Natural Hazards & Resilient Communities: Q&A with journalist Jed Horne

Journalist Jed Horne
Journalist Jed Horne

As a journalist, Jed Horne is after the truth. During his time as the city editor at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, he spent a great deal of time examining the truth in order to tell authentic stories. Before and after Hurricane Katrina arrived at the city’s doorstep, the truth—especially what was conveyed to national and international audiences—was muddled.

Horne set out to set the record straight. He chronicled the city’s gradual recovery in his book Breach of Faith, Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City in 2006—while others were suggesting the city be abandoned altogether. The New York Times called his work “an amalgam of the feature stories, new analysis, forensic evidence and backroom power plays engineered by New Orleans’s most influential citizens and hellish ordeals suffered by its least.”

Ten years after the worst urban disaster in American history, Horne is still unraveling the myths and lies that surround Katrina for readers and audiences across the globe. As a writer who lived (and worked) through Hurricane Katrina, Horne helps us better understand the positive steps New Orleans has taken since and where it still falls flat in its recovery efforts.

As part of the Surviving Disaster: Natural Hazards & Resilient Communities speakers series from the College of the Environment, UW Alumni Association, and the UW Graduate School, Horne will give a free public lecture on Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m. RSVP TODAY!

In advance of that lecture, we caught up with Jed for a quick Q&A:

What do you hope attendees of your Surviving Disaster lecture walk away with?

“I’ll be talking about the ways in which Hurricane Katrina, tragic as it was, also turned out to be an opportunity for New Orleans, a city that badly needed to reinvent itself. I hope folks walk away with insights that are applicable to other locales, whether those locales are recovering from disaster or looking to attempt radical overhauls of municipal assets like schools, housing and government itself.”

The Surviving Disaster series includes lectures from journalist Jed Horne and other natural hazards experts!
The Surviving Disaster series includes lectures from journalist Jed Horne and other natural hazards experts!

Why is this issue area especially important to focus on in 2015 and beyond?

“At a time of rising seas, climate change, and increasingly complex technical infrastructures, our world is going to be afflicted with frequent crises and disasters. We need to get very good at accelerating our adaptation to changing circumstances.”

What aspect of this issue rarely gets the attention it deserves?

“If only because I made a career in the communications business—in my case, journalism—I am especially interested in the way catastrophe foments myth and outright lies. The need to combat disinformation is an important but often neglected part of any recovery strategy.”

Are there aspects of this issue that are largely misunderstood by the general public?

“In hindsight, recovery looks like a straight line: you did this and this and this and got the result that now constitutes the recovered city or region. The reality is that recovery is intensely political and involves difficult choices, making for lots of twists and turns in place of that straight line.”

What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

“During the many years that I lived in New York I was in training to become a psychoanalyst.”

What are the three most important personality traits for someone in your line of work?

“Curiosity, skepticism and a willingness to disappoint political and intellectual allies.”

What is something you can’t believe you’re still up against?

“The way people cling to dogma and ideologies to avoid confronting a more complicated and gnarly reality.”

What is the most exciting aspect of your current work?

“Its portability. We are enriched by the expertise of specialists, but for non-specialists like me, the world is your oyster, and the new communications technologies (above all the internet) make it possible to probe the mysteries of everyday life from almost anywhere on earth.”

Written by: Kelly Knickerbocker, kknick@uw.edu