Kenneth Irby

Kenny founded Poynter's photojournalism program in 1995. He teaches in seminars and consults in areas of photojournalism, leadership, ethics and diversity.


Globe’s Tlumacki: ‘I am dealing with trauma & trying to keep busy’ following Boston tragedy

On Monday, veteran photojournalist John Tlumacki captured the iconic image of the Boston Marathon bombing: runner Bill Iffrig knocked to the pavement on Boylston Street in front of a trio of police officers, each seemingly headed in a different direction.

On Friday, the 30-year veteran of the Boston Globe — who’s been a finalist for the Pulitzer prize and honored as the Boston Press Photographers Association’s Photographer of the Year — found that coming to terms with the week’s tragic events required him to complete one more assignment.

So Tlumacki returned to Boylston Street, to the finish line where weary runners had crossed before cheering fans, only to have jubilation turn in an instant to horror, chaos and carnage. During those hours on Patriots Day, Tlumacki’s memory card had captured a wide range of human emotions. On Friday, at a makeshift memorial near that finish line, his own emotions caught up with him.

Tlumacki told me that he found himself “a little emotional, and took the yellow still photographer’s marathon bib that I wore that day, and I knelt down in front of the cross and I placed it. And I went back to my car because this was too heavy.”

For Tlumacki, Friday began with a 4 a.m. ET text message informing him of new developments in the tragic story. At 6 a.m. he was in front of the federal courthouse, on stakeout in case the second bombing suspect was brought in. He then responded to a nearby bomb scare and found himself drawn to Boylston Street, left eerily empty by the order for Boston residents to shelter in place during the manhunt for the bombing suspects.

“It’s like a blizzard or a tornado hit town and there is nobody on the street,” Tlumacki recalled. “And so I wanted to make that photo.”

Late Friday, a section of Boylston Street had become a impromptu memorial, with the items left by way of remembrance — including three crosses, an American flag, cards and sneakers, marathon trinkets … and Tlumacki’s yellow photo bib.

An edited and condensed version of my conversation with Tlumacki follows:

How long have you been at the Boston Globe, and what do you see as your primary journalistic role?

John Tlumacki

I started working part-time for the afternoon edition in 1981 and moved to full-time in 1983.

I am all-purpose — some days you do still, some days you do video and some days you do both. I go out there with a laptop with a wireless card to transmit right away. [For those interested in gear, Tlumacki said he used his “near brand new” Canon equipment -- two Canon EOS 1DX camera bodies, 24mm F1.4 and 70-200mm zoom -- on Monday.]

How many Boston Marathons have you covered, and what was your assignment this Patriots Day?

I am going to say that this was about my 20th. My assignment was the same as it has been for the last the last five years: be in the street position at the finish line, covering the winners as one of the six selected pool photographers. I had my laptop there and continuously kept transmitting from this position back to our website.

What was the last thing that you documented before the bombs exploded?

Standing on the finish line, I can remember hearing the announcer saying, “Let’s cheer them on” as runners crossed the yellow tape, meeting with their families and loved ones. I was waiting for something unusual. As I stood in the middle of the street, there was a middle-aged man holding the hand of a little girl and a woman and then boom! It goes off.

A powerful image of marathoner Bill Iffrig and police responding to the explosions. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

Was there anything in your illustrious career that prepared you for this? If so, what was it?

I was thinking about this last night. I have seen a lot of things in my career and life — Uganda in the 1980s covering war refugees and killing fields, fires and shootings. But nothing like this. … I learned to be ready at [Boston University], by reading books about photojournalism and from other great news photographers. You’re on the street and using your senses and always, always prepared. I am always fiddling with my camera and checking my exposures — maybe that is what helped me.

Were there times when you saw and/or captured things that you felt you should not be seeing? If so, can you describe one of them?

There were images that I captured that I saw only through the camera. Unless I was walking around, I never took my eye away from the viewfinder. Things were happening so fast, and I knew that my time was limited. There are some images that I am so upset by. I cropped some things… because there were bodies, legs dangling and limbs missing. It took me a few minutes to comprehend the carnage and devastation.

What advice would you offer other journalists covering such a major tragedy in their own communities?

Be comfortable with yourself and comfortable with your equipment. You have to have an inner voice to tell you when to shoot and when not to shoot. Try to be the eyes of the reader — you know that you are there doing your job because other people can’t be there. It is a pretty heavy responsibility.

What mattered most for you as you pursued this coverage throughout the day and now the week?

If something happens today, I want to be there. I am driven by my desire to do my best — driven by my career and my newspaper. I don’t want to be second-best. If I am at the top of my game then everybody benefits — the newspaper, online and the reader/viewer.

One of the many images that illustrates the explosions’ effects on innocent bystanders. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

How did you stay calm and collected when all around you was completely chaotic?

You can’t give up. If you give up, you are not comfortable with yourself. You have to know your rights as a photojournalist, you have to know what the public has access to and where you have access to be taking photos. You have to tell the police what you are doing – and sometimes you have to bounce off of them and go in a different direction and know how to work your way back.

So how do your react to the comparison between you and Stanley Forman?

When I was at BU, I invited him to my photography class to be a guest speaker and asked if I could cruise around with him for a piece in the Daily Free Press, the campus newspaper. He was Sen. Edward Brooke’s campaign photographer and invited me to join him and got me my first job.

He called me up the next morning and congratulated me — and so it’s like we have come full circle in a way. He was always a role model — I admired him and his news photographer’s license plate. Now I have my own plates. There is a little bit of Stanley in me and a little bit of me in him.

At any point did you offer physical assistance to the injured? If so, when?

In the rush of the initial moment … there was so much confusion. When I got to the fence I did not realize how extremely bad it was, but by the time I got close enough, the people who were lying on the sidewalk — there were maybe 20 — were already being helped by bystanders.

A woman kneels and prays at the scene of the first explosion on Boylston Street. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe)

What insights or lessons did this event give you about your role as a visual reporter during times of great tragedy?

When I came back into the office I was shaking and needed to be alone. And I was not prepared for the outpouring of compassion from my co-workers. They all asked me if I was OK. I was not prepared for the outpouring of emails — more than 250 — from people who told me that they were proud of me.

I am dealing with trauma and trying to keep busy by watching TV with my wife — we enjoy the Food Network. Next week, I am on vacation and plan to build a shed in my backyard.

What else would you like to say about this experience?

What newspapers and professional journalists need to realize, and the world has to realize, is that we are news photographers, not somebody out there with an iPhone and a camera, jumping over people to put images on YouTube. Our job is act as professionals and to show the world images that they can’t see because they aren’t there.

I’m so sick of citizen journalism, which kind of dilutes the real professionals’ work. I am promoting real journalism, because I think that what we do is kind of unappreciated and slips into the background. Read more


Why do we blame the (visual) messenger for tragedies?

