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Special Citation
(Biloxi) Sun Herald

In Hurricane Katrina’s wake, the devastation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast was sometimes overshadowed by the drama that played out for days in New Orleans. But the courage and dedication of (Biloxi) Sun Herald employees – who, with the help of colleagues around Knight Ridder, never missed a day of publication – has been recognized with a Special Citation from the Excellence Award judges.

“With these two epic sagas playing out side by side, Mississippi got lost in the story of the New Orleans flooding,” said Sun Herald Publisher Ricky Mathews.

The storm destroyed the homes of many Sun Herald employees, and some lost relatives and friends. But most returned to work quickly to help tell the community’s story. A small group of editors and designers had relocated to the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer, where they oversaw the production of the newspaper for eight days.

Vice President/Operations Marlene Kler and a handful of co-workers rode out the storm in the building, despite Publisher Mathews’ reservations. “We thought we’d evacuate if the storm was a Category 4 or 5,” said Kler. “I knew the building and was able to convince Ricky to let us stay.”

If they left and turned off the power, she knew, it would be harder to get it back up later. “Also, staying in the building enabled us to protect the equipment from leaks,” she said. “The insurance folks commented on what a good plan we had and how little damage we sustained.”

More overwhelming was the impact on so many employees’ lives. Executive Editor Stan Tiner was impressed with how quickly people returned to work. “Almost everyone had significant damage to their homes,” he said. “But folks came in to do their jobs. We were just amazed by that.”

Mathews will always remember how they cared about each other. “Every time someone came in who had been on our list of missing people, it was like a welcome home party,” he said. “People would be hugging and crying.”

Tiner says volunteers from around Knight Ridder who came in to help became part of the staff. “They gave a lot to us. They went back to their papers with their sense of the importance of journalism re-energized. In that way I think we gave something to them, too.”

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