Stan Tiner has been the executive editor and vice president of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi since May 2000. Although Biloxi was battered by Hurricane Katrina, the paper did not break its record of 121 years of daily delivery and continued to serve its community through the crisis. Tiner has written numerous columns about the hurricane’s aftermath, sometimes waxing poignant, other times employing potty humor. Tiner served as Executive Editor of the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for nearly a year, spent almost seven years editing the Mobile (Alabama) Register, and is a former U.S. Marine and a Vietnam veteran.
Liz Cox Barrett: We interviewed a rookie Sun Herald reporter — Mike Keller — a week or so after Katrina passed through Biloxi, and asked him how he thought the national media had been handling the story. He lamented that the media wasn’t able to focus “on the absolute width of this destruction.” He said, “It’s a little sad because [Biloxi] is not getting any coverage, and here is bad, too.” With three months more hindsight, what do you think the national media has done or is doing right in their Katrina coverage? And what have they missed or are they missing?
Stan Tiner: Mike was certainly right in saying that the scope of the destruction makes it difficult to comprehensively report the story. There are literally thousands of stories, embedded within this large event. Mike’s concern that Biloxi or the Mississippi Coast is not getting coverage is a thought that people of our region often state.
The perception continues that there is a disproportionate share of coverage devoted to the New Orleans part of the story. Each of these disasters is on a scale unknown in American history. New Orleans by itself would be the single largest disaster in our nation’s history, and the Mississippi destruction taken by itself would be the single greatest natural disaster. So each is a very large story, and rather than dwelling on the national media’s role in this, we have simply tried to do the best job that we can in telling the story of our region to our readers and beyond.
I do think the matter of proportion in the coverage is an interesting question that should be analyzed by someone, perhaps a journalism review such as yours. Take all of the coverage and analyze the allocation of journalistic resources. Certainly, we have had good coverage here and are appreciative of all that we get because we think the focus on the plight of our people is of great importance and the role of the media in making the story known to the American people has implications that will affect the success of our recovery.
LCB: Let’s make that same question specific to your paper. What are you most proud of about the Sun Herald’s Katrina-related coverage? And what is something the Sun Herald missed or something you wish you’d done differently?
ST: Being the local paper for South Mississippi provided us an incredible opportunity to serve our readers on a scale beyond anything that we had ever imagined. It reminded all of us of the importance of a newspaper in providing important information to the communities that we serve.
In the first few weeks, there was very little other media coverage going into our region and so the papers we delivered everyday, often by the journalists themselves as they made their rounds covering the stories, provided the primary source of information for people across the coastal counties. It was important for hurricane victims to know what was going on and to see the images and to hear what was happening to their neighbors and to find out what had happened, in many cases, in their own communities. People were extremely isolated in those days. We emphasized usefulness in our coverage just in terms of reporting where they could go for goods and services, the location of things, and how to do things that were necessary to the furtherance of their existence. Of course, we were also telling of their plight to the larger world which we think was important. On the third day when our headline said, “Help us now,” we felt we were an advocate for our region in a loud voice that could even be heard in Washington. We helped get the attention of those who were in a position to respond to our region’s needs.