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Carol Polsgrove
IU School of Journalism

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2005

IU journalism students to report on hurricanes' aftermath

WFIU News Director Will Murphy (left) advises IU journalism students Laura Williams (center) and Rich Powell, who will be reporting stories from hurricane-damaged areas of the Gulf Coast.

Print-Quality Photo

EDITORS: Stories and photographs by these IU journalism students will be made available for publication in newspapers and at media Web sites. IU Media Relations will provide more information about this later.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Until now, students in Carol Polsgrove's journalism class have been reporting on the social and economic challenges facing Monroe County residents every day.

Next week, Polsgrove and nine advanced students in the Indiana University School of Journalism will travel to Louisiana and Mississippi to report on how communities there are coping with the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The students will be in the region Wednesday (Nov. 9) through Nov. 14. They plan to report on conditions in southern Mississippi and New Orleans, although two students will examine the challenges for state governmental leaders in Jackson, Miss.

The students will produce a blog about their experiences, which can be linked to from the school's home page at Bloomington Herald-Times, WFIUand and other local media will carry some of their stories.

"None of us really knows exactly what to expect," said Rich Powell, 29, a graduate student from Milwaukee, Wis. "It's been more than a month since the hurricane (Katrina) moved through, so I think we're all kind of doe-eyed and ready to see what's going to happen."

In the last few weeks, the students have done advanced reporting by phone and developed networks of sources at local governments, community agencies, labor groups and elsewhere. In addition to honing their writing and reporting skills, students will learn how to work more efficiently "under the pressure of time," Polsgrove said.

"We started out with a focus on local poverty issues," she said of her public affairs reporting class. "The focus is on social services in communities. We began with Bloomington, and now we're going farther to an area that's really in crisis. Bloomington has its business-as-usual problems. Now we have an opportunity to report on communities that really are facing unusual circumstances."

Carol Polsgrove

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Many students in Polsgrove's class said they believe their trip will enhance their understanding of how the media functions, both in the days and the weeks after a catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina.

"There is a tendency for media to jump from story to story, and I think they're starting to abandon this particular story, even though it's the biggest story since 9-11," said Daniel Comiskey, 29, another graduate student who has written for the Bloomington Herald-Times and the Indianapolis Star. "This gives us the opportunity to keep digging up the stories that obviously still exist."

"We've had an overload of disasters," added Laura Williams, 22, a senior from Greenfield, Ind. "You get talking heads on television saying they're going to keep covering this hurricane disaster, but they're standing in one location. Our goal is to be in a different place every day and be in those areas where the big news organizations aren't going as much."

Some of the student reporters will spend a night in a tent city housing thousands of displaced survivors in Mississippi. They will report from coastal communities, and they hope to spend a couple of days in New Orleans and explore rural areas that have been overlooked. Suzannah Evans, 24, of Indianapolis, plans to report on Hurricane Katrina's effect on historical landmarks -- such as the site where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was sworn in -- which were destroyed. Koran Addo, 25, of Washington, D.C., will report on state governments' responses in providing essential services.

Polsgrove will be returning to the part of the country where she researched her 2001 book, Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement (W.W. Norton), which chronicled disagreement among intellectuals during that historic time in the South. She will speak with journalists from the region about their coverage of the hurricanes and their aftermath for a possible major reporting project.

Other students who will make the trip are Amanda Robert, 21, Georgetown, Ind.; Elisha Sauers, 22, Knoxville, Tenn.; Sarah Core, 22, Washington, Pa.; and Ashley Wilkerson, 23, La Plata, Md.

"I've never reported on a disaster zone. In fact, this is my first semester reporting on hard news, so every story is uncomfortable," Comiskey said. "It's the first time that I've ever been interviewing officials and people who don't want to talk with me. Certainly the disaster aspect is new to me, so there a lot of unknowns. I'm looking forward to the challenges."