- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2005

Katrina coverage

A story as big as Hurricane Katrina not only swamps the local coverage but sends out ripples that affect other parts of the newspaper, and the foreign desk is no exception.

There are two main reasons. Reporters by their nature are action junkies, and inevitably drawn to a big story. They all want a piece of it, and it is up to their editors to draw the line and order them to write something else.

But we also want to fill our pages with the most interesting stories we can find, and for the past week there has been very little going on that seemed as interesting as the developments in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Stories that might normally have been a shoo-in for the front page had to struggle for space. An exclusive interview with the prime minister of Egypt got out there, but it took two days. A fascinating look at a turnaround in U.S.-French relations ended up on an inside page.

The Katrina stories kept coming, meanwhile, from our staff reporters, our overseas stringers and from the wires.

The storm winds had barely passed out of Louisiana when we began hearing people ask whether foreign countries were going to offer assistance, as the United States does after foreign disasters.

It was a legitimate question, and we put a reporter on it right away. The first offers we saw came from countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, whose normal anti-American rhetoric made it look like they were seeking propaganda points.

Then came statements from friendly countries offering any help needed, as if they were not sure what we might want. By the third day, there were at least a dozen offers of specific help.

The trickle became a flood, and soon we were deluged with calls and e-mails from embassies hoping to get their contributions noted. On Thursday, we published a list of some 55 countries and what they were sending; it had to be updated twice before deadline Wednesday night and on Thursday we had embassies asking us to update it again.

Diplomats in boats

State Department reporter Nicholas Kralev began looking for other angles, and discovered that Washington embassies were dispatching diplomats to go looking for some of the more than 800 foreign nationals still unaccounted for in the storm area.

A call to the British Embassy turned up the fact that some British diplomats had been going through New Orleans’ flooded streets in boats looking for their citizens; that produced a lead for a brightly written story about the foreign-born victims.

Our stringer corps was quick to jump into the act. John Zarocostas in Geneva, on his own initiative, went out and interviewed the director of U.N. emergency-response operations and the State Department’s top climate negotiator; those two pieces ran on Monday’s briefing page.

In Bangkok, Richard Ehrlich saw a tie-in with December’s devastating tsunami, which he had covered for us and other news organizations. Based on Thailand’s tsunami experience, he explained the problems that U.S. authorities can expect in identifying the dead — and the kinds of hustlers and con artists who will no doubt try to take advantage of the survivors.

The wire services, as could be expected, had plenty to offer, and it was simply a matter of deciding how many we had room for.

One moving story described the plight of Vietnamese who came to the United States during or after the Vietnam War and settled along the American Gulf Coast. For them, this was the second — and sometimes the third — major relocation.

Another story from the Associated Press just barely made it into the Thursday paper, about a Mexican army convoy on its way to the disaster area with relief supplies.

The story obviously had appeal. By Thursday afternoon we had seen it on C-SPAN, CNN and the Drudge Report.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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