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One Year After Gulf Storm, 31 Media Grants Awarded to Support Coverage of Race and Class in America

NEW YORK—On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Open Society Institute today announced 31 investigative journalism grants to promote a national conversation on racism and inequality in America.

Nearly $1 million will be divided among the talented filmmakers, print and radio journalists, photographers, and youth media who are recipients of OSI’s Katrina Media Fellowships. OSI created the special media competition to inform and deepen public understanding of the critical social issues the storm laid bare.

"Hurricane Katrina made clear that we as a nation must confront the effects of racism, poverty, and government neglect exposed by the flood waters,” said Erlin Ibreck, director of grantmaking strategies at OSI. “We felt it was critical to support journalism and media projects to help foster debate and inspire action to challenge centuries of inequality in this country.”

OSI awarded the fellowships, totaling $950,000, to seasoned reporters and media makers, giving special consideration to applicants who were displaced from or residents of the Gulf Region. The recipients include four Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, several celebrated documentary photographers displaced after the storm, and an Emmy-winning filmmaker.

The broad scope of projects reflects the myriad ways the storm affected New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents. One Katrina Media Fellow, a veteran music journalist, will explore the threat to the cultural and musical heritage of New Orleans, and a collective of African-American photographers will document Hurricane Katrina’s toll on the economic, social, and racial fabric of communities of color in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Other fellows include a New Orleans newspaper reporter who will investigate the deterioration of public education in Louisiana pre- and post-Katrina, and a team of radio journalists who will tell the stories of people rebuilding their lives in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Since November 2005, OSI has aided local recovery efforts and supported 15 Gulf Coast nonprofits working to rebuild and vitalize the region. OSI’s investment of nearly $3 million in Katrina-related support is part of a larger effort to strengthen communities in the United States and around the world. In the past ten years, OSI has spent some $742 million in the U.S. to promote human rights, access to justice, education, professionalism in law and medicine, palliative care, and to ensure the inclusion of everyone in the democratic process.

Individual Grantees

OSI is proud to support the following Katrina Media Fellows, listed below in alphabetical order:

Ralph Adamo, New Orleans, LA, print journalist: to research and investigate the demise of public education in New Orleans over the course of several failed administrations and to examine post-Katrina efforts to restructure public education in the city.

Anthony Barboza, Brooklyn, NY, photographer: to document, with the Kamoinge collective of African American photographers, Katrina’s toll on the economic, social, and racial fabric of communities of color in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Larry Blumenfeld, Brooklyn, NY, multimedia journalist: to explore Katrina's effects on New Orleans music culture and the present threats to the city’s cultural heritage. Through interviews with jazz musicians, brass band players, and second-line and funeral participants, he will explore the challenges musicians now face in preserving their communities and their art form, and how this cultural devastation intersects with race, class, and the allocation of government funds.

Debbie Caffery, Lafayette, LA, photographer: to document the journey of displaced residents transferred from the Convention Center and Superdome to the Baton Rouge River Shelter, the destruction and neglect of the Ninth Ward, and personal items left behind in abandoned houses and churches.

Sara Catania, Los Angeles, CA, print journalist: to tell the stories of Vietnamese-Americans in the Gulf Region during the disaster and the unique hurdles they face in rebuilding their community.

June Cross, New York, NY, Emmy and duPont Columbia Journalism award-winning filmmaker: to document the journey of a large New Orleans family as they encounter shifting land-use policy, insurance quagmires, and a poor public health system.

Dee Davis, Whitesburg, KY, filmmaker: to produce short films, public service announcements, and photographs to highlight how the lack of effective rural recovery policy is hampering efforts of displaced residents to re-establish their lives and communities.

Annette Foglino, New York, NY, multimedia journalist: to examine the storm’s effects on low-income, minority neighborhoods and the elderly, and to explore whether governments are less likely to rebuild in these communities.

Stanley Greene and Kadir van Lohuizen, Paris, France, photographers: to present the response of federal, state, and local agencies to the disasters in Mississippi and Louisiana; the daily struggles of evacuees as they negotiate government and nonprofit bureaucracies; and the irrevocable damage to New Orleans’ infrastructure, natural environment, and culture.

Mark Hertsgaard, San Francisco, CA, print journalist: to examine the most pressing environmental problem of our time, global warming, with a little-acknowledged truth: that non-white and non-affluent people pay a disproportionate share for humanity’s environmental missteps. Hertsgaard will examine this intersection in New Orleans as well as in Miami and Calcutta, India, two other cities in the crosshairs of global warming and facing acute race and class issues.

Tia Lessin, New York, NY, filmmaker: to document the journey of a young African-American couple who survived Hurricane Katrina and brought dozens of friends and neighbors to safety. The project offers a window into how the hurricane affected society’s most vulnerable—the elderly, the poor, the hospitalized, and the incarcerated—and examines the new underclass of “Katrina homeless.”

