We’ve been posting about Kathleen Koch, the author of Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered for a while now. Kathleen’s been on a whirlwind of a book tour, sharing her story with Hurricane Katrina victims on the Gulf and folks across the nation (you might have even seen her on BBC America and CNN last week).
Kathleen’s heading back to Georgia this weekend for the Decatur Book Festival (we’ll call it the DBF for short). The DBF is the United State’s largest independent book festival, bringing 300 authors to Decatur every Labor Day weekend. And what makes the DBF even better–it’s free and open to the public!
So we figured we’d feature just a bit of Q&A from Kathleen, which ran in the Washington Post Express last week, before her event this weekend. But if you want to hear more from her and can’t make it to the DBF, be sure to watch for her on CNN’s Newsroom with Ali Velshi tomorrow around 1:20 p.m. EST. She’ll discuss her experiences as a journalist covering Hurricane Katrina as it destroyed her hometown, and how the community has rebuilt since the disaster–a truly heartwarming story of loss, hope, and recovery. Don’t miss it!
» EXPRESS: When you got the assignment to go and cover Hurricane Katrina in an area you knew so well, what steps did you take to prepare yourself? In your 18 years at CNN, you covered everything from the White House to the Pentagon, so how was this different?
» KATHLEEN KOCH: When I got the assignment to cover Hurricane Katrina, I did something I had never done before and I started a journal in my laptop called the Katrina Chronicles, because I knew in my gut that this was going to be big, I knew this would be historic. … When I checked to see which other hurricanes had started on the same path, I saw … Hurricane Camille, and that had flattened my town in 1969 before I moved there. And I realized … that this could be very bad for my town, and while we were covering the storm — while we were sleeping in the SUV or whenever we had time — I would record my thoughts, my feelings, my observations, and I just kept doing that.
» EXPRESS: After all the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, there was some discussion of the idea of an objective journalist, and whether reporters who went to cover the hurricane and helped people down there were truly being objective. How did you deal with that struggle, especially because you were encountering so many people you personally knew?
» KOCH: The struggle was incredibly difficult, because they just don’t teach you in journalism school how to respond when a disaster of this magnitude flattens your hometown. And you can’t, as hard as you try as a journalist, you can’t not get involved when the people who are standing there, destitute and in the street in front of you and having nothing left but the clothes on their back and the shoes on their feet, are your high school classmates and neighbors and friends. You can’t just turn your back on them.
But how we opted to deal with this was, because we were compelled to help, we did it when we were done with our work as journalists, and we didn’t turn the camera on ourselves. … That didn’t get on the air because that was something that we did personally, and to me, I think that kind of separation is important. Each journalist in the field has to make the call themselves, and I don’t want to criticize anyone who felt compelled to help … but I think you stray into dangerous territory when you tape it and use it, because it suggests you’re exploiting the victims for your own gain. A report like that could be far too self-congratulatory. … In the book, people do learn about things I did that very few people knew.
Read more at the Express.
One last thing: Rheta Grimsley Johnson, who wrote Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming for NewSouth, one of our distributed publishers, will also be at the DBF. Check back tomorrow for more information on Rheta and Enchanted Evening Barbie.