With the click of a shutter, in a dimly illuminated New York City subway tunnel, on the evening of December 3, it happened again.

Actually, it was more like several clicks of the shutter, and the “it” was another tragic act of human inhumanity.

Independent photographer R. Umar Abbasi was the authentic witness to a crime beyond our wildest imaginations. After a verbal altercation, 31-year-old Naeem Davis, now charged with second-degree murder, pushed 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han, of Queens, N.Y., into the path of an oncoming subway train.

Almost immediately after the New York Post published the photograph of Han’s last few living moments on the cover of their tabloid and their website, it seems like everyone — media and citizen alike — blamed the visual messenger for doing his journalistic duty.

In this modern era, with all of our personal digital assistants and the 24-hour news cycle, now more than ever in human history, viewers want — even expect — to see tragic and sometimes morbid reflections of life ASAP! The need for speed drives the habits of iPhone, Android, tablet scrolling users with an insatiable need for the latest.

For the better part of last week, journalists, media pundits, academics and average consumers with voracious appetites for images have debated the media moral of the New York Post’s decision to publish the photograph. At last check, the paper that prides itself on holding the powerful accountable and publishing the truth, is dissonantly silent.

Public reaction

The reaction of the viewing public should not be a surprise to anyone. Throughout history, still photographs have touched the hearts and minds of audiences around the world, and, in America especially, they have moved audiences to action.

Just remember the photographic reporting of Civil War carnage by Mathew Brady; Civil Right Freedom Riders by Charles Moore; Vietnam Napalm Bombing by Nick Ut; US Soldiers being dragged and beaten in the dirt streets of Somalia by Paul Watson; the desperate and abandoned Katrina victims by Vincent Laforet, to name a few.

In each instance, the photographers themselves, their newsrooms and their audiences wrestled with a haunting question: Could you have helped the people inside the frame?

For the most part, I know these brave and courageous individuals who place their lives on the line repeatedly, so that others can witness some of life’s more daunting and perplexing facets. They see themselves as the eyes of the community, society’s lens.

Just pause and consider that when everyone else is fleeing, seeking safety, there are women and men who place themselves in harm’s way, much like law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency service workers, who press on toward the center of disaster and the epicenter of danger.

To document or to assist

Abbasi made a decision to document the imminent demise of Han; he may not have been able to reach Han in time or been strong enough to lift the Han from the track himself. So as he attempted to warn the conductor by rapidly flashing his camera’s flash unit, he also documented.

This begs the question, “Could he have done more?” Eighty percent of 17,786 viewers polled by the NBC “Today” show during Abbasi’s interview felt that he should have put the camera down and offered help to Mr. Han. My own personal survey of citizens in a physical therapy center in St. Petersburg, Fla., where I was rehabbing my knee said that 20-22 seconds was time enough to save Han.

And yet, our opinion is no match for Abbasi’s experience.

Abbasi stands firmly on his word, acknowledging that he was carrying some 20 pounds of gear and he himself felt threatened by overtures made toward him by the perpetrator, and maintains that, “there is no way that I could have saved him.”

Independence and intervention

It is a long-standing fact that journalists have historically been taught to maintain their independence and objectivity when covering stories, as those are essential elements of credibility. If I have heard it once, I have heard it a million times, “Our job is to cover the news and not create news.”

For the record, I myself have been a passionate supporter of this guideline. And, I have advanced my personal ethic to allow for the essential fact that I am a human being first and a journalist second. Therefore, in matters of life and death, if I can render aid, I will.

This flies in the face of objectivity and forces us to come to terms with our subjective realities.

What we publish

Whatever our purpose in documenting, it is a separate decision to publish images, as I said last week:

The moment just before death is a delicate fraction of a second and the NY Post print edition and cover screen image lacks compassion for the victim, his family, his friends and the Post’s audience. In a few words it is disgusting, disconcerting, insensate and intrusive.

I get that the photographer, Mr. Abbasi, made a decision to document the imminent demise of Mr. Ki Suk Han, because he may have not been strong enough to lift the injured man from the track himself and thus he made a decision to document after attempting to warn the conductor by “rapidly flashing” his camera’s flash unit.

There are times when authentically documented images are indeed too disturbing and cross the line of dignity and integrity. This moment was too private in my view.

And yes, I am saying that there are times that a photographic reporter may witness situations that are not published, broadcast or posted for public reviewing. The NY Post had several solid alternatives (just view their video).

My problem thus is with the publication’s editors, who clearly had alternative photographs to use and chose to use the most disturbing.

Reflection above reaction

As the next chapter in this tragedy plays out, Abbasi rightly feels that he is being made out to be the bad guy as others question his motives as they relate to contests, compensation and compromise. Much of this remains to be clarified and we have good reason to pause and consider that there may be some good that comes out of this tragedy, as lessons learned.

It is of little value to question the photographer’s ethical values and motives without holding the publishing organization accountable too.

At the end of one interview, Abbasi said that in looking at the underexposed, raw photographs, “you would say, I can not see anything in them.”

I beg to differ. I see a photographer that will suffer for many days with post-traumatic stress. A man that will be, for many days to come, the topic of ridicule and scorn even. A man whose images will raise some consciousness about safety for strap-hangers in New York City.

A man that at the end of his day, was trying to do his job the best way that he knew how. And I also see, from still photographs and surveillance video, many people in a better position to assist and offer aid, who did nothing. Read more

This photo, taken by reporter Amy Scherzer for the Tampa Bay Times, shows (left to right) Jill Kelley's twin sister, Gen. David Petraeus, Scott Kelley, Jill Kelley, and Holly Petraeus.

How NY Daily News, Tampa Bay Times got those cover shots of Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

As journalists reported on Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA, photos spread over the weekend of the women involved.

Petraeus resigned after the FBI learned he had an affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. The affair came to the FBI’s attention when another woman, Jill Kelley, complained to an FBI agent that Broadwell had sent her harassing emails.

All three people are married, and there have been no allegations that Kelley was romantically involved with Petraeus.

But in photographic coverage, context is king. And the images of Petraeus and Kelley appear to tell a different story.

This photo, taken by reporter Amy Scherzer for the Tampa Bay Times, shows (left to right) Jill Kelley’s twin sister, Gen. David Petraeus, Scott Kelley, Jill Kelley, and Holly Petraeus.

The Gasparilla photos

The photos that would define Jill Kelley started making their way to the world around 3:15 p.m. Sunday, when Tampa Bay Times Senior Photo Editor Patty Yablonski arrived at work. (Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)

Yablonski “walked in the office and had Veterans Day to deal with and football. It was not a normal Sunday afternoon at all,” she told Poynter by phone.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer had taken the photos of Jill Kelley with her husband, her twin sister and the Petraeuses nearly two years ago when Scherzer was covering Gasparilla, an annual Tampa social event. Scherzer had filed the photos to the system previously and alerted Yablonski to them Sunday.

