The eye of Hurricane Katrina, viewed from a hurricane hunterStaff at news outlets in New Orleans and the surrounding southern US improvised to produce makeshift internet-only coverage after one of the country's most severe environmental disasters hit regular publishing operations hard.

In Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, the city's daily Times-Picayune was unable to print or deliver newspapers so resorted to distributing PDF editions on the paper's website using backup power generators.

With floodwaters rising at their offices on Tuesday morning, reporters were then evacuated by delivery trucks to WiFi-enabled sites at two out-of-town sister titles, from where they posted bulletins, flashes and wire copy using blog-style pages on the site, which is hosted in New Jersey.

TV news, too, kept the camera rolling online. Louisiana's WWL-TV, a CBS affiliate that broadcasts from New Orleans' ravaged French Quarter, was able to keep reporters in the city working around the clock but was forced to broadcast from a makeshift studio at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, a couple of hours away.

"[On Monday], the site had somewhere in the neighbourhood of six million page views, or roughly 25 times its normal daily page views," said John Granatino, assistant general manager at the interactive media division of WWL's parent group, Belo.

"Most of the staffers who are pumping out the news are doing so with the knowledge that they will have to return to their own homes and God only knows what when the waters subside.

"Tens of thousands of New Orleans residents who are stranded outside of the city are able to keep in touch with events by watching the live stream from the website.

"The full scope of this catastrophe is only now making itself known."

The TV station launched a weblog, giving 'updates as they come in'.

NBC affiliate WDSU-TV also streamed coverage via its website, produced from a sister station in Mississippi. The site asked employees to email in to let editors know they were unharmed.

As conditions in the region worsened, without power, there was little hope of reaching a local audience even if news outlets had remained unscathed.

Indicating the growing importance of online news, websites of US TV news networks reported audiences up to five times higher than their core cable operations.

More news from
Reuters spotlights crisis news
Sea change for citizen news
Relief organisations miss a link

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).