The Atlantic’s narrative podcast Floodlines has won a 2021 Peabody Award. The eight-part series, hosted by senior editor Vann R. Newkirk II and executive produced by Katherine Wells, reported on New Orleans after its 2005 flood, and examined how Hurricane Katrina has shaped the city and its residents’ lives in the years since it devastated the Gulf Coast. This is The Atlantic’s first Peabody Award.
Released on March 12, 2020, the podcast presciently revealed the structural dynamics that shape all disasters in the United States: systemic racism, governmental incompetence, viral misinformation, and failures of empathy. In a year of pandemic and unrest, the lessons of this story resonate: History is repetitive; conspiracies will fill vacuums of leadership; and the work of reconciliation and recovery is difficult but worthwhile.
In a note to The Atlantic’s staff, editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote: “When listeners download Floodlines (and there have been millions of downloads since we launched), what they find is a morally urgent, sophisticated, complicated, and mesmerizing story of what Vann so memorably called an ‘unnatural disaster.’ We are all so proud of what the Floodlines team has accomplished, and we congratulate them on this wonderful achievement.”
The Peabody Award citation, presented by Charlamagne tha God, states:
“By the sheer depth and reach of its research, and its expansive framing and force of storytelling, Floodlines becomes the definitive account of the events and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and its transformation of New Orleans. With captivating sound design and penetrating music, alongside interviews and conversations with residents, local, state and governmental officials, media, and scientists, the podcast series viscerally places the listener in the debilitating heat, the toxic flood waters, the overcrowded bridges, and the filthy convention center. And with warmth and candor and difficult questions, host Vann R. Newkirk II returns us to the devastation of a natural catastrophe worsened by the betrayal, social incompetence, and political indifference of the many individuals charged with the welfare and safety of the residents and the city. The devastation and the impact are conveyed through the memories and experiences of longtime residents, their lives disrupted and displaced, their feelings of neglect compounded by the still-present frustration, trauma, and anger of what they endured to survive the flood waters, the loss of homes and family photographs, and the death of loved ones, when help would not come. The series showcases the heroic residents who, in the face of so much, looked out for each other and their community with marvelous small acts of compassion and care.
But Floodlines is not just a story of Katrina or its social, cultural, psychological, political, economic, and environmental aftermath and impact. From the national media’s worrisome emphasis on looting and ready-made criminalization of Black residents and their worthiness to be rescued, to the insensitive early response of national government officials (their present preoccupations with legacy notwithstanding), Floodlines asks us to consider what happens to place, home, relationships, and community when politics, incompetence, and indifference are at the core of how we regard each other. How do we decide who is worthy to live and to return home, and how do we avoid the devastating effects of what happens when our many levels of government fail to act? For its remarkable contributions, and above all, for showing us how interdependent and intertwined our lives and communities are with each other, we celebrate and honor Floodlines as a Peabody Award winner.”
Floodlines was hosted by senior editor Vann R. Newkirk and executive produced by Katherine Wells. The podcast was also created by lead producer Alvin Melathe; editorial consultant Katy Reckdahl; producer Kevin Townsend; editor Scott Stossel; and sound designer David Herman. Music was provided by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Anthony Braxton, and art direction by Paul Spella.