Monday, March 27, 2006

A howling in the wires

Katrina and the flood were the first great national disaster since the emergence of what is fashionably called the "blogosphere". For the first time in history, accounts as personal and immediate as those of nineteenth century newspaper correspondents were appearing on the internet, brining news out of New Orleans the major media were missing.

By Tuesday Aug. 29, it was clear that New Orleans did not "dodge the bullet". Instead, the greatest disaster in the history of the United States began to unfold. I was hypnotised. Where I couldn't get through the work firewall to get the news I wanted, I yanked the fax machine cord out of the wall and hooked up my laptop.

I realized that hundreds of thousands of my former neighbors were displaced by evacuation, and would be hungry for information. As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I know that I could do something for them, and began this blog.

One of my earliest posts was this:

I've been aggregating news from NOLA for numerous online forums I participate in over the last two days. I'm going to concentrate my efforts here instead, to help the new Katrina diaspora keep up with what's happening to our city.First, the cable news networks are behind on the story, and are often flatly contradicted by local sources. I recommend those (and will list them in a separate post) if you prefer to go straight to the source.

I named this blog for my old newspaper, the West Bank Guide, where I once slaved as an ink-stained wretch in the 1980s. I also worked in New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish for the same outfit, and the pictures I see of those areas are just devastating.

I wasn't the only person blogging New Orleans.

Scores of new blogs popped up in the following weeks. Some were absolutely compelling, such as the Interdictor, which was blogging live from NOLA via a hardened ISP site. Others were expats like myself, who felt compelled to tell the world a truer story of what was happening that the national media, with all their resources, could apparently manage.

The outpouring of words was a howling in the wires, an electronic echo of the sound everyone who's been through a big storm knows. Even as the sound died in the last of the wires sagging from the akimbo poles in New Orleans, our own howling continued: a banshee wail for the dead not yet reported, a war whoop against those would would not protect or rescue, a keening for the city dying before our eyes that still reverberates today like the microwave hum of the big bang that fills the universe.

The work continues, as the city struggles more than six months later. Bloggers continue to lead the major media on key stories such as federal relief funding and housing issues. On bad days they pour out their anguish over the struggle. On good days they share their dreams for a better city. Much of the best writing and reporting about the city never makes it into the traditional media. It appears on line.

Now blogger Alan Gutierrez of Think New Orleans asks NOLA bloggers to participate in an experiment in "viral linking", a way for bloggers to call out each other's work and build readership. I think it's a grand idea, precisely because so much good work is being done by the blogging community. And this howling in the wires will not end in our lifetimes. It will take that long to rebuild New Orleans, and I think that those of us who write about the place will have work to do, stories to tell, angst to unload until the nursing home cuts off our computer privileges.

So to answer Alan's call for a Link Think New Orleans campaign, I want to call out some people who don't pop up anywhere near the top of the Technorati heap, but should. First is New Orleans Blogger Kinch. If you aren't reading this architect's blog Rebuilding Big Easy you're missing out on some of the most important stories about how the city will or can be rebuilt. The article behind the tag is the one that started the NOLA blogosphere on the Katrina Cottage story. (Katrina Cottage is still the most frequent Google Search that bring people to Wet Bank Guide.

It's hard to pick my second. There are a lot of people I read every day--just scroll down the list at right, all of them are worth reading. The amount of talent and inspiration that these events have unleashed via blogs is amazing. Ok, I have to pick someone at random here (eenie meenie....)

For a second New Orleans Blogger, I'll pick...Traveling Mermaid. I read this blog not just because she writes about New Orleans, but because the blogger reminds me of several friends of mine (even though she and I have never met; see her last post for thoughts on cyber-friends). When I need to escape from the Ugly Truth as brought to me by a lot of my fellow bloggers, I often find a some solace in her posts. And even though I usually hate embedded music loops, her's is cool.

If you are blogging about New Orleans (or about something else, but read a lot of blogs about New Orleans for whatever reason), I hope you'll visit the Think New Orleans blog and consider participating in this particular experiment.

Thanks, Markus. I started out the day after labor day writing emails to family and friends to let them know we were okay. The mail was sent thanks to our phone lines still being operable and a generator in the backyard. I sent them out via AOL because they had a dialup connection. From there, the mailing list grew and grew, and it turns out, the emails were being forwarded all over the world. I kept sending them. After much encouragement, I started a blog this week (your blog is linked on my blog). The email thing was getting too big and too difficult. Your blog is one I read daily and I agree that those of us who continue to write will still be "howling" years from now. Your words about the importance of what we're trying to do was a boost I really needed today. Thank you so much.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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