Looking For The Bright Side In Devastated New Orleans

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The Times-Picayune doesn’t mince words on its editorial pages.

Last Sunday, for instance, the lead editorial said the conduct of a former city council member was “breathtakingly shameless.” On July 4, the paper said the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) “is still woefully out of touch with its mission.”

There’s a reason for the paper’s continuing tough talk nine months after Katrina devastated and depopulated New Orleans, says Editorial Page Editor Terri Troncale. “We’re not always blasting away, but there is so much to criticize,” she said in a telephone interview.

Every Friday, though, the editorial page features positive developments in the area’s painfully slow redevelopment.

“Signs of Recovery” is a feature that runs on the bottom of the editorials, and features non-commercial “harbingers of rebirth,” as the introductory copy says.

This Friday, one of the signs noted was “flooded vehicles are finally getting picked up, ridding the city of an ugly reminder of the storm.” Another noted that Dillard University was able to hold commencement exercises at its severely damaged campus in the Gentilly neighborhood. And the News Orleans Arena held “its first post-K concert Wednesday,” the feature noted.

“Our thought was that people needed something a little bit more positive , some little positive tidbits to focus on, because things sometimes seem to be moving so slowly,” Troncale said. “Everybody here is hungry for some sign of something positive.”

Editorial writer Sara Pagones came up with the idea for the feature, which debuted back on December 9 — when signs of recovery were few and far between. “Our first item was that traffic lights had been installed at some major intersections,” Troncale said.

It’s becoming a little easier to highlight recovery signs these days, and the Times-Picayune staff was particularly cheered by the removal at long last of flooded automobiles. A huge number of them were parked and stacked under an overpass right next to the newspaper’s offices. “It finally is freeing up some parking space for us,” Troncale said — although she added that until all the cars are gone employees are wary of parking there for fear their cars would be taken away with the flood-damaged wrecks.

However, an item in the Times-Picayune’s news pages indicates that life is still far from normal nine months after Katrina. “Postal Service nears full strength with east N.O., Bywater openings,” read the headline over the article.

While the column solicits signs of recovery from readers, the newsroom staff has been contributing many items as well. “I think it’s a good sign that the news staff really likes (the feature), because that probably represents interest among readers generally,” Troncale said.

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