Ask the Editor: The task of covering despair

Haiti photo was chosen to show scope of tragedy

sduerr@thetribunenews.comJanuary 17, 2010 

In covering the Haiti earthquake, I don’t think you need to show the body of a child, as you did on the front page Thursday. What were you guys thinking?

— Anonymous caller

Q: Your front page Wednesday showed a big photo and story on Arroyo Grande Councilman Ed Arnold’s failure to show up at the council meeting and a smaller story on the Haiti earthquake. That’s a typical small-town attitude. Thursday’s front-page Haiti coverage should have been in Wednesday’s paper.

— Anonymous caller

A: The first news alert on the Haiti earthquake occurred mid-afternoon Tuesday; by our deadline later that night, it was believed that many had perished, yet the scope of the disaster remained unclear. Few photos were available. So we used the photo of the council meeting big and then played both the Arnold and Haiti stories at the top of the front page, with a smaller photo of the earthquake.

By Wednesday, far more information and photos were available to us from journalists arriving on the scene, giving us a better opportunity to showcase the tragedy unfolding in Haiti.

As for our photo selection of the body of a young girl being carried from the rubble, we chose that one because it showed every important aspect of the story in one image: the rubble and devastation, the efforts by regular people to offer help and the terrible loss of life.

“We looked at this photo very closely and compared it to several others,’’ Presentation Editor Joe Tarica said.

“Though it showed a child, all agreed that the orientation of the body was about as palatable as possible, given the other, even more disturbing options. It is impossible to tell this story fairly without showing the human toll, and that photo graphically, painfully and however unfortunately, did it best.”

Q: The column by Charles Krauthammer in the paper Jan. 4 was so on target. Please add him to your weekly line up.

— Ralph Bush, Arroyo Grande

Q: With all of the opinions and concerns you receive from local subscribers, you choose to waste half a page in your Voices section Jan. 4 on the likes of Charles Krauthammer? This brouhaha about one misspoken sentence demonstrates the imbecilic mentality of the neoconservatives! I hope you at least got paid by FOX Noise for reiterating for the thousandth time a line that is meaningless.

— Terry Mohan, San Luis Obispo

A: As always, our intent in publishing all commentary — from both nationally syndicated columnists and local residents — is to offer a lively forum and a diversity of ideas, to gain insight into issues and open our eyes to others’ opinions so that we might better understand them.

Q: I just want to compliment Melanie Cleveland on her reporting of the hard-money lenders in this community over the past year or so. It truly deserves an award. The pool of lenders that have defrauded investors at this local level is our own Bernie Madoff story, and it is heart-wrenching to hear of the loss of so many nest eggs, especially the seniors’. It is a lesson for this community in investing their money and practicing due diligence when it comes to picking a financial adviser. We all certainly need this kind of reporting to continue.

— Heather Hellman, San Luis Obispo

A: We will indeed continue to cover this unfolding story diligently. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Do you have a question about our news decisions or news operation? Please write to me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112 San Luis Obispo, CA, 93406-0112, or e-mail me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com.

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