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Dealing with disaster

Kim Quillen, Times-Picayune

Kim Quillen, Times-Picayune

NewOrleans

Dealing with disaster is an understatement for the staff of The Times-Picayune. Business editor Kim Quillen, who spends much of her time answering readers’ post-Katrina questions, fielding five questions from us a couple of years after the floods.

1. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, does that calamity have a lingering effect?

Katrina continues to shape our coverage. Because the storm had major implications for some of our key industries, most of the stories we write today still deal in some way with the aftermath of the storm and the rebuilding effort. Our tourism industry, for example, was crippled by the storm. And our port is struggling to reverse a decline in cargo that was only made worse by Katrina. The local energy sector, meanwhile, is dealing with soaring insurance premiums and new standards implemented by the federal government in Katrina’s wake. Many of our key industries are still grappling with storm-related issues, and our coverage reflects that.

The size of our section is smaller than it was before Katrina. We significantly reduced the size of our stock listings immediately after the storm. The downsizing of our stock listing became permanent, and the overall size of our section shrank as a result.

2. Does your online business coverage now play a larger role than it did pre-Katrina? Has this changed how you report stories?

Immediately after Katrina, with many of our readers evacuated beyond the reaches of our circulation, The Times-Picayune became much more aggressive about posting news online. Our emphasis on online news posts continues today, not just because of the storm, but because the immediacy helps us stay competitive in what is becoming a 24-hour news cycle.

Our growing online presence has not necessarily changed how we report stories, but it’s changed the timing with which we deliver them. As soon as they’ve nailed their stories down, reporters are now posting the news online in updates that are often just a couple of paragraphs long. They then write a full-length version for publication in the next day’s paper. We’ve made a special effort to get news that breaks early in the day — like earnings reports — online quickly.

3. What are some of the most popular business beats in New Orleans today?

Insurance has become a major business beat post-Katrina because many of our readers are still working through their storm damage claims. In fact insurance, something we wrote about only occasionally before Katrina, is now a full-time beat. News on other business beats has been greatly impacted by the storm as well. Our beats cover tourism and gaming, the local port, real estate, energy and banking.

4. What are the biggest challenges your business section faces?

Without a doubt, our biggest challenge is juggling staff resources as we try to cover the aftermath of a major hurricane. We are in a very rich news environment, and there are almost more stories than we can currently chase.

We’re trying to hit as many of them as we can while still setting aside time for reporters to delve into the bigger — and more time-consuming — project-type stories that can run in our Sunday section or on A-1.

5. Has economic coverage taken on more importance now? Do you cover the local economy differently?

Hurricane Katrina has both focused our economic coverage and established a benchmark against which we measure progress. In terms of focus, we’ve placed greater emphasis on stories that are emblematic of the health and direction of the local economy. Over the past year, we’ve done trend stories on everything from Easter candy sales to business tax payments and bank deposits. With each of those stories, we’ve asked the same basic question: What does this trend signal about the comeback of the local economy?

In terms of benchmarking, we now use Katrina as an economic measuring point. In our reports, we now look at how the economy is doing presently compared to where it was pre-Katrina. We also look at how the economy has progressed after hitting a low point during the month after the storm.

In 5 Questions with..., Community, Your Questions & Answers.

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