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The great fiction of the southern United States is frequently characterized by its passionate embrace of place. In her classic essay, “Place in Fiction,” the widely beloved Mississippi author Eudora Welty writes, “Place in history partakes of feeling, as feeling about history partakes of place. Feelings are bound up in place. Location is the ground conductor of all the currents of emotion and belief and moral conviction that charge out from the story in its course.”

Welty's rich stories evoke larger traditions of southern art and everyday culture imbued with multifaceted understandings of place. Starting with Welty's insight, in this essay I discuss the relationship of place and emotion and the expression of that relationship in journalistic storytelling—specifically, the rituals and techniques evident in the televised cable network news coverage of Hurricane Katrina as the storm and its aftermath devastated parts of the U.S. South. My aim is not primarily to provide yet another critique of network reporting (although much of it is ripe for such analysis), nor is it to present a systematic content analysis of television news texts. Rather, this essay offers a meta-critique, examining prominent published evaluations of the reporting in the earliest hours of the disaster, with a particular focus on moments in which normative national network news practices quite literally “broke down.”


Originally published in the Journal of e-Media Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1 (Winter 2009).