Yablonski said she got calls from every newspaper on the east coast and Great Britain; the Daily News was the first to request the Gasparilla photos.

The Daily News used a cropped version of the Gasparilla photo (inset) that showed only Petraeus, Scott Kelley and Jill Kelley.

The Daily News photo

The main photo used by the Daily News was taken Sunday by Bill Serne, a former Tampa Bay Times editor and sports photographer who now operates his own independent company.

When he got the call from Daily News Picture Editor Kevin P. Coughlin, Serne was on a shoot at Dinosaur World in Plant City, Fla., about 25 minutes away from Kelley’s “Bayshore Boulevard mansion in South Tampa.”

Jill Kelley in her front yard during a birthday gathering on Bayshore Blvd., in Tampa, Fla., November 11, 2012. Photo by Bill Serne/NY DAILY NEWS

Serne, who accepted the stake-out assignment to go to Kelley’s house, told Poynter by phone: “Funny thing is, this is not the kind of paparazzi coverage that I normally do, it just fell into my lap.”

The Daily News texted Serne a blurry, out-of-focus, over-exposed source image and offered little concrete information. Serne was told to look for “kids and moms at a birthday party, and the key lady was 37 years old with dark hair.”

Coughlin, night photo editor at the Daily News, stayed in touch with Serne via cell phone.

“Serne went to the home and we thought that this was a high rise of some sort,” Coughlin says, but as soon as Serne got there he saw it was a house. Serne knew that he had the right place when the officers in brass showed up, he said. “It keeps getting better and better, now there is an attractive woman in red,” Serne told Coughlin. That woman was Jill Kelley.

Coughlin worked with Serne from the Daily News’ makeshift newsroom in New Jersey, where they relocated after Hurricane Sandy damaged their Manhattan offices. Coughlin’s home was also destroyed by the storm.

Serne, who was laid off from the Times about a year ago, used a Canon 70-200mm lens and a 5D Mark II to capture the photo.

Alexander Hitchen, Daily News managing editor for photos, told Poynter by email that Serne “got a fantastic set of photographs at the Kelley residence. They were obviously important because it captured the minutes just after Jill Kelley was named.”

The problem with file photos

The challenge that picture editors face in breaking news is that you don’t always have recent, relevant photographic material to use in reporting major developing stories.

The New York Post used a different photo of Jill Kelley from Gasparilla (shown in full below), cropped to remove Kelley’s husband and Gen. Petraeus’s wife.

Though there are multiple images of Petraeus available, which show him in a variety of military, professional and social settings, the photographs of Kelley are more limited. The only immediately available images of her were file photographs from a social occasion.

This is the original photo, before it was cropped and used by the Post.

The images of Petraeus in his dress military uniform juxtaposed against the informal images of Kelley set up a false impression. They show the general as an authority figure and imply Kelley is a party girl.

The Times cropped the Gasparilla photo for space, Yablonski said. In the process, Yablonski removed Kelley’s twin sister and Kelley’s boots and skirt length from the image, which was made available to Zuma Press and then the AP.

Making visual choices

Editors and producers must be sensitive to juxtapositions and cropping, and how the images might be interpreted. Photos tell a story, and not always the one we intend.

Monday morning, the Associated Press captured a more contemporary photograph of Kelley. It shows her in an everyday, contextual moment, not at a social event. She is leaving her house, aware that the media is following her.

Jill Kelley leaves her home Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military’s Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Correction: This story originally misspelled Alexander Hitchen’s name. Read more

"My editors agreed that black and white got the readers to the heart and soul of the images without any distractions," said Davidson.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer captures emotional, physical wounds from gang violence

Barbara Davidson‘s “Caught in the Crossfire” project, which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in feature photography, features authentic images that tell untold stories, as they capture intimacy, depth and compassion.

The photographs in “Caught in the Crossfire” give people a reason to pause and reflect on how victims and their families have endured the effects of gang violence in Los Angeles. And they relay the seriousness of the issue in ways that words alone can’t.

I talked with the L.A. Times’ Davidson via email about her reporting process, why she chose the photos she did, and what advice she has for other journalists covering gang violence. You can read our Q&A, which has been edited for clarity, below.

Kenny Irby: Tell me about the “Caught in the Crossfire” project. How and why did you invest so much time, energy and staff resources into covering gang violence?

Barbara Davidson: We dug deep with this project so that our readers could get to know these families and have an understanding of the devastating impact of gang violence on innocent bystanders. Colin Crawford and Mary Cooney, my editors, decided at a certain point in the project that they would have to take me off the daily schedule so I could concentrate full-time on finding victims, doing video interviews, visiting with the families who were going to be a part of the story, going on police and fire ride-alongs, talking to gang interventionists, etc. To produce the multimedia piece, we needed a team. The amount of time and expertise our multimedia staff put into this project was inspiring.

How did you gain such intimate access to sources? And what was it like to manage so many relationships with people who had endured so much trauma?

“I spent one year covering more funerals than I have in my entire 18-year career,” said Barbara Davidson.

This project is as intimate as it is because of the time I spent getting to know the families. I remember saying to the families, ‘You are going to see me over and over and over again and you won’t see other media representatives coming back to listen to your story.’ And, that is indeed what happened, so they trusted me. They could see how much the issue meant to me and they liked that. They respected what I was doing and they felt people would listen to their stories through me.

I delved deeply into this story, and it took a heavy toll on me. I spent one year covering more funerals than I have in my entire 18-year career. But the families I was covering had a far deeper level of pain than I, and that fueled me to keep documenting their stories.

I was struck by the wide range of diverse individuals in your project. How did diversity play out in your reporting?

From the start I knew this project needed to be as diverse as possible in order for the story to resonate with as many people as possible. I didn’t want this story to be a clichéd investigation of one race, since it impacts all races. It would have been easy to focus on one race, but we knew that would not be a comprehensive look at the issue. So, I consciously looked for families of different races to be a part of this story.

You have covered stories like this before. What made these victims of gang violence unique?

We reported on this story in a unique way because we dug deep and followed families through the aftermath of being shot or having a loved one murdered. We spent time documenting what it’s like for these families months — and years — after their lives have been changed forever.

Were there times when you had to make compromises for the sake of the broader story and not take pictures? And if so, how did you justify your choices and actions?

There were times where I felt it was inappropriate to take pictures, either because it was just too invasive or because it was more important for me to be present with whomever I was with at the time. Sure, I missed some good pictures, but I come from the perspective — as cliché as it may seem — to operate as a person first and a journalist second. I don’t think I could have covered this story any other way.

