Newspaper reporter Joshua Norman tells girlfriend, Rachel Leifer, about reporting on Hurricane Katrina.
JN: The first day was the craziest, there were lot of people that we ran into who were just back just to see their homes, people were just digging, and often it would be just a couple armloads, just whatever they thought was the most important to carry out, like son’s basketball trophy, a tricycle they gave their two-year-old a couple years ago, you know, those kind of things. We’re wandering around and there was this old guy standing in the middle of his backyard and he said, ”This neighbor of mine across the street, she lost her son and husband during the storm. She spent the night at work, when she came back and opened her door, she saw her husband and baby dead in their living room, they drowned.” And then I said, ”Wow, that must have been terrible,” and he said, ”Yeah, she’s still sitting out front with her son.”
He led us over there, and sure enough, there she was sitting on her front porch balling her eyes out, with her little two-year-old baby wrapped up in a blanket on a stool. And she had been sitting there for a good four hours. Then she asked, you know, ”Can you help me take my baby away, the Sheriff’s been here and he won’t take it, the firemen came through here a little while ago and they won’t take it, can you help me take my baby to the hospital, I want to take care of him now.”
And, I sort of pulled the photographer aside and I said, ”Let’s do this, ya know, it’s kind of on the way back.” We were getting close to deadline, but I thought we could do it. And he just said, ”No, we gotta go.”
And I didn’t argue with him. But that um, I think about that all the time, that we didn’t take her and the baby to the hospital. I do. That old man that I ran into in the backyard, I quoted him in this story about the baby, and his daughter-in-law called me about a week and a half later, in tears, saying, ”We had no idea he was alive, until we read your story. We didn’t think he’d made it. But since you quoted him, he has to be alive.” RL: So it’s like any name that you include was a gift to someone?
JN: Yeah, and I did a lot of that on purpose, dropped as many names in a story as I could, people I’ve run into, for that reason.
RL: And you kind of had the opportunity to really do something that a lot of reporters don’t get to to, which is help people directly by providing them with information that they can’t get. And I think that we often lose sight of that being what we’re here for. It seems to me you are happier in your profession now.
JN: I didn’t believe in it before the storm, but when the storm hit and I started getting calls from people in tears, that made me believe that there’s some good do be done here.