Storm Watchers

By Norman Boucher / November / December 2006
February 27th, 2007

A few hours before the ceremony, Managing Editor Peter Kovacs ’78 and Political Columnist Stephanie Grace ’87 de-scribed their newspaper’s role during and after Katrina to a small audience in Faunce House. (A third Times-Picayune staffer, Mary Swerczek ’98, also shared the John Hope Award with Kovacs and Grace, but she was unable to make it to campus that day.)

The Times-Picayune staff won two Pulitzers last year for breaking news and public service. To a certain extent, Kovacs quipped, reporting from New Orleans has been like being “the wireless operator on the Titanic.” Kovacs seemed particularly proud of the award for public service and acknowledged the influence of Howard Swearer, who became Brown’s president during Kovacs’s junior year. It was Swearer’s emphasis on public service, he said, that first prompted him to imagine becoming a journalist.

Kovacs and Grace provided some unexpected insights into the aftermath of Katrina. For example, Grace explained that the hurricane was particularly lethal for older residents of the city. “The biggest predictor of death in this storm was not race, not income, but age,” she said.

The mission of the Times-Picayune more than a year after Katrina is to explain the city’s continuing troubles to the outside world. “The city,” Grace said, “is really desperate to be understood. Some of my columns that have gotten the most response have been letters to the outside world.” Kovacs agreed on the importance of reaching beyond New Orleans: “For years to come,” he said, “the city will be dependent on the rest of the country for its recovery.”

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November / December 2006