“My editors agreed that black and white got the readers to the heart and soul of the images without any distractions,” said Davidson.

How did you gather audio and video, and how did teamwork come into play when doing this?

We decided to conduct all the interviews at the Los Angeles Times in one of our studios for a couple of reasons. One, we needed the technical control. We needed to have the best sound possible and we couldn’t get the consistency in the subjects’ homes. Two, we wanted the families to tell their stories in the privacy of our studio without any distractions.

I didn’t know what the effect would be, but it was heartbreaking. Every person we interviewed in the studio retold us his or her story as though it had just happened. It was very moving. I conducted the interviews and a videographer covered the technical aspects of the shoot. I wanted to be fully focused on the interviews because of their sensitive nature.

When I could, I also gathered audio in the field that I thought would help with transitions in the edit. You always miss a picture when you are trying to juggle both, but you have to sacrifice one or the other so that one is good quality.

This story was roughly 80 percent logistics and 20 percent shooting. Since this was a photo-driven project, I reported on the issue, investigated shootings, worked with gang intervention workers, checked in with reporters and detectives, gathered on-sight sound and videos, and researched as much as possible on the issue.

This story pushed me out of my comfort zone as a journalist because I was multitasking so much and performing tasks outside my shooting expertise. This was by far my most ambitious documentary project because it was such a complex issue with so many moving parts that I had to try to navigate in an uncontrolled environment.

How and when did you decide to make it a black and white project?

I felt this was a black and white essay from the start. When I first shared my photos with my editors, I did so in black and white.

Black and white was the way we looked at and edited the images from the beginning of the project. The images in this essay are moment-driven, and because of that I thought it would be best to go with black and white and not be distracted by color.

Color has to be an integral part of the composition for it to be used optimally. I was more driven by the interaction of the people in my photos vs. the color composition. My editors agreed that black and white got the readers to the heart and soul of the images without any distractions. We used the same sensibility for the video interviews because we wanted to have consistency with the feel of the project. We didn’t want to blend black and white and color together.

Did the use of social media and/or mobile technology impact your reporting at all?

Social media helped me circulate the story once it was published. I posted it on my Facebook page and on Twitter. The story quickly circulated because other journalists posted it, too. So social media was great in getting the word out about the project. Often the way I would keep up with the families would be through text messaging. And many times I gleaned important information via text messaging, too.

What did you learn from reporting this project?

To me, the most tragic element of what I learned reporting this issue is that it can be told in any major city of the United States. And the deeper I dug into this story, the more I realized that it’s time for journalists to start shedding light on under-reported stories in this country.

What advice can you offer to journalists who attempt to take on a similar project?

I would say that to take on a project like this, the photographer really has to research and be an expert on what it is they want to document. I wasn’t an expert when I first looked into the issue of gang-related violence, but I asked a lot of questions and read everything I could get my hands on about the issue.

Once you understand the issue you want to report on, the images will fall into place. I was lucky this project became my beat. All reporters have beats, which is why they get to know the issues they are covering so well. Photographers don’t have beats, so I think getting your editors on board with a really strong written proposal about the project you want to pursue — and then delivering photos to back up your written proposal — is the way to go. Read more

1 Comment
APTOPIX Japan Earthquake

10 powerful images of Japan earthquake aftermath

Images of Japan captured after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami last week tell a compelling story of devastation and resilience. Below is a selection of images, courtesy of The Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters, that dramatically illustrate events there.

The towering waves capture the raw power and fury of nature when juxtaposed against the inadequate ingenuity of human beings:

Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011. The largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history slammed the eastern coast Friday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The eerily placid placement of the airplanes amidst the vehicles and debris offer a striking sense of calm after the tsunami:

Light planes and vehicles sit among the debris after they were swept by a tsumani that struck Sendai airport in northern Japan on Friday March 11, 2022. A magnitude 8.9 earthquake slammed Japan’s eastern coast Friday, unleashing a 13-foot (4-meter) tsunami that swept boats, cars, buildings and tons of debris miles inland. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

The graphic pattern and vivid colors of the cargo containers represent a striking state of order in the aftermath of one of the world’s most chaotic natural disasters:

Cargo containers are strewn about in Sendai, northern Japan, Saturday, March 12, 2011. Japan launched a massive military rescue operation Saturday after a giant, earthquake-fed tsunami killed hundreds of people and turned the northeastern coast into a swampy wasteland, while authorities braced for a possible meltdown at a nuclear reactor. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

The mountain of rubble — both symbolic and literal — creates a valley and a visual escape for the survivors to cross:

People walk through the rubble in Rikuzentakakata, Iwate Prefecture, Sunday March 13, 2011, two days after a powerful earthquake-triggered tsunami. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

This picture speaks of the hope, courage and urgency of the moment, captured in a single image of a young child, protected by her fluffy pink snuggly and her father:

Upon hearing another tsunami warning, a father tries to flee for safety with his just reunited four-month-old baby girl who was spotted by Japan’s Self-Defense Force member in the rubble of tsunami-torn Ishinomaki Monday, March 14, 2011, three days after a powerful earthquake-triggered tsunami hit northeast Japan. (AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Hiroto Sekiguchi)

The detailed expressions in this photograph document the loss and deep tragedy when all you have is what you can carry out of the wake of destruction. The yellow poles — which are used to probe like a needle in a haystack — are a striking reminder of the search and rescue mission ahead:

Residents make their way through a devastated area in Sendai, northern Japan Saturday, March 12, 2011 after Friday’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Asahi Shimbun)

This picture is one of the images that reminds me most of Hurricane Katrina aftermath photos. The layering captures an escape from a world of devastation. The rescuer’s intensity is contrasted by the survivor’s relief:

A stranded elderly woman is carried on the back of a Japanese soldier after being rescued from a residence at Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, on Saturday March 12, 2011, one day after a giant earthquake and tsunami struck the country’s northeastern coast. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

This picture reminds me of the Nick Ut photo from Vietnam of young people fleeing a village bombed with napalm. This group appears to move at a more somber pace, but both groups are leaving a similar backdrop of destruction, one man-made, one natural.

People walk on a muddy road as they evacuate to a shelter in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture on March 12, 2011. More than 1,000 people were feared dead and authorities warned a meltdown may be under way at a nuclear plant after a monster tsunami devastated a swathe of northeast Japan. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The repeating patterns of the helmets and the masks in the photo below are a startling reminder of the imminent dangers and loss of life. And yet, there’s this gentleness and respect in the white gloves and in the expression on the faces of the two rescuers in front. The white elements at the top and the bottom of the photo frame it in purity:

Police officers carry the body of a victim in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Monday, March 14, 2011, three days after northeastern coastal towns were devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

This picture centers around a man and child facing the enormity of the disaster. Their presence shows the profound challenge ahead for generations who will rebuild. You can’t see the horizon, but you believe it’s there:

A man and child look out over destroyed homes after a tsunami and earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan March 12, 2011. Japan confronted devastation along its northeastern coast on Saturday, with fires raging and parts of some cities under water after a massive earthquake and tsunami that likely killed at least 1,000 people. (REUTERS/Kyodo)

Some of these photos, and additional ones, appear in this photoessay from “Dateline”:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy Read more


How the Chronicle Herald’s ‘Nova Scotia Burning’ project showed impact of race-related crimes

A year ago, the horror of a cross-burning in Nova Scotia provided The Chronicle Herald with a tremendous opportunity.

