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TEXT OF STORY
BRIAN WATT: The New Orleans Tribune is the Crescent City’s African-American newspaper. Right before Katrina blew into New Orleans, publisher Beverly McKenna fled with three changes of clothes. She wound up in Nashville for about a month, even got offered a job at Fisk University, but in late October she decided she needed to go home. She found her house in tact, her offices right nearby were OK too, but the people who got the Tribune to press were still gone.
BEVERLY MCKENNA: My editor ended up in Houston, my general manager went from Baton Rouge, she’s now in Houston, my advertising manager ended up in Shreveport, my secretary was in a small town in Texas.
Much of her staff is still scattered today but reporters and editors found a way to come in and work for a few days at a time, often sleeping on beds she set up in her office. They put out the first edition since the hurricane in February.
McKenna is also the publisher of a directory of African-American businesses in New Orleans called The Black Book. The last edition was due at the press on August 29, 2005. It never got printed
MCKENNA: I was in my office several weeks ago and just looking at the dummy pages for The Black Book and very sadly and thoughtfully went through and just took my red pen and crossed out the names of the businesses that are no longer here. It’s just been sad for our whole city. A story that is not very often told is what has happened to the African-American middle class. This particular group of people was dealt a lethal blow, Brian. The doctors are gone, lawyers are gone, our school teachers are gone. They’re buying houses, taking jobs in other parts of the country. Apartments that were renting for $700 a month pre-Katrina are now commanding $1,100 a month. So you see even if people want to come back where do they live?
Even those people with homes waiting for them face obstacles to coming back. Making their homes livable again can cost tens of thousand of dollars. And some of the money they had expected from insurance companies may never come.
MCKENNA: They aren’t releasing insurance money or they’re making people jump through so many hoops. The money from the federal government, the Louisiana Road Home Project which is to give $150,000 per homeowner minus any money you’ve received from FEMA or from insurance, no money has been released. So I think people in other parts of the country think we’re dancing, we’re partying, everything is A-OK. It really isn’t. We face a lot.
Beverly McKenna is the publisher of the New Orleans Tribune. New Orleans was the 38th biggest city in the United States in 2005, but the Tribune’s Web site will tell you that New Orleans was home to the country’s 10th most powerful African-American market. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is scheduled to visit New York City tomorrow and Saturday. He hopes to encourage investment in the Crescent City. In Los Angeles, I’m Brian Watt. Thanks for listening.
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