For the first time, I cried watching one of my own stories.
That's unusual. Very unusual.
When a segment airs, I’ve already seen it from every angle: in concept, in person, through the lens, on a paper script and on a computer screen.
By the time it makes air I’ve processed it.
I thought I’d processed Hurricane Katrina after ten years. Then I heard that sound bite in one of my own stories, spoken way only someone from New Orleans can:
“They called us refugees,” he said.
The music swelled. The images of a flood-soaked city played on screen. And I started crying.
I always knew I would do a story at Katrina’s decade mark, and I knew it would be a seemingly-impossible assignment.
I'm no longer a New Orleanian, as I was ten years ago. I worried about finding the right voice for the piece, having left the state in 2007. However, Louisiana never really left me.
Another challenge was covering something many people want to forget. Katrina is a vast story with a thousand different angles from lost homes to lost photos to lost lives. It's also new beginnings, triumphs, reinvention and recovery. Everything changed.
And for the week of writing and editing before the story aired, I relived it all in hours of file footage and fresh stories told from survivors ten years later.
When Katrina made landfall I was living and working in New Orleans as a TV promo producer by day and an aspiring documentary filmmaker by night.
I’d tell people “I have an ache to do good.”
But like many twenty-somethings, I didn’t exactly know how to do it!
Then Hurricane Katrina changed everything.
Its winds of change prompted me to become a journalist.
When something forces chaos on an area that you love, you want to get involved in a way that soothes the very fabric of the community. Especially in a spirited community such as New Orleans.
I aimed to do that with Hexing a Hurricane, the first Katrina documentary released by a local after the storm. It chronicles the wounded and optimistic spirit of New Orleans. It begins six weeks before the storm at a VooDoo ceremony asking for protection from hurricanes. It wasn’t a typical Katrina film.
Katrina was the bridge between my documentary aspirations and my reporting career.
I repurposed the footage in to news reports and landed my first on air job in time to cover the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
I was back on the story for the second anniversary... and after that, Katrina and I hit pause for several years.
I suppose it was inevitable that I was going to cover it again. I wanted to do something exceptional for the ten year anniversary, and I am exceptionally proud of the work from my team.
Now... ten years and a day after the storm I ask, "When do you let a story go? When do you say we've healed, we moved on... and it's OK."
I expected the ten year mark would be a good time for me to put it all behind me for good.
And then I heard that line.
“They called us refugees.”
The music swelled. My eyes watered.
It surprised me... and made sense.
Ten years after a storm that changed everything, it's clear the fabric of who I am remains forever weathered, bettered and watermarked.
Jeremy Campbell is an ATLien, storyteller, traveler... & often all three at once.