Confronted by two enduring journalistic questions — what do I know and what do I need to know? — the newsroom set out to create a multimedia project that looked at how racial prejudice has played out in Canada throughout the years.

To find out what they learned and the challenges they faced, I talked with Web producer Jayson Taylor and writer Patricia Brooks Arenburg, two of the four journalists who worked on the project. You can read our edited e-mail exchange below.

Kenny Irby: Tell us about the video vignettes and how you reached the decision on a four-part narrative structure.

Jayson Taylor: We found that we needed four parts to explain all sides of the story. Each five-minute video walks the viewer through the cross-burning in Hants County, Nova Scotia. [The four parts highlight what happened, the motive for the crime, the people who committed the crime and the event's lasting effects.]

How did you approach the multimedia reporting? And why was the approach important?

Taylor: While we could have simply written traditional stories in the paper, we felt that a multimedia project would be longer lasting, existing permanently on our website for people to see and discuss with others. We also thought it would be useful as an educational tool for schools and the broader community.

A multimedia approach also allowed readers to access a significantly larger amount of material, such as pre-sentence reports and other court documents that didn’t suit the printed format.

It brings an added richness to the story to hear the victims and the perpetrators explain their sides of the event in their own words, instead of through a reporter’s voice. This extra layer of information will hopefully encourage greater understanding of the crime and its impact on the victims and the community.

Here are the court documents and a related time line of events.

How did you arrive at the title of the project? And was it accurate?

Taylor: The title, “Nova Scotia Burning,” was a group decision in the office, referencing the title of the film “Mississippi Burning” and its connection to the topic of racism.

While the situation here in Nova Scotia certainly wasn’t as extreme as the murders portrayed in the film, the crime was an embarrassment to the province, and the shame of the Rehberg brothers’ racist act affects us all.

The cross-burning left us and Nova Scotians with “burning questions” about what this means and what would come next if left unchecked.

Another Canadian newspaper labeled the province “the Mississippi of the North,” referencing racist acts performed in the southern United States in the 1960s.

Patricia Brooks Arenburg: The reaction to the title and the label “Mississippi of the North” seemed to be split along racial lines. Those we spoke to in the black community, even if they didn’t fear for their personal safety, told us that a burning cross brought to mind the murder and violence shown in the movie. Those in the white community felt it was too sensational. I have to say that while I don’t personally agree with the “Mississippi of the North” label, I think the title of the series was fair and reflects the broader realities of race here in Nova Scotia.

How did you gain access to, and build the trust of, the four primary individuals in the story?

Taylor: We showed up unannounced and were invited in. We explained that we weren’t interested in doing a quick, 60-second TV news hit, but instead wanted to talk to them as part of a long-term project that would generate debate around the issue of racism in Nova Scotia, and hopefully bring healing for themselves and their community. They knew that the story wouldn’t be published until after sentencing but were hoping that it would help in the long term. You can read about our methodology in more detail here.

How have you managed the tension inherent in covering racism, given that it is such a personal issue?

Taylor: We were really fortunate that the people on each side of this story were willing to talk to us. Without their openness and honesty, this story wouldn’t have unfolded this way.

We didn’t shy away from asking tough, uncomfortable questions. We put the camera on and let them explain their story in their own words. Our goal was to tell every side of the story, moving beyond the rumors and accusations that led to what happened.

You certainly gave voice to the voiceless on both sides of the conflict. Why was that important?

Taylor: There was a significant flurry of rumor and speculation about this case and we wanted to help separate fact from fiction.

Most crime stories merely relay the basic events of a crime, without analyzing its root cause. Understanding the motivations of the perpetrators and the effect of the crime on the victims is how to defuse racism that stems from ignorance and a lack of understanding of people who are different from us.

A story such as this one is a good start, and we will continue to explore the topic in greater detail in the months to come.

Arenburg: We needed to get behind the headlines and see what led people to do this and what we can learn from their experience, their reality. I believe, even more firmly now, that we can’t begin to change anything if we’re not willing to try to understand people and their perspectives.

How did you use social media to spread the word about this project and generate community interaction?

Taylor: To avoid tipping our hand to other media organizations in Halifax, as well as in the rest of the province, we started to put the word out about this story just 24 hours in advance of Part 1, using a video trailer on Facebook, Twitter and radio ads.

This marketing blitz was the first time that most Nova Scotians would have heard about this project, but we found that our readers responded well to us on Twitter and Facebook. At the end of the project, we had a successful live chat on our website about the series and about racism. Patricia and experts fielded questions from readers.

This story has drawn attention and interest beyond Nova Scotia and throughout North America. Why do you think this happened?

Taylor: The fact that a cross-burning happened in this province in 2010 is shocking and indicative of a deep problem that needs to be addressed.

Canada prides itself on being a diverse, multicultural country, and Nova Scotia is a province with a large black population. Some ancestors of African-Nova Scotians arrived in the province via the Underground Railroad, escaping slavery in the southern United States.

Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard, director of the school of social work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, mentioned in the series that African-Nova Scotians are still subject to geographic segregation, still face barriers in finding jobs and still must deal with segments of society that are unwilling to address racial issues.

Things are slowly changing for the better, but society still has a long way to go.

I hope that the facts of this story raise awareness about similar issues in other communities and help people in other areas work toward greater understanding of all their citizens.

The cross-burning clearly affected your entire community, you and your staff. How are you, as an organization, coping with this dilemma?

Arenburg: From a writer’s perspective, it certainly helped to know that my bosses and even the publisher were all on board with this project. They handled numerous complaints from readers who questioned our news judgment and our reasons for looking into this issue. So, it was important for me to know that these people within the organization weren’t second-guessing the team, the work we had done or the decisions we made along the way.

Taylor: Nova Scotia has a long history of racism, and for us, this story was the catalyst to start shining a light on the issue and not sweep it under the rug, as has been done for a long time.

There were many comments on The Chronicle Herald’s website and calls to the newsroom expressing opinions such as, “Why are you telling this story? It’s over”; “They’re just kids being stupid”; and “Just stop talking about it already.” From these comments, we could clearly see that racism still is a problem in this province and ignoring it is not the answer.

