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Posted: October 29, 2005 10:47 AM
Online took center stage in coverage of Katrina disaster
Chris Norman
Dean Zulich/ONA Convention Online
Chris Norman of Knight Ridder Digital talks about SunHerald.com's hurricane coverage.

By Ruxandra Giura
ONA Convention Online

As Hurricane Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast, print and television operations turned to their Web sites to cover the disaster, several journalists said Friday at a panel discussion at the Online News Association’s annual conference in New York.

They agreed that the Web sites facilitated innovative newsgathering and increased traffic for their sites.

“In the week of Katrina we had 200 million page views, which is outstanding,” said Steven Ibanez, who was assistant editor for NOLA.com at the time.

Q&A: How has Katrina affected online journalism?

The New Orleans Times-Picayune published its entire content on NOLA.com during Katrina, because it had to abandon its production site.

Chris Norman, director of local operations for Knight Ridder Digital said the number of page views for SunHerald.com based in Biloxi increased more than 1,000 percent the day after the hurricane hit.

But as Katrina swept through the Gulf states, the local news outlets also realized their reach changed from regional to national.

SunHerald.com became a site for “evacuees, friends and relatives from out of town, tourists that have been in Biloxi for the sun and for gambling, and the rest of the world,” said Chris Norman of Knight Ridder Digital.

Thanks to disaster-planning done by Sandy Breland, WWL-TV news director from New Orleans, the station staff left its hometown and moved to Baton Rouge, La., to use the journalism school facilities at Louisiana State University for broadcasting.

The station started a blog to keep up with breaking news and live streaming video of its footage, said John Granatino, assistant general manager for Belo. Belo is the corporate owner of WWL-TV.

Beyond blogs and video footage, panelists said they updated their sites around the clock and incorporated forums and databases to help people getting in touch with each other.

The SunHerald.com discussion board peaked in September with more than a million page views, Norman said.

Keith Burton, owner and producer of Gulfcoastnews.com said he created a database with 76,000 names entered by visitors to his Web site.

Burton said Hurricane Katrina taught him in case of disaster one should look for alternative means of communications and to keep your servers away from in your hometown.

Another lesson learned from covering Hurricane Katrina was the importance of citizens’

NOLA.com included a first-time “Tell us your story” section, which sometimes offered a better picture of reality than national reporters who parachuted in produced, Ibanez said.

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News on the 2005 conference is produced by the Online News Association Student Newsroom, which is supported by grants from the Scripps Howard Foundation, National Association of Black Journalists, and CBSNews.com.

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