Journalists are inherently sick fucks. Of course, we need to be—that’s how we get the news, and telling the stories of disadvantaged, voiceless people is just about the best reason to get into this racket. But there’s still something gross at the heart of the impulse to turn Tragedy into Content—even amazingly great content—and that unease has been on full display with the past week’s glut of pieces commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

As you know, anniversaries are a major engine of both the Hot Take and #Longreads economies. So I tried to read them all, from the outstanding ones to the awful ones; my findings are catalogued for you below. A few quick thoughts before we begin:

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I consolidated BuzzFeed’s full-court press into one entry. My general reaction: That’s what the money is for! It’s hard to imagine a better way for a media organization to spend its millions than sending a bunch of talented writers and photographers to New Orleans to talk to and write about (mostly) the city’s poorest people. Also, their 16 stories combined for zero uses of the word rebirth and only one instance of jazz. Give that editor an award.

Does Wright Thompson find a murder victim named De’Penis? You bet he does!!

You know this already, but only read that Chicago Tribune piece about pining for their own personal Hurricane Katrina if you can handle hate-reading. It may be the worst newspaper editorial in American history.

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• Obviously, some of the categories are inexact. How do you differentiate between a take, an essay, and a #longread? And for the “Black People Interviewed” section, I did the best I could (and rounded up).

• Even more obviously, there is some blatant logrolling in our time going on here. Be warned.

• My least favorites were the Gladwell, the Brownie, and the BuzzFeed interview with Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (The mayor is kind of the Pope Francis of politicians: every bit the asshole required in his job description, but getting an undue free pass thanks to the blatant criminality of his predecessor.)

• My favorites were the photo essays, everything included from WaPo and Slate, the BuzzFeed thing about the drug dealer who saved a busload of people, our own Albert Burneko’s Chicago Tribune takedown, the Mike Grunwald 2006 Army Corps story, the Jelani Cobb piece, and Holly Anderson’s focus on the Tulane football team. But there’s no accounting for taste.

Okay, here we go.


Publication/Writer: Buzzfeed / Multiple authors

Title: “Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years Later”

Genre: Reporting

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 1

Favorite Edible Animal: Sausage, maybe?

Words Longer Than Necessary: It could be worse

Unifying, Accurate Impulse Behind The Series: “Many of the pat narratives journalists and their audiences latched onto in 2005 were as much about coping with the devastation as about seeing the city clearly.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 20+

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? Quotes lots of people saying so!

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No.


Publication/Writer: Chicago Tribune / Kristen McQueary

Title: “Chicago, New Orleans, and Rebirth”

Genre: Hottest Possible Take

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 3 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Teachers

Words Longer Than Necessary: 774

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Key & Peele Character Most Perfectly Channeled: The substitute teacher, when she deploys the phrase “desperate, sweaty, and deceitful.” (“Mischievous, and deceitful. Chicanerous, and deplorable.”)

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? VERY EXPLICITLY

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Deadspin / Albert Burneko

Title: “Actually, Hurricane Katrina Was Not Super Cool”

Genre: Hot Take

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 3/0

Favorite Edible Animal: Lesser take artists

Words Longer Than Necessary: 19

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Most Sadly Evocative Turn Of Phrase Describing The City: “Neoliberal petri dish”

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? Quite the opposite

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: ESPN The Magazine / Wright Thompson

Title: “Beyond the Breach”

Genre: #Longread

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 10 / 8

Favorite Edible Animal: Oysters

Words Longer Than Necessary: Thousands

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 15+

An Extra Note On Poor Mr. De’Penis: His mother’s name was Kim Bohnes De’Penis.

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? Tries so hard not to, but yes

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Is Our Snark About This Piece Partially Driven By Jealousy? You better believe it


Publication/Writer: Gawker / Patrick Melon

Title: “A Hard Life Is Better Than No Life At All: New Orleans 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina”

Genre: Photo essay

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Strictly vegetarian

Words Longer Than Necessary: Photo essay!

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Grantland / Holly Anderson

Title: “Breaking the Waves”

Genre: Sports

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Elephant (check the footnotes)

Words Longer Than Necessary: 25

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 3

College sports Are Ridiculous: “A compliance director of another school, allegedly egged on by several coaches and without the knowledge of his athletic director, had contacted Dickson’s office and requested a blanket release for all 325 athletes that Tulane still had on scholarship. Poaching feelers had been put out to star players on the football team as early as two days after the storm, by coaches who saw a potential shortcut to securing a Lester Ricard or a Matt Forte for themselves, but for Dickson, this was a new bottom of a new barrel.”

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No. This is a good story about a bad football team (and a worse league).


Publication/Writer: New Yorker / Malcolm Gladwell

Title: “Starting Over”

Genre: #Longread

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Crawfish

Words Longer Than Necessary: Hundreds

Guess Who Presaged Gladwell’s Sadly-Not-Insane Take Here That The Evacuees Are Better Off In Houston, And Did It A Decade Ago? Barbara Bush

Number Of Black People Interviewed: ~2

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? Yes

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: New Yorker / Jelani Cobb

Title: “Race and the Storm”

Genre: History

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Conclusion: “Media reports often referred to New Orleanians displaced by Katrina as “refugees,” a word that, in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, seventy-seven per cent of blacks, and just thirty-seven per cent of whites, took exception to. The term, with its connotations of foreigners crossing borders to seek asylum, cut closer to the bone in a population whose citizenship has so frequently been challenged. Katrina can be viewed as the first of a series of crises that seem to have become a referendum on black citizenship. The poll respondents were asked if they were “bothered” by the word “refugee.” The presumption was that many took issue with a loaded term being applied inaccurately. A decade later, it’s worth wondering whether they were “bothered” by a fear that “refugee,” not “citizen,” had been the most apt description all along.”