[Disclosure: As part of his reporting, Jayson Taylor called me for advice on how to cover this story. I also participated in the Chronicle Herald's related live chat.]

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how long the Chronicle Herald worked on this project.
Read more


How shopping, prayer led to Columbus Dispatch’s viral Ted Williams video

Before Ted Williams entered rehab for drug and alcohol issues, he was a homeless man Doral Chenoweth saw on his way to the store.

Chenoweth, a Web producer for The Columbus Dispatch, told me by e-mail how he discovered Williams and what happened next as “the ‘golden voice’ video went viral.”

Columbus Dispatch Web Producer Doral Chenoweth first saw Ted Williams while out shopping with his wife.

Kenny Irby: Tell me how you and Ted Williams first connected. Was this an assignment or enterprise work on your part?

Doral Chenoweth: I actually first met Ted Williams when I wasn’t working. I was going shopping with my wife, Robin, at a store at that freeway exit. The light was red, I stopped and read his sign.

I rolled down the window, asked him to say something with his voice, and that golden, velvety old-school radio voice came out. We were so surprised that my wife and I exclaimed out loud, “Wow!” The light turned green, I handed him a dollar and moved on.

A week later I needed a fresh video for and I thought about the homeless guy with the great voice. I drove to that part of town, saw Ted, and pulled out my FlipCam and sort of duplicated the experience I had a week earlier.

What attracted you to his story initially? Was it the voice?

Chenoweth: Yes, it was the voice, but I knew there had to be a “backstory.”

As soon as I videotaped the first part of the piece, I introduced myself and I asked this man to meet me across the street. It’s there that I simply asked him to tell me about himself and he opened up with his life story: the alcohol, drug abuse, and the desire to have another chance in life.

What was the key to developing your relationship, gain his trust and earn access?

Chenoweth: There wasn’t a whole lot of relationship to develop for this video. I was willing to listen and record, he was willing to talk. But since he has rocketed to stardom, I’ve tried to keep in touch with Ted. He’s a friendly, likable guy. I feel partially responsible for his success, and I don’t want to see him slip into another life of alcohol, drug abuse, or even having problems with the IRS. I want this story to have a happy ending.

How did you approach the multimedia reporting — stills, audio and video?

Chenoweth: I made a quick decision to use a Flip camera for two reasons.

First, it would give a gritty, man-on-the-street feel that was appropriate for a video about a homeless man. Anything else might feel contrived. Secondly, it would have just been too darn hard to both drive the car and focus a Canon EOS-5D II, and especially the Panasonic AVX-200. I’ve never used a Flipcam for any other video I’ve done for the Dispatch.

How did the story structure take shape? What was the timetable?

Chenoweth: I shot it eight weeks ago, edited it, and put it in a folder on my laptop. I got busy with other news stories, including three people killed and dismembered in nearby Knox County and five Ohio State football players facing NCAA sanctions.

Our intern, Jen Monroe, also produced two nice videos about the struggles of homeless people and I didn’t want to detract from her videos.

I was never happy with the ending of the Ted Williams video (his voice just kind of trails off) so I went back a few more times looking for him but I never saw him. I’ve since discovered he spent part of the holidays with his children, so he wasn’t around.

On the first Monday of January, I was having another slow news day. Looking back on it now, I remember how my day started: I dropped my gear off at my desk and went to the Starbucks across the street.

Walking back to the Dispatch, I saw the door was open into a big church. I thought about how it was [the] first work day of the new year, so maybe I’ll sit in the church, have my coffee, and simply pray for safety and having a good year. There were only two other people in there, both homeless men trying to stay warm. I finished my prayer, sipped my coffee and went to my desk and posted the video.

It did the average amount of video traffic on Monday, then on Tuesday it went viral. Exact numbers are hard to tally, but I think it did about 30 million hits.

With so much homelessness and panhandling going on, why do you think that stories like Ted’s go under-covered?

Chenoweth: There’s a certain amount of passion fatigue that goes on in newsrooms and our general culture. The media does cover the homeless, but we can’t do it every day. The bigger story (in terms of what we’ve covered) for the past three years have been the layoffs affecting the middle-class and the recession in general.

What are your big personal or journalistic lessons?

Chenoweth: I’ve done photodocumentary work on four continents, but the story creating the biggest media storm happened only two freeway exits from my own house!

I’m really happy for Ted Williams. It’s a great feeling to know a simple video has helped a homeless man get off the streets, but I hope he is able to handle all this fame and have the fulfilling life he says he wants. The other cool thing is how the video has touched other people’s lives. My in-box is full of messages like this one from Oregon:

“Found myself actually looking at the homeless guys’ face today at the post office realizing I’d been walking by him for the past few years not once really making eye contact. I’m not one to usually give any money or conversation to them, always thinking they probably are pedophiles or something. After this story, need to check myself, as it reminded me that not all homeless guys are bad people and a little caring can go a long ways.”

Some have been critical about the lack of context in the initial piece, what’s your take on that?

Chenoweth: Unless it’s a straight-take from a news conference, many of the videos I produce have all the journalistic bases covered: second and third sources, different opinions, openings, closings, and a polished feel. To produce a quality piece, I generally use either a Canon 5D or a Panasonic AVX-200. But this video breaks all those rules.

Maybe that’s why more than 30 million people liked it.

Debra Jasper of the Kiplinger Program at Ohio State and a viral-video expert told me … if I had interviewed homeless outreach workers, talked to his family, etc., etc., it would have been four minutes long. It never would have gone viral. It’s not gonna be a prize-winner.

But looking back, would I choose to make the video longer and more polished? No. Ted would still be homeless.

Has this experience caused the Dispatch to think differently about sharing your videos more widely?

Chenoweth: It’s been a learning experience. We’ve established a YouTube channel so people can easily link or embed our videos.

There have been valid criticisms of our website navigation, but the management team was already planning to improve the website.

Once a video starts to go viral, you need to be sure the original links on,, and point back to your media outlet’s video, not the pirated YouTube version.

What should others know about managing an ongoing story once it goes viral?

Chenoweth: Clear the decks and plan to spend a few days following your story and managing the resulting news coverage.

After it went viral on Tuesday, I flew to New York Wednesday to try to follow Ted Williams as he coped with his newfound fame.

But it was tough even for me to break through his “bubble” and I ended up feeding the media beast with the “behind-the-scenes” story of how the video was shot. My editors realized getting this type of exposure for is priceless.

Once I returned to Columbus, I did another video (with the Panasonic AVX-200!) about the man who shared a tent in the homeless camp with Ted Williams.

CORRECTION: Doral Chenoweth’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story. Read more


How photographer James Palka captured Giffords shooting aftermath with images that defined the event

In photography, timing is key.

