New York, NY —
Read Senior Editor Femi Oke's notes on the series below.
It's been three years since Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast and changed the lives hundreds of thousands of Americans. This week, The Takeaway is talking to some of those people and looking back at the events that followed the storm.
Friday, August 29, 2008
» Three years after Katrina, Jo "Cool" Davis says his career is finally getting back on track
» What happened in New Orleans could happen to you, grassroots group warns
» The New Orleans Restaurant Count
We were in a planning meeting a month ago and Adaora stopped the post-show chatter with "What are we doing for Katrina?" The third anniversary was coming up and it meant a lot to Adaora, because she had been one of the journalists in 2005 covering the disaster from New Orleans.
I'd just finished producing a special Iraq edition of "The Takeaway" and was fresh from juggling a theme show — I took on the project.
The first challenge was getting Katrina into our program mix just as relations between Russia and The West were deteriorating over conflict in Georgia, Pakistan's President was being pressured into stepping down and the Democratic Convention in Denver was coming up. Fighting for airtime for reflective coverage on Hurricane Katrina could be tricky, so instead of going for a single day of coverage we chose another approach. Every day for the week of Katrina's anniversary we would have a story each hour, so our coverage wasn't confined to a one-day effort.
The team had a lot of success finding stories and guests for the show. Three years after Katrina there was still so much to say, so getting people out of bed early to talk to us was not a hard sell. Lolis Eric Elie, a reporter with The Times Picayune in New Orleans, kicked off the series with a sobering analysis of lessons learned so far and why the rest of the United States should care. The most controversial guest booking was Michael Brown, the ex-head of FEMA. He was one of the most high profile officials during the Katrina disaster and many still blame him for the mess that happened along the Gulf Coast after Katrina hit. It took a few days to track him down and I must admit we did call up a few company executives called 'Michael Brown' until we found the right one. The team was clearly split between not wanting to give him airtime and being extremely curious about his perspective three years later and how he weathered national criticisim. The curious lobby won, but listen to his interview and see what you think.
Behind the scenes, you get to hear the real passion of the guests. Amani Jambhekar, a senior student at Tulane University, told me how determined she was to rebuild New Orleans. Amani is planning on being a doctor because there's a shortage of good doctors in her neighborhood.
The press agent of musician and composer Terence Blanchard told me it would be almost impossible to talk to Terence before his interview. He had flown into Denver to play at the Democratic Convention, he had students to teach at the Monk Institute and basically the man was seriously busy. I called Terence anyway and he made time to chat about his home city of New Orleans and what he's been doing to help rebuild it. Terence also helped me pick the beautiful tracks from his Katrina inspired CD that we played in his interview.
As we started the series of Katrina conversations, tropical system Gustav moved into the Caribbean. The guests we had planned almost two weeks ago became even more relevant. Terence Blanchard evacuated after our interview and Sandy Rosenthal from Levees.Org checked the weather forecast as she was waiting to talk to John and Adaora.
The Takeaway got a taste of the true spirit of New Orleans from two unexpected responses: Jo Cool, the gospel singer, said Gustav didn't worry him — He had lived through worse while food expert Tom Fitzmorris said food was always important in New Orleans even with a potential hurricane looming. They made us chuckle on a sombre day, August 29, the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast.
— Femi Oke