My phone rings more than usual these days. My email inbox is jammed up every day. It's mostly reporters from other states, even other countries. They're all looking for me.
It would be flattering to interpret this flurry of activity in my electronic hardware as testimony to my above-average workmanship and reputation for insightful commentary, observation and analysis.
It would be flattering. But it would also be incorrect.
What's unfolding is an aspect of journalism's inside baseball: The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is nigh, and when out-of-state reporters launch an investigation into a topic, they often begin by contacting in-state peers in the business who may have developed more expertise regarding the matter, and, more important, more contacts, and who might — in the time-honored fashion of collegial benevolence — be willing to share such information.
To wit: I have written a lot of stories about Katrina, talked to a lot of people about Katrina, know a lot about Katrina. Me and Katrina, we're like this.
But most journalists seeking my input for their stories don't want to interview me or plumb the depths of my own personal knowledge and experience on the subject. Truthfully, what they mostly want is contact information for other people whose depths of personal knowledge and experience they would like to plumb.
So when they start looking up "Katrina" online, they come across my name and see I have filed about 20,000 stories about The Whole Damn Thing. Therefore, I am a good beginner's reference for reporters from Detroit, Denver or Dusseldorf who have just been assigned to write up their own report on the fifth anniversary of The Whole Damn Thing.
Think of me as a sort of anthropomorphic version of Katrina for Dummies. Thus it is these days, I am incessantly tweeted, Faced, Googled and poked.
Now, 15 years ago, if you told me that I was being tweeted, Faced, Googled and poked, I'm not sure whether the proper response would have been to swat my arms, scratch myself, call the police — or do right by the young woman and marry her.
Funny, how vocabulary changes over time. But I stray.
The point I'm trying to make: I can end up being the gatekeeper of information for people coming to town this month to peruse the emotional landscape of the populace. It's not an enviable position to be in. Mostly, I just give them Ray Nagin's cell phone number and wish them good luck.
Actually, that's not what happens. I don't have Ray Nagin's cell phone number. But that would be great, no?
Instead, I mostly try to avoid the duty altogether. It's a big responsibility, framing up someone else's portrait of our region at this critical time period in our recovery, the fifth anniversary.
Editors love fifth anniversaries. It gives them the first opportunity since a Big Event occurred to dig in and render forth the Big Picture of the Big Event. And editors love the Big Picture.
So I duck, shift and parry. I tell them I lost my Rolodex from Katrina. If they're under 30, they ask me: What's a Rolodex? If they're over 30, I give them a quick overview of my resume: During my 25-year career in newspapering, I've gone from The Washington Post to The Times-Picayune to Gambit.
I ask them: Is that really the kind of career arc that indicates the expertise you seek on the most significant meteorological event and engineering catastrophe of the 21st century? It's more the career maneuverings of a guy who found a place he really likes living and has managed to cadge someone into paying him paltry sums so that he can stay there.
Yes, that's what I tell them: That I like it here. Most of us do. Otherwise we would leave. Or would not have come back after The Whole Damn Thing in the first place.
And that if they'd get off the phone with me and get out of their hotel rooms and walk around town — leaving their cells and their laptops behind — they would find that this alluring region can tell its own fantastical story better than I ever could, can reveal her own secrets, mysteries, tangents, legends and fables better than anyone I know.
Except maybe one guy. Which reminds me:
Anybody got Ray's cell phone number?