10 Observations Based on a Reading of 100 10-year Katrina Anniversary Articles

Starting on August 1st, as was to be expected, online news media and bloggers began posting their 10 year Katrina Anniversary stories. I'll admit that I wrote my blogpost in July so as not to be influenced by any of the other perspectives I figured I would be seeing in August. Over the past week the articles really picked up. So much so that I was actually a little surprised by how many articles there were. The past three days nearly every single post that has come through on my Facebook newsfeed has been Katrina related. My newsfeed is definitely biased since the majority of what comes through is either by posted by friends with New Orleans connections or disaster-related friends and pages. Regardless, given my personal connections to New Orleans and the recovery, and my profession I decided the best thing to do would to be read ever single thing I saw posted. Starting last Monday I used the Facebook "Save for Later" feature (which is just a genius feature) to collect every Katrina/ Gulf-Coast related article I saw. This weekend I went back and read them all. Yes, in the past 48 hours I have read just over 100 blogposts/ online news articles/ short videos about the 10 year Katrina anniversary. It's been a journey. 

I don't have a TV so I haven't the slightest idea what mainstream media said. I suspect I wouldn't like it. As I mentioned the articles I read came from my newsfeed which means they primarily came from left leaning sources and individuals with connections to New Orleans. Clearly this is a biased collection of articles as it suggests articles that were inaccurate and/ or widely spread among non-New Orleanians didn’t come up on my newsfeed and articles from a politically conservative perspective were largely if not entirely absent (outside the egregious Chicago Tribune article).

Still, as a result of this exercise I have made the following general observations:

1. People REALLY don’t understand the concept of the 100-year/ 500-year floodplain. 

2. Only government officials seem to think New Orleans is recovered. Everyone else seems to be in agreement that progress has been made but there is still serious recovery work to be done. 

3. Basically everyone forgot about Mississippi (of the 100 articles only 4 were written about Mississippi).

4. People are either 100% sure the changes to the New Orleans flood-protection system (which they mostly interpret as the levees) is the best in the world or they are 100% sure they are the worst, there seems to be no in-between. 

5. Everyone definitely still hates FEMA (for their response... and maybe just in general, that part wasn't clear).  

6. There seems to be widespread agreement and understanding that Katrina was mostly a human-made catastrophe (I’d speculate that’s largely because of the work levees.org has done!). 

7. Surprisingly most people have caught on that defining and measuring recovery as "return to normal" is inadequate and inaccurate. Thus a lot of people, with no EM background or disaster experience were awkwardly trying to figure out the definition of recovery and how to measure it. As a recovery researcher this made me smile.  

8. Overwhelming recognition of the role racial inequality has played in shaping the story of Katrina including racial inequality in New Orleans pre-Katrina, through the response and recovery, AND in connection with the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

9. Recognition that wetland loss is a HUGE problem, that the gas and oil industry are largely responsible, the relationship between wetland loss and hurricanes, and that billions of dollars is needed yesterday in order to try and fix it. 

10. And finally, everyone still thinks Michael Brown is an idiot.

I definitely have lots of thoughts about each of these 10 points. Some surprised me, some didn't. Some made me angry and are causing me great concern, and some made me happy to see that people have evolved in their understanding of Katrina and New Orleans. 

As I was reading these articles I noticed many of the topics discussed were topics that emergency management researchers (and associated) are looking at (or should be looking at). It seems like understanding what the general public thinks of these things has some real value. If how I collected the the articles I read wasn’t such a problem (i.e., biased because only looked at articles that came up on my newsfeed) I would do an actual content analysis. There are some basic questions we could answer based on what has been written and how frequently articles with certain perspectives were shared (assuming that sharing = agreement).

Do people perceive New Orleans to be recovered? How do people define recovery? How are they measuring recovery? How does an individuals perception of a complete or incomplete recovery differ depending on certain factors (i.e., government officials, nonprofits, race, gender, nativity, etc.)? What issues are people connecting New Orleans to (i.e., wetland loss, black lives matter movement)? How do people interpret how Katrina has influenced disasters that have happened since (e.g., Joplin, Sandy, etc.)? What do people think about levee protections/ mitigation/ and preparedness efforts that have or have not been put into place since? Has blame placement shifted since the storm? What recovery techniques (i.e., privatizing the school system, models of rebuilding homes, etc.) have been successful? How do people measure that success? Do people think New Orleans is resilient? Have they been this whole time? Are they more resilient now? How are people defining resiliency? Same for sustainability. 

When Katrina first happened the general consensus seemed to be that it would take 10 years to recover. As a researcher and someone who participated in the recovery I'm very interested in how this seemingly arbitrary date was chosen. I was worried that there would be an onslaught of "yes" or "no" articles. Those definitely made an appearance but I was pleasantly surprised to see that many people fought the urge to minimize their coverage of this anniversary to a one dimensional narrative and instead offered insightful, respectful commentaries that elevated the voices of local New Orleanians.

I'll end with one final observation... the conclusion of the majority of these posts was that there is still recovery work to be done in New Orleans, especially the Lower Ninth Ward and yet not a single article that I read included a donation link to any of the nonprofits that are still working everyday throughout the neighborhoods of New Orleans on recovery tasks. 


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Common Ground