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.