Blogging through disaster

Saturday, August 27, 11:05 p.m.
Hmm. This could actually be a nasty storm.


Hindsight has never had such painful and ironic 20/20, especially given the circumstances of this post, made in this blog: At the time, “interdictor” was Michael Barnett, a New Orleans resident and former military dude who worked for the domain registrar He had a pretty fiancé and what appears to be a fine, if not terribly eventful life — his blog, little used, was read by maybe a few friends and updated every so often.

What a difference a few days and one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history can make. Barnett and a small crew of his employees decided to weather the storm and hole up in their offices, Barnett posting frequent updates on his blog.

By Friday, Sept. 2, Michael Barnett had become a bona fide Internet celebrity. His blog linked from every corner of the Net, was mentioned in national media, and Barnett himself was championed by thousands of readers as either a vigilante hero or a fame-seeking martyr. And he’s a perfect example of the whole freakin’ revolution in the way news is disseminated, and where people go to find it.

In the wake of Katrina and her devastation, the activity on the Internet has been staggering in its breadth and volume. As the conditions worsened, blogs began to pop up with breakneck speed; new ones were created — for victim updates, people lost and found, fund-raisers, everything — and formerly sluggish boards were inundated with activity from around the world. And, of course, blogs and Web boards were predictably being used for what the Internet excels at: petty arguments and flame wars from a bunch of anonymous morons.

But most entrancing were the bloggers who were with inside Hurricane Katrina, who continued to post as their city infrastructure crumbled around them.

From Barnett’s blog:


Sunday, Aug. 28, 12:01 p.m.
We're on the 10th and 11th floor of a corporate high rise on Poydras Ave., right near St. Charles. We have generators and tons of food and water. It is 5 of us total. I am not sure how the internet connection will be affected. I have a camera and my gun.

Monday, Aug. 29, 5:12 a.m.
Welcome to ground zero.


As the power went out and phone lines died, blogs began to form a significant lifeline. Apparently even in hurricane winds, wireless Internet connections still work, and the lucky few who had access to generators and laptops kept a running commentary of the situation from the frontlines. People who had no way to contact loved ones used blogs to post missing-person queries, and updates on people who’d managed to escape and were known to be alive.

Because word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire on the Net, Barnett’s frontline reports were drawing more and more readers by the minute.


Wednesday, Aug. 31, 9:19 p.m.
This is unbelievable! This was just a private little journal 3 days ago that I was using to share my hurricane experience with some friends ‑ like 30 people. Now it feels like the whole world is watching.


It was, especially after his blog was mentioned on CNN.

Why were people so captivated by Barnett’s accounts? For one thing, his Web cam, which he set up at the corner of his office to capture looters and general chaos. Second, the candid, often brutal honesty of his reports. With his military background showing through, as the situation became more desperate and horrific with every passing hour, Barnett laid out the details with somber, no-bullshit reports (he began referring to the blog as “Lord of the Flies II: Escape from New Orleans”). He claimed to have spoken with NOPD about the sorry state of affairs, quoting them as “afraid,” and relayed other reports from the Superdome and Convention Center.

Somewhere along the line, people stopped checking in with news Web sites, and starting going straight to Barnett.

It’s not really surprising, given the distaste and lack of trust most of the public shows towards the evil conglomerate of “the media.” And can one really blame them, especially after watching CNN’s Rob Marciano in his windbreaker, whooping it up in the initial hours of the hurricane, clearly relishing every second of his little “adventure” like a dumb, drunk frat boy humping a mechanical bull.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, NBC photojournalist Tony Zumbado infiltrated the Convention Center with his camera, and captured horrifying images of the hellish conditions within. While speaking with a prim and pretty anchor drenched in tones of violet, the photojournalist was visibly shaken as he recalled watching two people die in front of him, and the rows of bodies he encountered.

“And obviously,” the lilac princess sweetly intoned, “we couldn’t show that footage.”

Oh, really? And why the hell not?

Barnett and his army of bloggers aren’t afraid to broadcast such arresting scenes, through text or cam — and they want it to be seen. It may be this raw candor that has earned him such a loyal following of readers, who are now turning to him for the news.

Obviously, there are sundry problems with trusting bloggers for the news, like the issues of credibility, accuracy and truth. How do we know Barnett is really who he says he is, or what he’s reporting is true?

But thanks to such tarnished journalistic stars as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, there’s no longer any assurance that what you read in the newspapers and newsmagazine is 100 percent true, either.

Will blogs replace reporters? Will amateur journalists overtake the pros, some of whom aren’t very professional to begin with? Some of Barnett’s readers hope so. Comments, taken from his blog:


prickvixen 2005-09-01 23:50
You understand that you're the beginning, don't you? In future disasters, people with the equipment and capacity to become an ad-hoc on-site media outlet will do so, with your example in mind.

lizlips 2005-09-02 00:41
thank you for telling us the truth about what is going on. I've never been a fan of the news as I think it's horribly slanted. I haven't been able to take my eyes off of the news since this happened all the while knowing I was only getting a slanted version of the story. Your blog is a comfort as it helps me put things in perspective. Thank you. Please don't stop. You're creating history.

poisondreams 2005-09-02 00:00
Michael, keep it up. I'm getting more information here then on the TV.

(Anonymous) 2005-09-02 00:40 After two days of watching the same recycled pictures on CNN and reading the same reuters article posted to 45 different newspapers on Google news, its a relief to get the truth about what is going down in NO. Thanks for your valiant efforts. Keep up the good work.
What the success of your blog tells me is that people crave this kind of on the street reporting. You have filled a vacuum and fulfilled many an outsiders curiousity about what the heck is really happening.
We all want to know the state of things in NO and to read your briefs saves us having to pick out what is truth and what is local, state and federal propaganda when we read the electronic papers or watch American TV news. Your reporting is a silver bullet of factual evidence blasting through the electric smog that is supposedly News in America.


Barnett seems to have taken to his new role in stride. An entry from Friday, Sept. 2:

The Real News
The following is the result of an interview I just conducted via cell phone with a New Orleans citizen stranded at the Convention Center. I don't know what you're hearing in the mainstream media or in the press conferences from the city and state officials, but here is the truth.

Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]