Words Longer Than Necessary: 0

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: New Yorker / Alec Soth & David Remnick

Title: “City of Water”

Genre: Photo essay

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Crab

Words Longer Than Necessary: Photo essay!

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: New York Times / Kim Severson

Title: “The New Orleans Restaurant Bounce, After Katrina”

Genre: Food

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Foie gras

Words Longer Than Necessary: 210

What Should I Order At MoPho? The pork belly bowl

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 1

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? Yes

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: New York Times / Huge team

Title: “10 Years After Katrina”

Genre: Reporting

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 1 /3

Most Cringeworthy Quote: “A lot of people saw New Orleans as the Peace Corps with better food.”

Words Longer Than Necessary: 92

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 10+

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: New York Times / John M. Barry

Title: “Is New Orleans Safe?”

Genre: Essay / advocacy

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Bobby Jindal

Words Longer Than Necessary: 19

Most Terrifying Line: “How safe is it? That question relates not to crime, which is a serious but solvable problem. The question is whether the ocean will engulf the city — whether the city can continue to exist.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Slate / Jamelle Bouie

Title: Where Black Lives Matter Began”

Genre: Hot Take

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Beans

Words Longer Than Necessary: 110

How To Make White Facebook Uncles Die Of Spontaneous Combustion: “When we look at the first 15 years of the 21st century, the most defining moment in black America’s relationship to its country isn’t Election Day 2008; it’s Hurricane Katrina.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Slate / Jeremy Stahl

Title: “‘This Is Not Going Well’: NBC Producers Look Back on the Concert for Katrina’s Kanye Moment”

Genre: Reporting

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Words Longer Than Necessary: 0

The Best Thing Tim McGraw Ever Did: “Kaplan says he was in ‘shell-shock’ after the show, and West was nowhere to be found. But he says a trio of the show’s musical performers—Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Harry Connick Jr.—took him aside and said, ‘I know that you’re feeling like it all got screwed up because of Kanye. But you’re going to be really proud that Kanye did what he did.’”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Sports Illustrated / Tim Layden

Title: “How Sports Have Helped New Orleans in the Decade Since Hurricane Katrina”

Genre: Sports

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 3 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Drew Brees

Words Longer Than Necessary: 500

Purplest line: “Ten years since Katrina entered the lexicon of American culture, a symbol of pain, sadness and devastation, yet also of courage, strength and perseverance.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 1

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? Well, kind of


Publication/Writer: Washington Post / Wilborn Nobles III

Title: “The Last Time I Saw My Mother”

Genre: Essay

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Your (well-earned) tears

Words Longer Than Necessary: 0

Among many horrifying moments: “This summer, I had dinner with a friend from Louisiana State University, and we discussed the media attention on Katrina. He nonchalantly said that although it was a severe storm, it was not as bad as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I asked him why he would say that, and he laughed. “C’mon, man, you know what I mean,” he replied. To him, Katrina was not the winner of the tragedy Olympics.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? Fuck no

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? Likewise


Publication/Writer: Jezebel / Heather Haynes

Title: “I Started My High School Diary the Week Katrina Hit New Orleans”

Genre: Essay

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Seafood

Does The Author Have The Finest Bio In Gawker Media History? Yes

Words Longer Than Necessary: 0

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Washington Post / Eli Saslow

Title: “You’re one of us now”

Genre: Reporting

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Words Longer Than Necessary: 0

Most Withering Quote: When a Katrina evacuee wonders if he’ll get any donations to cover his cancer treatments, his wife responds, “You can bet they’re sending us some prayers. You know they’re real generous with that.”

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 5+

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No


Publication/Writer: Politico / Former FEMA Director Michael Brown

Title: “Stop Blaming Me For Hurricane Katrina”

Genre: Stubborn buck-passing by a boob who infuriatingly refuses to go away

“Rebirth” / “Jazz” Counts: 0 / 0

Favorite Edible Animal: Whatever Baton Rouge’s finest restaurants are serving at the height of a national emergency

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Least Self-Aware Line: “My mishandling of the press during the disaster response was among my greatest mistakes.”

Insane Hot Take Snuck In Near The End: “The American public needs to learn not to rely on the government to save them when a crisis hits.”

Words Longer Than Necessary: However many words it is (the McQueary piece was much easier to copy/paste into a doc to get the count, sorry)

Number Of Black People Interviewed: 0

Does It Implicitly Suggest Katrina Was Good? No

Does It Explicitly Suggest Football Saved The City? No. That was theoretically his job.


Dennis Young is a freelance writer who lived in New Orleans for the past year; he is now based out of literally his parents’ basement in Philadelphia. Tweet him your unreserved praise and email him to pay for words.

Lead illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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