On January 8, 2011, 63-year-old native Chicagoan James F. Palka’s timing saved his life. It also allowed him to document the tragic aftermath of an attempt on the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of her supporters.

Photographer James Palka has worn an eye patch since the age of 16 due to a condition called Myasthenia Gravis.

Palka arrived late to the “Congress on your Corner” event and by the time he did, his choices were not about shutter speed settings, frames per second rates or tripod selection.

Overcoming physical disability, outside of his normal comfort zone, and experiencing the mental shock of human tragedy, Palka captured a compelling and exclusive photographic sequence that the Associated Press shared with the world.

In a first-person account, Palka describes his experiences on the day of the shooting, when time seemed to stand still and then accelerate forward. In the interview that follows, he explains how the photos came to the AP and why no cell phones captured the shooting.

In his own words, here is Palka’s account (edited for length and style).

I had received a pre-recorded phone call from Gabrielle Giffords on Friday the 7th, alerting me to her “Congress On Your Corner” event the following day — which was only a few miles from my NW Side home.

I had intended to get there half an hour late (10:30 a.m.), figuring things wouldn’t really get going until them. Boy was I wrong.

En route down Ina Road, several speeding paramedic vehicles passed me; I assumed there was a car accident or a house fire ahead.

By the time I arrived at the Oracle/Ina strip mall where the event was being held, I had a sinking feeling that someone had tried to kill Gabrielle Giffords.

The place was full of emergency vehicles and police cars, all with lights flashing manically. The main entrances to the mall had been blocked by wooden police horses and yellow tape, but I noticed a side entrance that was still open.

I parked inside, walked toward the Safeway, and asked a tall, scruffy-looking man what had happened. I knew the answer before he replied, but I still couldn’t believe his works. “Someone shot Gabrielle Giffords!”

I felt weak and nauseous, hoping I was dreaming and would wake up and begin the real day. “Why her?” I thought. In my mind, this beautiful woman was one of the few kind, honest and truly progressive politicians on the national scene.

I walked up to the yellow tape barrier in front of the Safeway grocery store and tried to make sense of the scene that was now only a few feet away. Northwest Fire District paramedics and multi-uniformed police, from both the county and city, mingled with eyewitnesses and the walking wounded.

The worst cases were on the ground with sheets over them while others, apparently still alive, were being tended to. Among them was Gabrielle Giffords.

I stood there in shock for several minutes, forgetting I had a camera around my neck. A white-bearded man who looked to be in his fifties, stood to my left and said, “The police got here right away, but it took the paramedics a whole twenty-five minutes!” A woman to my left said, “That’s right. I was here the whole time.”

This perplexed me, because there was a fire station a few miles away on Orange Grove Road. Perhaps the police held them off, for their own protection, until the area had been secured. (Later, I heard that a single fire vehicle with paramedics had arrived on the scene shortly after the police did.)

I finally lifted my camera. Still in shock, which would last the rest of the day, I began pressing the shutter. Back home, I had attached a 70-300mm telephoto lens and set my camera appropriately, thinking I would begin with close-ups of Gabrielle “meeting and greeting.” Instead, I was getting close-ups of emergency personnel scurrying about, people being lifted onto gurneys, and hospital helicopters landing in the parking lot.

I stayed at the crime scene half an hour but was not allowed to leave the mall for another forty-five [minutes], awaiting a busy cop who needed my contact information; they were still looking for a possible accomplice to this mass murder.

Since my state of shock was not the debilitating kind, it had an ecstatic quality in the sense that I felt my whole self  “in the flow” of what was happening in front of me. And this — along with skill, preparedness, and practice — guided my photography.

Palka provided additional information in an e-mail Q&A, which follows.

Kenny Irby: Had you photographed [Giffords at] other such events?

James Palka: The only other event [where] I photographed her was a Fourth of July celebration three or four summers ago in Oro Valley (just north of Tucson) where she performed (read a patriotic text) with the Tucson Symphony.

What camera brand do you prefer and what was the model that you used with that 70-300mm lens?

Palka: I used a Canon 5D Mark II with my 70-300 zoom. I also used my Canon L Series 24-105mm for some of the shots.

This photo of a wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was on the front page of many newspapers Sunday (James Palka/AP)

Why was it important to you to share these photographs with the Associated Press and how did that connection come about?

Palka: As I was leaving the shopping mall, I ran into a friend who works as a reporter for the Green Valley News (G.V. is about 25 miles south of Tucson). That evening, he phoned to ask me to send samples to his editor because his shots were very bad and Congresswoman Giffords was already gone before he arrived.

The police kept the press much farther away from the scene than I was allowed to be. In fact, none of them even noticed me taking pictures for half an hour! One policewoman on the other side of the barrier finally said, “No pictures,” and I immediately complied then walked back to my car.

Anyway, the Green Valley editor promised to pay me an agreed upon amount for four shots and he also gave me the AP phone number for wider distribution. He was the key to helping me get these images out to the world, since I lacked such experience and know-how.

Did you ever consider the possibility of capturing some video with your camera?

Palka: I have done video with my Canon 5D II a few times, but it didn’t occur to me to do so at the scene. You have to go into the menu to switch, and even if I had thought of it at the crime scene, I wouldn’t have remembered how to do it on the spot.

You seem to have an exclusive set of photographs. With the ubiquitous nature of digital and cell phone cameras today, why do you think that there are no others who covered this tragic event?

Palka: What I can say is that by chance (or perhaps by destiny), I was the first photographer on the scene and this remained so for at least 15 minutes. There were others — perhaps mostly people who worked in adjoining stores along with shoppers and those who wanted to see Rep. Giffords — but I didn’t notice anyone else taking pics even with their cell phones. Maybe some did, I was highly focused on what I was doing.

You have been wearing an eye patch since age 16, what was the nature of your eye condition and how does it affect your photography, if at all?

Palka: I have a condition called Myasthenia Gravis, and while it is mostly in remission, I still suffer from atrophy of many of my voluntary muscles. This includes my eyes (external eye muscles) and left hand. Both do affect my photography. I sometimes miss shots because I can’t zoom quickly enough with my left hand. My right hand is semi-numb from another problem, and many times I can’t feel where the shutter button is and I have to look. If both eyes are too badly strained, I don’t even leave the house and I have missed many photo opportunities because of this over the past several years. Also, I rarely drive at night here in Tucson, where the street lighting is very poor in many places because of the astronomical observatories requirements.

In your e-mail, you acknowledged being in shock, how are you coping with the post-traumatic stress?

Palka: I’m getting better every day. I still don’t have my normally positive energy … and there is always a feeling of grief for Rep. Giffords’ condition. As she gets better, so do I. She was the person I knew among all the victims. I’m pretty sure that if I had been there for the shootings, I would have been much more traumatized or possibly wounded or murdered.

