Seems like much more than a year has passed since I sat in my New Orleans' home last August, longing for a winning Saints season. Turns out I didn't get to watch a game. Thanks, Katrina.
I was born and raised in New Orleans — lived in the same house my entire life. Then Katrina hit. My family was lucky to get out. We stayed until the bitter end, even going so far as to buy enough food, water and flashlight batteries to last the better part of a week. When we decided to leave, traffic was already stalled to the north and west. Our only option was to go east, into the storm's projected path. With three days worth of clothes, my parents and I took backroads that would all be destroyed just hours later.
My home now sits empty with a "For Sale" sign in front, like so many houses in New Orleans these days. Despite my family's good fortune in the months following the hurricane, I felt utterly lost at the beginning of this summer. The realization that everything I knew and believed in had literally been washed away was sometimes too painful to bear.
When I walked into the Nightly newsroom, I expected a corporate machine that would toss me around and spit me out. Instead, I found a group of people so close they reminded me of friends from home that I hadn't seen for months. I remember bumbling as I introduced myself to Brian, only to have him interrupt me before I could get my name out: "Yes, Jed, I know who you are." In the newsroom, I sit across from Senior Producer Tracey Lyons, a hilarious and wonderful woman with a son close to my age... who gives me advice about how to be a better son.
Nightly has also taught me something that I forgot in the months following the storm, something that has helped me already and will help me in the future, both personally and journalistically: perspective. Mired in my post-Katrina struggle as well as that of New Orleans, I forgot that we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. And that is why the news is so important.
As we approach the first anniversary of Katrina, the newsroom focus has shifted towards our coverage in New Orleans in the coming weeks. Some people have asked me if it hurts to work on these stories. Sometimes it does, but more often than not it's cathartic. NBC has also allowed me to follow Brian and the team down to New Orleans for our coverage, and with the help and encouragement of Nightly, I think I'll be able to look at Katrina, New Orleans and my own experience in a new light. I imagine there will be moments when it will be hard emotionally, but I'm feeling more confident knowing that my Nightly peers will be there to support me and give me perspective a year later... perspective I hope we can also give to you.
And with a new coach and some new faces, even the Saints have high hopes this year, in a town that needs all the hope it can get.