recovery may not generate interest forever, but right now every new office and store opening can be worked into the local media's post-Katrina coverage
New Orleans is still in flux, so any PR effort must be flexible in terms of when and how you issue releases and stage events