Read more


What Byron Pitts Learned in Haiti: ‘We Are Tough and Delicate Creatures’

After seven days of reporting in Haiti amid unthinkable misery, Byron Pitts, chief national correspondent for CBS News, boarded a chopper last week, homeward bound via the Dominican Republic. Looking down at the landscape, he saw some of the toughest creatures on the planet and noted in an e-mail, “Just passed a few crocodiles.”

“What a blessing to be a journalist,” Pitts continued. “Having worked with people who trusted me with their truth, their country. I trusted them with my life and they trusted me. They felt like family. Most likely I will never see them again.”

Pitts arrived at the Haitian border at 5 p.m. the day after the earthquake and filed a report for the CBS Evening News 90 minutes later.

What Pitts and all the other journalists did in Haiti took guts — something Hemingway called “grace under pressure.”

Like Pitts, journalists have to be tough on the outside to endure, absorb and overcome some incredibly challenging odds. Tragedy on the scale of the Haitian earthquake evokes the indomitable tenacity of the human spirit — by those in the stories as well as the authentic storytellers, better known as reporters.

I asked Pitts what he learned about people when he was in Haiti. He responded, “We are tough and delicate creatures.”

Here’s an edited version of our e-mail exchange about his reporting experience.

Kenny Irby: How did you make your way into Haiti after the earthquake and how did you prepare yourself?

Byron Pitts: NYC to Santa Domingo, five-hour drive to border of Haiti. Myself, producer, cameraman, engineer and two Spanish-speaking drivers. No one in our team spoke Creole. So we felt our way around Port-au-Prince. It should have been a 90-minute drive from the border, but it took us three hours. Got some great fried chicken, though.

I keep a “go bag” at home and one in the office. It allows me to go anywhere in the world and survive on my own for three days. The first 72 hours are often the most difficult. In my “go bag” I keep a cot, sleeping bag, pair of boots, one set of clean clothes to wear home, one pair of pants, shirt, shorts, four pair of socks, baby powder, flip flops, a pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt, 10 cans of sardines and smoked mussels, a bottle of hot sauce, a Leatherman, a role of toilet paper and a bivy sack.

What were your living conditions while on the ground in Haiti?

Pitts: Slept outside one night. In a hotel without power or running water for a few nights. Showered once in seven days.

In the face of such chaos and devastation, what were your guiding reporting principles?

Pitts: Be a human being. Look for human moments.

You have seen some the worst misery and trauma over the past 10 years: 9/11, the Iraq war, the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and now the Haitian earthquake. In comparison, was this assignment different? And if so, how?

Pitts: More people were likely killed in the tsunami, but in Indonesia the killing was widespread. Many of the victims were washed out to sea. In Indonesia there was an absence of life. In Haiti one is surrounded by death. It’s concentrated. For days there were places on the street where bodies were stacked like wood.

What mattered most for you as you pursued this coverage?

Pitts: Treating people with respect. Telling their truth. I work from the assumption that the average American may not care about people who live miles away and speak a different language. Part of my job is to make them care.

In this “60 Minutes” report, when you realized that the bulldozer was dumping human bodies into the dump truck, what went through your mind?

Pitts: Be quiet. Listen. Absorb the moment. On the inside I was screaming, “Oh my God.” Only if I was quiet could I hear and feel what the doctor was doing and the people around me.

How did you maintain such a cool composure when all around you was complete chaos?

Pitts: I continually remind myself it’s not about me. I was raised to believe that to those whom much is given, much is required. I am blessed to be a correspondent at CBS News. I am a seasoned professional, so I’m supposed to act that way. I often feel a sense of responsibility for my colleagues. As a boy, my mother told me, “People are always watching you; stand up straight.” I hear her words today.

What insights can you offer about your role as a reporter, an authentic witness, during times of great tragedy?

Pitts: It’s not about us. It’s about the people and the moments we’re blessed to see.

Some people have suggested that American media outlets are more willing to broadcast and publish the grief of people of color on foreign shores than we are when the tragedy strikes our homeland. What’s your response?

Pitts: Much of America still has a problem with race and class. We are making progress, but the journey continues.

What advice would you offer other journalists covering natural disasters with great loss of life — particularly those to are just arriving to cover the ongoing hardship?

Pitts: On big stories the facts scream out, so whisper. Get small. Go narrow and deep. Find the voiceless and give them voice. As a friend of mine told me once, “Do the archeology.” Go deep. Find the nuggets.
Read more


Herald Photographer Brings Compassion, History to Haiti Earthquake Coverage

The little country of Haiti has become a place of such massive desolation. What the people of Haiti need, as much as media coverage and prayer, is compassion.

I was not surprised that one of the first U.S. journalists en route to the Caribbean island after Tuesday’s earthquake was Patrick Farrell, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photojournalism for “A People in Despair: Haiti’s Year Without Mercy.”

In the endless stream of digitally distributed camera phone snaps, Twitpics, wire feeds and Flickr posts, what distinguishes Farrell’s photographic images is, in a word, compassion.

For the last 20 or so years, some of the most compelling and disturbing photographs have been documented in Haiti. The striking reportage has spanned political unrest, tribal warfare, disease, migration, voodoo, hurricanes, and now, another natural disaster: the strongest earthquake to strike the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Spacer Spacer

Farrell is no stranger when it comes to covering the Haiti of hurricanes. He has covered Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean for The Miami Herald since 1987. He was a member of the Miami Herald team that won the 1993 Pulitzer for Public Service for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.

Yet after all that, Farrell said that the pain he witnessed in the small, western Haitian town of Cabaret, where Hurricane Ike had taken the lives of 12 children, “was like nothing that I had ever seen before.”

“You don’t have enough time to shoot the images that need to be made there.”
-Patrick Farrell
In an interview at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in June, Farrell recounted how he felt as he documented the lifeless body of 5-year old Tamasha Jean as she was loaded onto a pickup truck with other children who died in Hurricane Ike’s floods.

With tears in his eyes, his voice cracking at times, Farrell composed himself like he framed his compositions. Demonstrating great courage, he told how he pressed on, “reporting and bearing witness not just for the world to see but for the victims and their families to remember their loved ones and to get the help that they need and the closure that is needed.”

In pictures, I’d call that compassion.

View Farrell’s photos as he talks about his experience in this video.

Note: If you’re receiving this via e-mail newsletter and have trouble viewing the video, please use the video player embedded in the Poynter Online article.

Special Note: This video was produced by Candace Barbot, who has been a visual journalist for 25 years. After working for more than 20 years at The Miami Herald, she left the paper in April 2009 and founded Pulp2Pixel Media Inc., a company specializing in video training, production of short and long form documentary-style videos, and multimedia consulting for newsrooms. Read more


Get the latest media news delivered to your inbox.

Select the newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:
Page 2 of 1212345678910...Last »