Six years ago I was asked to help choose the journalism awards that the American Planning Association would be giving for “outstanding coverage of city and regional planning issues.” One entry, from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, stood above the others by so many heads and shoulders that there was actually a brief discussion of taking it out of the competition. The Times-Picayune had an unfair advantage of sorts: while the other papers dealt with run-of-the-mill local planning concerns, the Times-Picayune got to look into New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 wiped out much of the city.
Said the citation:
“In ‘Ruin and Recovery,’ the Times-Picayune cast a wide net to answer the hundreds of questions facing New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Looking for clues about what the city could do next, the newspaper sent teams of reporters to other locales that had coped with natural disasters, including four U.S. cities, Japan, and the Netherlands.
“What resulted was a series of articles about regrouping and rebuilding. In reporting on successes in other places, the newspaper also lit a fire under its own city. One headline read: ‘Grand plans can’t happen unless a fractured city rises to the challenge.’
“Not only did the Times-Picayune report on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — it did so after evacuating its offices and setting up shop elsewhere in the state. Many of the newspaper’s reporters and editors also lost their homes.”