Here I lay in bed thinking, nine years ago Saturday…I was boarding a plane for Houston. Katrina was slamming into New Orleans and I was on a plane with a bunch of my colleagues…headed right into the aftermath.
This one event changed my life…I came back from those 10 days in New Orleans a different person. I did not tell and amazing story, capture an unbelievable image, write some amazing copy…I did my job. My job was to support WWL-TV, a Belo owned television station whom had the only transmitter sending out a live signal before, during, and after the storm. Why…because a few years previous, Belo just invested millions of dollars to raise the transmitter 20 feet.
It was this night that WWL-TV broadcasted live and CBS News broadcasted their local coverage nationally. This is one of the first major news events to stream live across the Internet, and it took so many hits…it fried Belo Interactive’s servers.
I was a part of team that just helped keep WWL-TV on air along with supporting all local and regional news gathering initiatives. We were not just going to outlying areas for the 6 o’clock news…we were broadcasting raw video elements 24/7. This was not only for public consumption, but also so local, regional, and national authorities could see the devastation from our lens…to make critical decisions.
Remember…this is 2005. Twitter and Facebook were not born. Smart phones were not around yet. Citizen journalism and high speed connectivity was barely available. The way we communicated was text messages, our Nextel touch to talk, and satellite phones with expensive service. So…it was vital for journalists like myself to drive far enough into out-lying areas, carry enough fuel to get us back, to capture footage and an interview with a local authorities so decisions could be made.
I slept in my car for about four days outside the LSU Journalism School. We took showers in the LSU dorms and inside the LSU football stadium facilities. Parents from all parts of Louisiana were bunking with their kids in dorms because their houses were destroyed.
I remember driving into New Orleans two days after Katrina and it looked like a war zone. Military helicopters flying survivors to main land and rescue boats departing to look for survivors sitting on their roofs waiting for help. Visuals captured in my brain for eternity.
My first helicopter aerial shoot was three days after Katrina hit and I am still moved and perplexed by this experience. My eyes have never witnessed such devastation along the mouth of the might Mississippi. As we flew over New Orleans, we realized why they just changed the minimum altitude over the city to 10K feet…stranded people shooting at aircraft. Yes…we heard the pings of a bullets and immediately climbed.
To this day…I still hold these memories as a reminder of how 90 miles separated peace and destruction. As we were based in Baton Rouge…life was carrying on as normal. But as you moved down south…the war zone emerged.
This event changed my life…I returned speechless. It took me a few months to start actually processing this event and begin articulating verbal thoughts and reactions. This was my last major news event as a front line journalist. I was done!
Many journalists probably view this decision as a sign of weakness or even lack of commitment to the trade and craft. I was just done. I had done my share, seen enough hurricanes, gone to enough shootings, documented enough riots, traveled with more than enough political campaigns including two Presidential campaigns, crossed the Mexico/US boarder enough to know the secret paths…I was done. I was ready to find good out of all the mess.
This single event taught me that I can use my skills and talents to tell stories…stories of change…not just document stories of the past.