Dawn Logsdon and Lolis Elie, New Orleans, LA, filmmakers: to complete a documentary, five years in the making, on Tremé, a historic New Orleans neighborhood that was home to one of the oldest, wealthiest, and most politically active black communities in the country during slavery. They will trace Katrina’s impact on the residents, local character, and racial composition of the neighborhood.

Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, New York, NY, Pulitzer Prize–winning multimedia journalists: to create a fictional novel based on fact that follows several people as they escape New Orleans and struggle to reunite with their families and start new lives. Maharidge and Williamson will incorporate documentary photos with the text of the novel.

Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, New Orleans, LA, photographers: to continue their 30-year commitment to documenting African American residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and produce 40 post-flood portraits and 20 oral histories of fellow displaced residents now living in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

John McQuaid, Silver Spring, MD, Pulitzer Prize-winning print journalist: to research and report on the relationship between New Orleans city residents and the tenuous geography around them. McQuaid, a Pulitzer-winning reporter formerly of the Times Picayune, will examine the staggering engineering, environmental, and social policy challenges of rebuilding.

Steve Myers, Mobile, AL, print journalist: to report on FEMA’s attempts to address its outdated flood maps, which homeowners relied upon and whose inadequacy contributed to the loss of thousands of homes along the Gulf Coast. He will examine whether the new maps accurately reflect the frequency of hurricanes and why the agency decided not to strengthen standards for certain types of construction.

Katy Reckdahl, New Orleans, LA, print journalist: to write about the daily life in New Orleans’ Tremé and Irish Channel neighborhoods, focusing on people living in poverty and the challenges they face in terms of jobs, housing, health care, and indigent defense.

Joseph Rodriguez, Brooklyn, NY, photographer: to create a website and traveling exhibition of 25 portraits of individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina. Each portrait will be accompanied by an audio recording and text that places the image within the context of local and national policies regarding housing, education, employment, and criminal justice.

Tena Rubio, Oakland, CA, radio reporter: to produce documentaries on the influx of immigrant labor in New Orleans and its impact on political, economic, and social issues. Rubio will also explore the environmental impact of the storms on local wetlands and how rebuilding efforts account for race and class equity.

Tim Shorrock, Memphis, TN, print journalist: to examine how post-Katrina economic development in the Gulf Coast skews toward powerful corporations and fails to address the needs of the poor. Shorrock will chronicle the health care crisis in New Orleans, the strategic agenda of gambling and energy interests, and the militarized federal response to the storm.

Stephen Smith and Kate Ellis, St. Paul, MN, radio reporters: to chronicle several families in one coastal community as they struggle to survive and recover from the storm. Smith, a duPont Columbia Journalism award-winner, and Ellis will give radio listeners a deeply personal look at how racial and economic inequality plays out in the daily lives of people working to rebuild after Katrina.

Jacqueline Soohen, New York, NY, filmmaker: to create documentaries that follow Katrina survivors in New Orleans and explore issues of criminal justice, public housing, and day labor.

Amanda Spake, Churchton, MD, print journalist: to report on the delivery of health services in smaller communities, particularly in Mississippi, and to highlight the importance of reducing economic and health disparity.

Dean Starkman, Brooklyn, NY, Pulitzer Prize–winning print journalist: to examine the response of the nation’s $1.3-trillion insurance industry to the biggest ever natural catastrophe in the United States and to explore the near-complete collapse of the government regulatory system responsible for making sure insurers treat policyholders fairly.

Christopher Tetens and Lauren Thompson, Brooklyn, NY, filmmakers: to document the failures of the New Orleans criminal justice system, particularly the brutality and neglect faced by those incarcerated in the Orleans Parish Prison during the disaster.

Eve Troeh, New Orleans, LA, radio reporter: to produce a series on community efforts to determine the future of New Orleans, privatization of public housing, life in an urban FEMA trailer park, and the role of street culture traditions in neighborhood rebuilding.

Clarence Williams, Kenner, LA, Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer: to chronicle New Orleans from flood to aftermath to rebuilding, focusing on the impact that reconstruction efforts will have on the racial composition of the city.

Youth Media Projects

Downtown Community Television Center, New York, NY, film: to enable young video artists from New York to travel to New Orleans to collaborate with local teen reporters on short documentary films about displaced teens, environmental safety, race, and the storm’s effects on the New Orleans Juvenile Justice System. Community screenings and conversations will take place in New York and New Orleans.

Educational Video Center, New York, NY, film: to produce a documentary on two Katrina evacuees who relocated to New York: a single mother trying to find housing and employment and a young man whose post-Katrina confrontations with New Orleans police led him to become politically active.

Students at the Center, New Orleans, LA, film: to create short movies about topics identified by Katrina-affected young people: the double-displacement felt by students in New Orleans who had evacuated and returned, only to find themselves alienated from their friends, families, homes, and their pre-Katrina schools.

Youth Radio, San Francisco, CA, radio: to create a documentary that will help Gulf Coast youth tell their stories about limited public services available to people in the hardest-hit areas; the social consequences for the storm’s diaspora; and the disproportionate environmental impact of the storm on poor communities.

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