Luncheon honors La. newspapers for resourcefulness

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Louisiana newspapers responded to the crisis caused by Hurricane Katrina last year in ways that should make journalists proud, says Pam Mitchell-Wagner, executive director of the Louisiana Press Association.

Mitchell-Wagner was the keynote speaker Friday at the SEMO Press Association Conference at the University Center on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau.

She said newspapers often were the only means of communicating information during the disaster, when electrical service vanished for many on the Gulf Coast. One publisher used a Mac powered by a solar panel to produce a newspaper and made 100 copies on a copier. Other newspapers shared resources with newspapers inundated by the flooding. Her own office housed reporters from the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe.

Cash stash

Mitchell-Wagner said The Times-Picayune, the New Orleans metro paper, deserves all the awards it will win for its hurricane coverage. The newspaper initiated a blog that became an important means for survivors of the disaster to communicate with each other.

"People that have never read the paper before are reading it today," she said.

Getting in contact with employees was one of the most important steps for newspapers in the wake of the hurricane, Mitchell-Wagner said. Cash was one of the most valuable commodities. ATMs didn't work and banks wouldn't accept checks, she said.

She said she now keeps a stash of cash for emergencies.

Some areas of New Orleans look much the same as they did during the week after the hurricane struck, Mitchell-Wagner said. Periodicals still are not being delivered at some zip codes, she said.

Honoring the Guths

Harry and Barbara Guth received the Mildred Walhausen Friend of SEMO Press Association Award at the luncheon. Harry Guth Jr. started out in journalism working for his father's Perryville newspaper, The Republican, which had been in the family since 1920.

He became the newspaper's editor on his father's retirement in 1980. Barbara Guth became the newspaper's advertising director and developed its recipe pages.

In 1973 his editorial criticizing the city council for driving a business out of town won the Missouri Press Association top prize.

The Guth Corporation owned the Perry County Republican from 1964 until 1979, when the newspaper was purchased by the Monitor and became the Perry County Republic-Monitor.

Kate Martin of the Republic-Monitor assumed the presidency of the SEMO Press Association Friday.

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