Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The LA Times, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and LAT Editor Dean Baquet.

Once the magnitude of the disaster became apparent, I was curious how the LA Times would handle the coverage under new editor, Dean Baquet.

This is because Baquet was born and raised in New Orleans. His heart is still there and it will always be there, as it should be. It is also where much of his family and many of his friends live. It is the one place that would always be special to him even if he was not a peripatetic newspaper man moving from town to town.

My curiosity was aroused because Michael Kinsley had recently turned the editorial section into a month long cheering section and bully pulpit for the control of malaria. This was notable because, at the same time, his wife had a very highly paid job with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Additionally, the eradication of malaria in Africa is one of the Foundation's major programs.

Also noteworthy, during the same month, the editorial pages remained largely silent on both Killer King and the Getty while the Times was filled with stories about the outrageous behavior at each institution.

Now with that shining example - how has the Time's coverage been affected by the new Editor?

The answer seems to be... barely at all.

If anything, just possibly (though unlikely), maybe very slightly less coverage, at the very beginning.

I was a little surprised by the Saturday paper which barely mentioned the threat to the Gulf Coast. But I was really amazed by the Sunday final edition. Even after the voluntary evacuation of the entire city of New Orleans and the realization that a potential Category 4 or 5 storm could hit - and flood - the city, thus creating unprecedented disaster - the story was still clear back on page 14 of the 'A' section.

Now partly that because foreign news is always covered in the first part of the 'A' section (unless the story starts on the front page), and all national news stories are stuck in the rear part of the section.

One of the many mysteries of the Times self-inflicted self-destruction is why 'A' section stories are not positioned in order or importance or reader interest, but by whether they take place in the US or overseas. This is why readers needed to read past a story about calypso singers libeling chickens before they could find a story about the possible destruction of one of the world's great cities. It is also one of the many reasons why readers are fleeing the LA Times.

But getting back to the Times' coverage of the disaster. It has been excellent. And there has been nothing in the degree or type of coverage that would indicate any special interest was being given the story. Plus the editorial page waited until today before even commenting on the disaster.

That's the good news. And it is good news.

But I have (of course) one caveat.

When he became editor, Dean Baquet said he wanted to get to know the city and the people in it. And, hopefully, he will soon make good on that promise.

But is it is a two way street. As the editor of the only major newspaper covering Los Angeles - we should get to know him. And I can think of no better time than now.

With New Orleans facing a disaster that none of us can even begin to understand - the obliteration (if, hopefully, only temporarily) of an entire city - I for one would like to know what his thoughts are and how it has affected him and his family and his friends back in New Orleans.

1 comment:

Bob G said...

Brady -- I pointed out on how the daily newspapers missed the point in their Sunday editions. Now they seem to be missing the story about why the levees failed due to undermaintenance that need not have occurred. Probably do that story for the next one. Kevin Drum's site has the chronology -- haven't seen anything like it in the Times, so if you have, please do a follow-up and set me straight.