Citizens K: The 10 Best Blogs By, From and About New Orleans—One Year After Katrina
By Cree McCree
Cree McCree writes SMITH’s Going Home to New Orleans column for SMITH, a chronicle of her return to her life after the flood. McCree left New York for NOLA in August 2001, escaped the city during the flood, and has returned to pick up her life as a flea market entrepreneur, costumier, and assemblage artist. She is a former editor of Yahoo Internet Life, a contributing editor at High Times and a frequent contributor to Offbeat.com.
Pre-Katrina New Orleans wouldn’t exactly be confused with Silicon Alley in the technology department. Sure, almost everyone had an email address, but having one’s own inbox was another story; hotmail bouncebacks were routine.
The post-K diaspora changed everything. Evacuees who’d never typed a URL into a browser spent hours jockeying on borrowed computers, trying to find missing friends and news they could actually trust. The neighborhood message boards at NOLA.com became essential reading, and the handful of local bloggers that existed before the storm swelled into a small army. Forged during the initial crisis, the New Orleans blog community – now more than 100 strong – has grown deep virtual roots during the subsequent recovery (or lack thereof).
New Orleans bloggers don’t just sweat over a hot hard drive, mind you. They whip up Creole specialties to share at Geek Dinners, downed with plenty of good wine from sponsoring vineyard Stormhoek. They even created their own anniversary event to commemorate Katrina: The Rising Tide Conference. Held at the local Yacht Club (a.k.a. Yat Club), with destruction still visible outside the windows, the three-day confab was designed to provide “a ‘real life’ demonstration of internet activism” with activities ranging from heated panel discussions to gutting the house of an elderly resident to downing shots off a water ski.
The community includes celebs like comedian Harry Shearer and author Poppy Z. Brite, who shared her trepidations about covering Katrina redux for the Boston Globe: “It’s flattering, but also intimidating as hell. Presenting our case to strangers in our neighbor to the north, America.” New Orleans also has some rising stars. Graphic artist Greg Peters, whose Suspect Device is published locally in Gambit Weekly, has found a big net audience for his wicked funny series on “what Louisianans now know.” And 11-year-old Kalypso Homan has legions of fans at YouTube, where more than five thousand people have viewed “Kalypso’s New Orleans“, her 12-minute video diary of destruction and rebirth. Kids are also the stars of the show at the crafty Katrina Kids Art Project gallery, not to be confused with the photo-driven and absolutely incredible New Orleans Kid Camera Project.
What began as a search for the Best Katrina Blogs produced some worthy candidates — most notably Pico’s Coming Home: Katrina Blog Project w/ Pics, a riveting photo journal ripped straight from the pages of his 2005 diary. But as I dug deeper into the local blogosphere, the project morphed beyond Katrina commemoration to the best post-K blogs tracking day-to-day life in New Orleans.
My criteria? Rising Tide’s own stated goals, ones which are part and parcel with the mission of SMITH: Blogs that “dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels.” Those mentioned above are all down with the program. But the following Top 10—listed in alphabetical order—crest above the Rising Tide.
“I’ve lost all sense of what’s normal.” Mid-City resident Bart Everson gives good quote, and his story has been tracked by reporters from the Times-Picayune to the Village Voice. But he and his wife, Christy Paxson (a.k.a. Xy), earned their status as poster children for the recovery. Their slide show “One Couple’s New Orleans: Scenes from a year of mucking out and staying put” is required viewing. And Bart’s take on the “Psychic Vortex” of the one-year mark is dead on: “This ramp-up to the anniversary of Katrina’s landfall is brutal. It’s not bothering me so much personally, but the city as a whole is on edge. There’s some mighty negative energy going around.”
Jon Donley is a true Katrina hero. As the founding editor of NOLA.com, he threw a lifeline to tens of thousands of evacuees, who logged on multiple times a day to find out what was really happening. He remains a powerful voice for the “citizen journalists” he calls “the conscience of the rebuilding effort,” and takes a clear-eyed view of the murky recovery: “As a journalist, the pressure is on to provide THE DEFINITIVE Katrina retrospective. And yet there is not really anything “retro” about our perspective; Katrina is still very much a real ordeal, without a real plan or solution on the table, and with no guarantee that we will recover.”
