Asst. Professor involved in study on media coverage of La. hurricanes

For Marietta College’s Dr. Jane Dailey the recent five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina also marked the publication of “Covering Disaster: Lessons from Media Coverage of Katrina and Rita,” in which her research was featured.

The book, published by Transaction Publishers, is mainly about lessons learned from the media coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Editors Ralph Izard and Jay Perkins are both professors at Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communication. The book is a compilation of studies examining media’s coverage of various aspects of the hurricanes.

One of the chapters “Journalism Defines the Issue: Coastal Erosion,” presents a study Dailey and Dr. Lisa Lundy of LSU conducted in 2005. Their goal was to see how much media coverage had been devoted to the disappearing coastal wetlands in Louisiana and the state’s “America’s Wetland” campaign aimed at saving them. What they found was media were giving the issue only minimal attention and even though their coverage increased after the hurricanes they framed it mainly as Louisiana’s problem.

“I first became interested in Louisiana’s coastal erosion issue as a doctoral student at LSU,” said Dailey, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies. “I had just finished reading Mike Tidwell’s book, ‘Bayou Farewell,’ and moved to Baton Rouge. A quick drive down the bayous to Grand Isle, La. showed me first hand what Tidwell was talking about. I saw utility poles and cemeteries, which were once on dry land, now submerged in water. I was shocked. To see a resource like this disappear so quickly was concerning to say the least.”

Dailey was aware a great deal of attention and resources had been given to the Florida Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay. “Why not Louisiana? That’s when I started thinking about what role media had played in getting the word out. Were they even covering this issue outside of Louisiana? Did policy makers in Washington think this was important? Did people in Ohio even know about it? That’s where the study began.”

Although Dailey and Lundy didn’t focus on the hurricane disaster but rather on the disappearing coastal wetlands they had a very interesting take on how the media reported the situation.

“This is important because the loss of coastal wetlands has many consequences for Louisiana and the nation,” Dailey said. “An important one being that coastal wetlands act as “speed bumps” slowing down a hurricane’s destructive storm surge. Scientists had warned prior to Katrina and Rita that future hurricanes would only get worse and more destructive with less to slow them down, which may have played a role in the destruction we saw from these two storms. There are also ecological and economic concerns, of course.”