NEW ORLEANS — In the crisis, as the city flooded, an important New Orleans institution was beginning to drown. But the staff at the Times-Picayune newspaper was determined to stay afloat and keep publishing.
“Goodness, the last time we didn't have a paper product was when General Butler shut down the town during the Civil War and shut us down too,” says Times-Picayune Executive Editor Jim Amoss.
Getting the news took improvisation. Reporters used heavy-duty newspaper delivery trucks just to get around. Sports editor David Meeks got a battlefield promotion to leader of a band of determined reporters.
“This was different for us,” explains Meeks. “This wasn't just a story we were covering. We live here.”
Like the 1,000 other employees at the paper who suffered similar losses, Meeks was reporting the story of his own life.
“Nothing,” says Meeks, “can be the same after you see a natural disaster of this magnitude hit the place where you live.”
But how to tell people what they saw? The paper had evacuated its headquarters. Katrina had literally stopped the presses.
For the next three days the Times-Picayune published only online at NOLA.com. The paper that usually sold 270,000 copies a day was now being clicked on — and read — 30 million times a day.
Editors set up temporary offices 70 miles away in Baton Rouge. The paper was eventually printed in Houma, La., and Alabama, and then trucked in.
But now the presses are once again rolling. Tuesday morning’s paper was printed in New Orleans.
“The newspaper is deeply intertwined in this culture,” says Amoss. “We are a reflection of it and it is our lifeblood.”
One institutional piece of the city of New Orleans is now back to “B.K.” — before Katrina — with a new motto, “We publish come hell or high water.”