Sensitivity crucial in outreach around Katrina's anniversary

It has been a year since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, destroying major cities and displacing thousands of people.

It has been a year since Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast, destroying major cities and displacing thousands of people.

During the ensuing year, a plethora of news organizations have sprung up in the area to bring the public stories on everything from heroism to despair to disarray.

"After Katrina, almost every US news outlet has established a bureau in New Orleans," said Deborah Grant, vice chancellor of university relations at Tulane University, at a recent PRWeek roundtable. "New Orleans has had unprecedented coverage since, but it doesn't paint a pretty picture. The Times-Picayune, our local paper, has won two Pulitzers for its coverage. The level of its reporting has gone up exponentially."

The Newhouse-owned daily, produced in New Orleans, had stepped up impressively during the crisis, calling for Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown's ouster and continuing to put out a paper despite having to evacuate.

Why does it matter?

Reaching out to the media during a time when news heavily focuses on an event that can have negative emotional resonance with many people can be very tricky.

"Anyone looking at the news cycle is painfully aware that the anniversary is coming and should plan outreach appropriately," says Bennett Kleinberg, VP at Goodman Media. "All news organizations will cover this because they have to, but I think their planned pieces are going to be [in flux] due to other more pressing issues that may pop up."

Kleinberg adds, "Capitalizing on an event like this requires tremendous sensitivity and must be done with great care."

Five facts:

1 The first part of Spike Lee's new HBO documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, premiered August 21. It focuses on four different aspects of the disaster by taking an audience through events pre- and post-Katrina.

2 Many outlets are looking deeper at the affected areas of Katrina as the one-year anniversary rolls around, including Fortune, The New Yorker, and US News & World Report.

3 Leonard Pitts Jr., who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for his columns about the devastation in the Gulf region, is going to do a series of columns marking the anniversary, making his way from New Orleans to Biloxi, MS.

4 According to an article in Editor & Publisher, the Gulf Coast papers are approaching the anniversary with some trepidation, trying not to remind area residents of the worst natural disaster the US has seen in recent history.

5 While most news outlets ponder what comes next, some are trying to take a different approach to Katrina coverage. The AP recently did a story on pets lost to the flood waters.


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