RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Hurricane Katrina left most radio, TV stations and newspapers in New Orleans underwater. The New Orleans Times-Picayune had no print edition for three days, but all outlets continue operations on the Web. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.
LAURA SYDELL reporting:
The Web page of New Orleans' TV station, WDSU, offers a video of life in the station's studio as Hurricane Katrina descends on the city.
(Soundbite of hurricane noise; from WDSU video)
Unidentified Reporter: When the station windows were blown out and they lost their transmitter, it was time to retreat, log off the computers, say goodbye and hit the road.
SYDELL: The video goes on to say that broadcasts produced at the studios outside the city can be seen on the Internet. At a moment when most forms of mass communication are down, the Internet has been the best way to pass on information, says Peter Kovacs at The Times-Picayune. While most people left in New Orleans are unable to use computers, the majority of the city's residents have been evacuated.
Mr. PETER KOVACS (The Times-Picayune): The readers of The Times-Picayune are mostly not in New Orleans, so, in a perverse way, the information that we're giving them is getting to them better on the Web in these circumstances than if we had been able to print.
SYDELL: But perhaps more importantly in the midst of devastation, Web sites like The Times-Picayune offer immediacy. Kovacs says reporters and readers are sending in information about how much a particular neighborhood has been affected, whether the houses are still standing or underwater.
Mr. KOVACS: What people really want to know is the damage and destruction in, you know--in their particular little corner of southeast Louisiana. And, you know, using the Web enables us to put out that kind of information as soon as we know it.
SYDELL: In addition to media Web sites, postings on Web blogs and community sites abound. Craigslist, a classified and chat site in cities around the country, saw a 300 percent increase in use of its New Orleans' section on Wednesday, says CEO Jim Buckmaster.
Mr. JIM BUCKMASTER (Chief Executive Officer, Craigslist): Much of it coming from out of area of people offering various kinds of assistance, whether it's temporary housing or offering to make an unlimited number of long-distance calls to alert loved ones.
SYDELL: Some of the listings are heartbreaking, hundreds of people seeking lost loved ones: `Looking for my brother.' `Looking for my family.' And even worse. Susan Pranz(ph), a professional Web master, who lives in Massachusetts, has voluntarily set up a blog with helpful Web sites for survivors that includes Craigslist and The Times-Picayune.
Ms. SUSAN PRANZ (Professional Web Master): We saw several people who were trapped in buildings. We saw people who were running out of oxygen. We saw people who were, you know, pleading for rescue, and it was coming out through the Web sites because nothing else was working.
SYDELL: Pranz says she has seen several stories of families reunited over the Web.
This is not the first major disaster where the Internet has played a role. For example, after the recent bombings in London, people posted photos and eyewitness accounts online. But in this case, the use of the Web has primarily been about communication for those on the periphery of the disaster. In London and New Orleans, bloggers became additional media foot soldiers by relating their own experiences. Jan Schaffer, who runs the Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland, thinks this disaster may result in a deepening relationship between traditional media and the world of online citizen journalism.
Ms. JAN SCHAFFER (Institute for Interactive Journalism): I think they become more aware of the value of each other as collaborators. The citizens enrich the journalism, the journalism improves. It's a symbiotic relationship.
SYDELL: Unfortunately, it's a relationship that still excludes the people stuck in the most stricken areas. What Schaffer and others believe is that as the technology gets better and wireless connections and satellites improve, even those in the worst situations may be able to communicate. But for now, there is still a deafening silence at the heart of the storm. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And a link to The Times-Picayune news blog is at npr.org.
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