Covering Katrina

Review

of an Exhibition

by Zev Slurzberg

Published on December 28, 2010

  • Description:

    The Newseum’s exhibition on Covering Katrina examines the devastating hurricane through the eyes of the press and more specifically two newspapers that were in the eye of the storm, the Sun Herald of Southern Mississippi and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Both papers covered the storm and its aftermath but also became part of the story being located on the Gulf Coast.

    My view on the job of the press is they act as the eyes and ears for us, telling us the stories which we might never hear otherwise. With this viewpoint I wanted to see the Covering Katrina to get a more global view on what happened. I expected to see the coverage of the storm from multiple perspectives and to see what was covered and what wasn’t covered by the news media.

    I went to the museum alone on a weekday, after going through the metal detectors with a pleasant security guard I was lead to the ticket counter. After purchasing a ticket I was given a guide and pointed to a free checkroom, or down the escalators to where the museum suggested I begin. The Newseum is a beautiful new building, but not so easy to navigate. I had a hard time finding an elevator, but when I found one I luckily found the one that took me to the start of the exhibition.

    Upon entering the exhibition, no signs tell you if this is the entrance or the exit to the exhibition. A museum staff member was there to answer my question that I was indeed in the correct area. The exhibition begins with the front pages of newspapers from the gulf area, other states and countries. They are organized by date, and have a small tag above saying what occurred on that date in relation to the storm. This entrance area is a tie in to an exhibition The Newseum puts up daily outside the institution called Today’s Front Pages. In that exhibition, each day front pages of newspapers from each state and posted outside for all to see. Using a familiar format as an entry to Covering Katrina was very effective and setting the stage for what happened.

    Moving in to the heart of the exhibition you learn about the two newspapers that were integral to the coverage. The wall panels take the visitor through the timeline of events and dealt with the different roles of a journalist. A new role emerged for the journalists who were covering the storm, it was how much should they cover and when should they help. The text did a good job of spelling out the issues and gave two examples; one was a case when the reporters stopped being a reporter and one where they remained a reporter and just chronicled the moment. The text and images let the visitor decide why those cases were different and why the reporters would react as they did.

    The set-up of Covering Katrina in a hexagonal room with panels along the wall telling how these two newspapers continued to cover the storm and how they became the story. In the center of the room are three cases with artifacts from the newspapers with benches along the cases to sit on. The benches were nice to sit on but they were placed in front of the cases. While sitting on them you could not read the panels nor look at the nearest case. A multi-media station was in the exhibit was playing coverage from NBC of the storm on loop. This piece worked while you were in front of it, but the sound continued to be heard through out the reminder of the exhibition.
    Near the exit of the exhibition was a touch screen where the user could choose to read or hear more coverage from the hurricane. This was a great way for me to continue to learn and focus on the details I wanted to know more about. What was lacking at the touch screen was a seat, I read and listened to two stories (since there was no line) would have stayed longer but I was getting tired would have liked to have a seat. In addition to my fatigue, a visitor in a wheelchair would have a hard time reaching this screen. Missing from the exhibition was any way for me to respond, I was moved by the coverage and the heroic work of these journalists and I had no way to express it. I found it even more important to have some way to respond when dealing with a modern event that most, if not all visitors can remember.

    The exhibition exceeded my expectations, and accomplished its goals of teaching me about the two specific newspapers and how they responded.

    While it was not part of the Covering Katrina exhibition I have to mention the restrooms at The Newseum. The staff there has taken a space that is normally left alone, and we hope clean, and created a humorous learning environment. Along the restroom in place of some tiles, are quotes printed on paper and behind plastic. And example of one quote is, “Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One. Albuquerque journal 12/26/84.” These quotes make you think and laugh and wonder where they are from, and why they are here. On the way out of the restroom by the paper towel dispenser, the Newseum staff explains with a panel, “To err is human, to correct is divine,” telling us that these quotes are from printed newspapers that have all made a mistake. I have to applaud the Newseum for making a trip to the restroom at museum one I will never forget.

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