I’m sure most of the world doesn’t realize it, but here on the Gulf Coast we are preparing for a big storm. No, I’m not talking about Tropical Storm Chris — at least I hope not. The one-year anniversary of Katrina is looming large, and we are preparing for a storm of media coverage. We hope that’s the only storm we face this season.

There will be lots of reporters here doing the “one year later” story, and New Orleans will be a focal point. So I’ve been thinking, if they stick a mic in my face, what would I say? What should any of us say? I’ve been speculating on the best stance for New Orleans, the best message to send to the rest of the country. What’s the story we’d like the media to tell?

Given all that I know about today’s media culture, I think the message that would serve us best is something along these lines:

Positive transformation. New Orleanians are working to rebuild their city better than ever, and it’s coming along. We are transforming New Orleans in a good way. We’re keeping the positive aspects of our city and its culture; at the same time we’re working to correct the problems. We’re making progress, but the task is huge, and we need your help.

Whether or not this is actually true is another question entirely. I don’t know what’s true anymore. The questions are too big, and I’m too mixed up in the middle of it all. But I think this is the story that would best serve our interests. I think this is the story that would rally the American people to our cause.

Unfortunately this is all just wishful thinking on my part. The city government has planned a big celebration for the anniversary, complete with fireworks and a “comedy night” at the casino, and other completely inappropriate foolishness. If I was a reporter from out of town, I know the story I’d be inclined to file. I’d contrast the big gala celebration with the devastation in the Lower Ninth Ward and the lack of progress in many flooded neighborhoods. The story would be, “This place is so screwed up.” And that story will hurt us.

So, if anyone reading this in New Orleans gets a moment in the media spotlight, please consider what I’ve said. Please try to put a brave face on it and emphasize the positive, without glossing over the challenges we face. It’s important.

And more importantly, if you’re in New Orleans and not engaged in the positive transformation of our city, please get involved, in whatever way you can. We need your help to make this dream a reality.

  1. Here in New York, we have another huge anniversary coming up next month, and I’m not really sure what to think of it. Nobody really remembers that there was a brief period of “will we rebuild?” for lower Manhattan, because everything except the magic 16 acres has exploded with growth. I think the five year will mostly be political posturing and marketing for that stupid movie. I think I might try to leave town, if possible.

  2. B, I can’t remember if it was you who pointed out Harry Shearer’s take, but I think it’s a good one. He emphasized that we should be sure that anyone we talk to understands that this was not a natural disaster but a failure of the powers that be to do their jobs. Not an act of God, but an inaction of people. I like that take because it shows us to be the victims of negligence that we are, rather than fools for living below sea level.

    I also think it’s important to emphasize, as you and writers to the T-P have done, that so much of the work that’s actually accomplishing something is grass-roots and citizen-initiated, not the billions that are supposed to be inundating us and getting things back to normal. While the leaders plan, the people, lead.

  3. “While the leaders plan, the people lead.” That might have some legs. It has a nice ring to it and it has certainly been the truth this whole time. I thought that same thing in January when the universities just did it.

    It is not for me to say what sort of face is in the best interest of the city, but B makes a good point, and so do Elliott and Schroeder.

  4. The problem with the “manmade disaster” angle or the Bush angle is that it’s hard to make these points without sounding whiny and negative. Rhetorically, I’d recommend against those approaches.

  5. We were such a target for the media here too and I half expect to get follow up calls from everyone that interviewed us or wanted to about the ‘year later’ story…

    unfortunately we’re not much better off if not worse off… and just now someone’s helping us get the rest of our Fema money. A year later.

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