News Outlets Improvise to Report on Storm

By: ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Relying on satellite phones, blogs and the hospitality of colleagues, media outlets whose offices and production systems were devastated by Hurricane Katrina improvised to report the storm’s awesome damage.

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, unable to print physical copies of the newspaper Tuesday, instead posted full-color scans of news pages on its Web site. “CATASTROPHIC,” read the Page 1 headline.

A technical mishap Monday night had thwarted the paper’s initial plans to have another newspaper, the Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., print copies of the Times-Picayune.

And on Tuesday morning, a note posted on the Times-Picayune’s Web site drove home the personal danger of staying behind to report the story: The paper said it was evacuating its New Orleans building.

“Water continues to rise around our building, as it is throughout the region,” the posting said. “We want to evacuate our employees and families while we are still able to safely leave our building.”

It was unclear later Tuesday how, or whether, the paper would print its Wednesday editions, and its editors could not be reached by phone. The Advocate said Times-Picayune staffers might use desks at an Advocate emergency site nearby in Baton Rouge.

The Sun Herald of Gulfport, Miss. — one of the places most brutally pounded by Katrina — relied on a team of editors and page designers in Columbus, Ga., to print about 20,000 copies of its Tuesday edition.

Lee Ann Schlatter, a spokeswoman for Knight Ridder, the publishing company that owns both the Gulfport and Columbus papers, said the company was sending in dozens of additional journalists from other papers as well as supplies.

“We’re trying to get food and water in there,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s real basic survival needs to make it possible for these people to do the job.”

With most regular telephones and cell phones rendered useless after the storm, Schlatter said the company was sending in satellite phones — the same piece of equipment used by many reporters covering the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Sun Herald also relied on its Web site to carry news of the hurricane. At one point Tuesday, the headline read, “Our tsunami.”

The newspaper posted a Web log, or blog, of dispatches from its reporters, with titles like, “Our main Katrina story.” The paper also posted a telephone number, asking its employees to call to report they were safe.

In New Orleans, talk radio station WWL-AM became something of a crisis line, with callers reporting the locations of people who needed to be rescued from attics and rooftops.

On the air Monday night, host Bob Del Giorno described huddling near a closet with employees at the station, near the Superdome, when windows in the station blew out at the height of the storm.

By Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press still did not know the condition of its bureau, on the 25th floor of a building near the Superdome in New Orleans.

While three of its reporters stayed in New Orleans to cover the devastation, other staffers set up an improvised bureau at the Baton Rouge newspaper.

Most of the bureau had been working since Saturday at the offices of the Hammond Daily Star, a newspaper about 55 miles away from New Orleans, until the furious storm hit Monday.

“The phones went out, and then after the power failed a few hours later, water started coming through the roof,” said Charlotte Porter, the AP’s chief of bureau for Louisiana.

The news cooperative had 30 staffers — text, audio, video, and photo — covering the disaster, AP spokesman Jack Stokes said.

Television stations in the storm’s path also had to scramble to make alternate plans.

WWL-TV, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans, moved on Sunday night from its studios in the city’s French Quarter to the campus of Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge.

And WDSU, an NBC affiliate, sent its main anchors to Jackson, Miss., where a station there — both are owned by media firm Hearst Argyle — broadcast its signal onto WDSU’s air in New Orleans.

Stations from Houston and Dallas also sent helicopters to capture the storm’s wreckage.

For news outlets of all kinds, simply getting in touch with reporters proved to be extremely difficult.

Editors and managers spent much of Monday and Tuesday just trying to track down their staffs and make sure they were safe.

“We’re having tremendous problems with phone service,” said Carl Redman, managing editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate. “The reporters can’t dial in here. The land lines are all messed up. Communication is a very, very big problem.”

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