The Digital Journalist
Witness to the Storm
September 2005

An enduring attraction of New Orleans has always been its edginess, the frisson of the forbidden, a city that embraces the disreputable, where jazz and voodoo are mainstream. It has been the place where every Mardi Gras white, middle-class America could go to behave badly and not feel ashamed. After the almost biblical inundation that followed Hurricane Katrina, the dark side of New Orleans became America's nightmare. The anarchy and lawlessness that erupted as the result of the nation's disregard for the suffering of its fellow citizens confirmed our deepest fears about the fragility of civilization, and caused us to question the strength of the fabric that binds our society. The images of despair and turmoil that came one upon the heels of another brought us face-to-face with the structural weaknesses of America that are the societal equivalent of the breeches in the levees we thought protected us. Here was appalling evidence of the inequality, racism and violence that are with us daily, but which we choose to ignore rather than remedy.

Aug 28, 2005; Miami, FL, USA; Hurricane Katrina approaches the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Photo by NOAA/ZUMA Press
Once again the messengers of this unwelcome wake-up call were the photojournalists, and once again they risked life and limb and suffered discomfort and privation to illuminate the darkest corners of the nation. Because of this we decided to make our regular feature "Dispatches" the lead story of this month's Digital Journalist. We cannot tell you anything about the tragedy of Katrina that you haven't seen and heard from many other sources. What those sources haven't brought you - but we can - are the voices of the photographers who were and, in some cases, still are there, and the perspective they can give to this disaster through their experiences. We will only become the stronger nation that the president claimed Katrina would make us if we listen to them and learn from the lessons that their work so chillingly teaches us.

The Editors