“Writing is only real on the first draft,” believe the bloggers at First Draft, where Scout Prime posts almost daily. But that doesn’t mean Scout is not a thorough reporter. She’s got the best scoop on the Rising Tide conference, from the panels to the house gutting. And her “Tale of Two Blocks” takes a revealing before-and-now photo and video journey through the white middle class neighborhood of Lakeview, which is still struggling to return amid uncollected debris, demolition notices and “Allstate Sucks” signs. “No matter who you are,” she writes, “there is someone like you hurting down here.”
Over a dozen New Orleanians converge at this community blog to share everything from personal love letters to the City to warnings to “Clean out your #@$%*@ storm drains!” Favorite poster? Craig Giesecke. Here’s his take on would-be spoiler Ernesto: “In looking at the Ernesto data this morning, it occurs to me, for the first time in nearly a year, I’m tired. Whatever happens with this system, we’ll deal with it best we can. I guess, after enduring the tough 2004 season in Florida and then 2005 over here, I’ve become philosophical about it all…but I’m tired. We all are.”
“You might argue that this little bit of YouTubery is callous and insensitive. But I laughed really, really hard. As an official Flooded-Resident-of-New-Orleans, don’t I get some sort of special Right-to-Laugh-in-the-Face-of-Calamity exemption ticket?” You bet you do, buddy! That blubbery guy boogie-ing down in the devastation is a hoot. So is Slimbolala’s deadpan posting style: “In other very exciting news, our house (mostly) has walls. Walls! They’re the type of thing you’d generally expect a house to have, but for a long time, ours hasn’t. Now it does. Walls!”
All hail Richard—a man with a plan! Would that point three could go into effect immediately:
“3. Prohibit predictable stories by the press. If I speak to one more reporter who says, ‘Yes, I understand that you’re trying to get back to normal, but don’t you find it depressing down there?,’ I cannot be held responsible for my actions. Under my plan, there will be a residency requirement for all members of the press: no one will be permitted write a word about the city without having lived in Orleans Parish for at least a year.”
Memo from Gina in N’Awlins re “Ernesto the Pest-o”: “If the steering currents bring Ernesto anywhere close to us, they will issue the mandatory evacuation order this TUESDAY—Owen’s birthday AND the anniversary of Katrina. This totally SUCKS and I am pretty dang PISSED about it!” And with good reason. Check Gina’s 2005 postings “exactly as I made them—typos and all,” when they celebrated her son’s sixth birthday as “evacuees in Baton Rouge—without power.”
The blog motherlode. These folks created the super-impressive New Orleans Wiki, a volunteer-maintained collection of articles about New Orleans, and also maintain a massive list of New Orleans bloggers. The site offers free workshops on Web publishing for community groups, and organizes volunteers to teach individuals how to blog.
Returning ex-pat Mark Folse started blogging about post-K New Orleans in Wet Bank Guy, where he continues to post slice-of-life gems like “Pride of Pothole.” But Odd Bits is where he really lets his freak flag fly. (See: “Middle Aged Men Gone Wild in the French Quarter” at Satchmo Fest). In true geek style, he consults the I Ching on his trusty Palm Pilot, where the Oracle’s latest prediction was rather ominous: “When the eighth month comes/There will be misfortune.” But Folse refuses to be daunted: “Perhaps it will be as simple as Lusher Middle not opening on time for my son, as it appears it will not, One can only hope. It is a city of misfortunes that we live in now, but as the ancient oracle reminds us, perseverance always pays.”
When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee’s Katrina elegy, has been lighting up the blogosphere, where it’s caught flak from right-wing pundits for being “too black.” I’ve read many good rebuttals, but Oyster here summed it up best: “Lee didn’t focus on the damage in Broadmoor (a racially mixed neighborhood), either. As a former resident of that neighborhood, am I outraged? Do I feel left out and ‘discriminated’ against? No, because I could relate to the stories from other neighborhoods, including the Ninth Ward (whose white population Lee overrepresented, if anything). I could even relate to stories if – yikes! – a black New Orleanian was telling it.” His recent take on Mayor Nagin’s interview — “Wait a 60 minute, what did he just say?” — is a pointed ground-floor take on old swashbuckler Nagin’s high-perch perspective.