Editors at APME Confab Praise Decision to Keep it in New Orleans

By: Joe Strupp

Editors arriving today for the annual Associated Press Managing Editors conference here said having the yearly confab in the hurricane-ravaged city, a move that sparked some initial concern, actually adds to the event with an up-close look at how a major story is handled.

Although the yearly APME gathering had been planned for New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina, some uncertainty had arisen after the hurricane that the conference should be moved or postponed. Several months ago, APME organizers chose to keep the event here and make the storm and its aftermath part of the conference.

?It enhances it because there is a fairly strong side element of a news story,? said Bill Felber, executive editor of the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, who spoke as he checked in Wednesday at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, where the conference is being held. ?There is an intriguing element to the recovery from disaster, in the physical sense and the metaphysical sense.?

Along with the usual newsroom-related issues, from readership demand to online ideas, APME organizers have incorporated numerous events pegged to the hurricane, including a panel later today with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and daily bus tours of the city?s most devastated areas.

?I am interested to hear about the stories of the area,? said David Fritz, executive editor of The News Leader in Staunton, Va. ?It is good to be close to where the news is going on.?

Jack Marsh, executive director of the Al Neuharth Media Center at the University of South Dakota, agreed. ?Journalists run to a story, not away from it,? he said. ?New Orleans is the site of the greatest natural disaster in our history and one of the biggest news stories of our time. The venue will make our discussions more relevant.?

Registration levels appear to show that keeping the conference here was the right decision. Late last week, organizers said they had some 270 journalists signed up, the most in four years for the annual event. With guests, spouses and speakers, the total attendance is expected to surpass 400.

?You get to see first-hand what is out there,? said Kendall Clinton, city editor of the Dothan (Ala.) Eagle, which suffered its own hurricane-related problems last year. ?Most of the hurricanes we have seen have been minimal. Most of the people who are not from the Gulf Coast, who have not seen a hurricane up close, can see it.?

Steve Mullins, a 25-year veteran of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. and current managing editor, said he hopes to bring back some practical information about covering hurricanes, which hit his area often. ?We get hurricanes and this is a learning experience for any city, like Charleston, that expects hurricanes every year,? he said.

But the conference is not just hurricane-themed. New Orleans is still the music and cultural center of the South for many, and organizers have kept that in mind . Events ranging from an opening musical performance by the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts to a look at Creole life by a local folklorist, Nick Spitzer also are on tap — and Times-Picayune Mardi Gras beads were included in each attendee?s conference gift bag.

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