Think covering Hurricane Katrina was challenging for reporters from national news outlets? Consider what it was like for local journalists who lived the catastrophe.
“I’d say the most difficult aspect has been covering the news event of a lifetime when you’re part of it,” said Kate Magandy, city and online editor of the Biloxi SunHerald. “We’ve all been affected by this hurricane. This is our community, our home. People lost their homes, some lost family members. Yet we still continue to cover the story. That’s tough.”
The story of SunHerald.com hurricane blogger Don Hammack puts it all in perspective. While Hammack’s house was being destroyed, he was at work, feverishly typing all the information he received from the residents of Biloxi into his continuously updated blog.
It seems that even as powerful as Katrina was, the hurricane was no match for the journalistic force of the dedicated staff of the SunHerald.
“The Sunherald.com created a virtual community when their real community was being torn apart by Hurricane Katrina,” said the judges. “Few feats can top that as public service. And the staff did so with a sensitivity of tone and intuitive understanding of what their various audiences needed.”
On the newspaper’s Web site, visitors could access Hammack’s blog, reader-submitted photos of the damage, audio and video of the hurricane and a discussion board devoted to helping displaced survivors find their families.
“I think our work in online has helped cement the Web site as a valuable information tool in our community and around the country,” Magandy said. “It also has shown us that we can provide information to the public that they’re not going to get anywhere else, and it’s our responsibility to provide it for them.
“Without everyone treating the Web site as a vital component that readers needed as much as they needed a printed paper, we could not have produced a site that offered so much information and helped so many people in a time when information was as precious as food and water.”
After witnessing the profound impact of the SunHerald’s efforts on Biloxi, Magandy believes now more than ever that newspapers will be able to weather whatever the future may hold.
“I don’t know if you’d call it a change, but I certainly have had my faith in my profession affirmed,” said Magandy. “I now know that we are a vital part of this community, and that gives me confidence that newspapers will continue to endure.”