Archive for Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mississippi beginning to feel ‘invisible’ in New Orleans’ shadow

January 17, 2006

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— Nicki Henderson has had plenty of reasons to be angry since Hurricane Katrina destroyed her Biloxi home, but it was a simple news item about dislocated dolphins that really made her blood boil.

Henderson lost her temper when she logged on to her computer and spotted this headline: "New Orleans Dolphins Find New Home." She knew the dolphins actually came from a hurricane-ravaged marine park in Gulfport, not New Orleans.

The headline writer's error reinforced her belief - shared by many on Mississippi's Gulf Coast - that New Orleans has gotten a disproportionate share of the news coverage and attention in the aftermath of the storm, now more than four months gone.

There is a growing sense the catastrophic damage along Mississippi's 70-mile stretch of coastline is being treated as a mere footnote to the story in New Orleans.

Worse, some say the lack of attention could hamper the recovery of an area that had experienced an economic renaissance in the past decade thanks to billions of dollars of investment by major casino and hotel companies.

"I am terrified the American people are going to forget about us," Henderson said.

On Dec. 14, The Sun Herald in Gulfport devoted its entire front page to an editorial, headlined "Mississippi's Invisible Coast," that argued the region is fading into a "black hole of media obscurity." Next to the editorial was a graphic tallying Katrina's toll on the region: $125 billion in estimated damage, 236 dead, 65,380 houses destroyed.

The piece ended with a plea to the national media to "tell our story."

Sun Herald publisher Ricky Mathews said more balanced coverage would give residents a sorely needed morale boost.

Mathews said he worries that a "national obsession" with New Orleans will cost Mississippi its fair share of federal aid, private investment and volunteers.

"The government can help us get our important infrastructure rebuilt, but it's the private investment that's going to tell the story long term," he added.

Congress has approved tens of billions of dollars for recovery and rebuilding on the Gulf Coast. Only time will tell how the money is divided, but news coverage "does have an impact on what Congress does," said Biloxi native Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

"When it's off the screen of the media, it's off the screen of the federal government," Nelson said.

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