Bloggers and other citizen journalists have once again proven the growing importance of the Internet in covering the biggest news events, contributing heart-wrenching, personal accounts in living the tragedy from Hurricane Katrina.
Along with first-person descriptions of relief efforts, looting and flooding in New Orleans, bloggers living in the path of the hurricane have steered readers to information ranging from the latest news reports and warnings from government officials to advice on filing damages with an insurance company.
"Traditional journalism is the outside looking in," Mitch Gelman, executive vice president of CNN.com, said. "Citizen journalism is the inside looking out. In order to get the complete story, it helps to have both point of views."
Blogger Jack Ware, a New Orleans-area resident and contributor to Metroblogging New Orleans, left his uptown, second-floor apartment Tuesday after concluding that police did not have control of the city. Out on the streets, he saw looters, and described how his feelings went from sympathy to disdain.
"People were noticeably frustrated, hungry, thirsty, and scared. This is all understandable in my mind and a little looting for necessity – for survival – is to be expected," Ware wrote.
His feelings, however, changed after watching people steal televisions and microwaves, both useless in a city without power.
"Some had the look of Christmas joy on their faces and it turned my stomach to look at them knowing so many lost their lives and were dying at that very moment, and so many more lost everything and would take years to earn back what they lost. ... Someone will die because an officer was telling you to put the DVD player down instead of cutting through a roof to let someone out before the water takes them from this world," Ware said.
Since Monday, when Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, news agency CNN has received by email more than 3,000 files with hundreds of images and video, Gelman said.
"The text, images and video people have been generating is extraordinary in the manner in which it takes our online audience into the heart and soul of the story," Gelman said.
One video was taken by Jennifer Roberts of Miramar, Fla., who panned the street outside her upper-floor apartment, as Katrina's destructive winds bent palm trees nearly in half. While filming with her digital camera, the woman sounded as if she was talking to herself, as she expressed her amazement at nature's violence.
"There was something about the emotion heard over the video that made it seem like an extraordinary perspective to have on this story," Gelman said.
Blogs, such as Eyes on Katrina, hosted by Don Hammack, staff writer for the Sun Herald newspaper in southern Mississippi, posted heart-wrenching emails from victims.
"There is nothing left in Clermont Harbor, my home is totally missing! Gulfview school is gone. Everything is gone," Deanna McCarthy Lutz, said. "It is unbelievable. My love and prayers to all of us right now."
Lutz was separated from her sister and husband, but later found both to be safe.
"No one expected it to be this bad and I hope you all find your loved ones as I have found my sister and husband," she said.
Many blogs included links to charity groups for people wanting to make donations. The Irish Trojan Blog by Brendan Loy of South Bend, Ind., posted this email from a good Samaritan from Atlanta, and a New Orleans native, who was taking water and gasoline to his hometown.
"I went to New Orleans [Tuesday] night and dropped off 160 gallons of water and 50 gallons of gasoline. I made it down to Metairie and it looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off," Charles Chambers said. "The people were glad to get the water and had no idea how bad the situation was because of the news blackout around there."
Blogs also carried warnings and updates from local government officials. On Eyes On Katrina, Hammack had this from the Harrison County coroner in Mississippi.
"Crews are recovering bodies from under and on top of debris and in waterways. The rumor of large number of dead at St. Charles Apartment is not true. He (the coroner) said there have been no large masses of bodies as of today in Harrison and Hancock counties. ... If people find a body, don't try to move it because of health risk and decomposition issues. Alert local police, fire or rescue personnel to it."
Some bloggers in New Orleans reported on the state of places in the city that would likely get missed by the national media, but are important to residents. For example, there were updates on damage to places in the French Quarter, the fact that the New Orleans Art Museum was still standing and most of the Audubon Zoo animals were OK.
Some bloggers, such as Craig Giesecke of Metroblogging, found time for nostalgia, while facing a hard future.
"It's funny the things you see that remind you of how things were just a scant five days ago. When will I be able to buy some New Orleans Amber rum again? Or French Market coffee? When will they start producing Crystal sauce again? I know it'll all come back. But dammit -- I miss it already," Giesecke said.
A New Orleans lawyer whose blog is called Ernie the Attorney, wondered when he will be able to hang out with his friends again at their favorite places.
"It's strange not to be able to go to your home, your neighborhood, or even your city," the lawyer said. "But it's also strange to have your 'localized friends' dispersed throughout the country. How will we reconnect? When will we reconnect? For now, it will be through the Internet. Yes, we can be thankful for that."