Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Praise for the New York Times's continued tsunami coverage (individual reporters and photographers noted)

The New York Times continues to cover the tsunami. This is very important. More so now that Scott McCellan has gone on record:

He said the administration was prepared to support further government aid to the relief and long-term reconstruction efforts as it gets more information on the region's needs."The United States will be in it for the long haul," Mr. McClellan said. "We'll be in it long after the media attention fades."
(from Richard W. Stevenson and Stephanie Strom's Bush Asks His Father and Clinton to Raise Funds)

This is important because the story has been getting coverage for a week. Sandra Bullock has given a million dollars (as Joni asked us to note). By contrast, ExxonMobil has contributed $5 million to the Tsunami relief efforts (http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/01/04/160250). A lot of people will be getting credit and while it's true that every bit helps. But we should raise eyebrows over the fact that private citizen Sandra Bullock can give generously of one million dollars but the mega corporation ExxonMobil can only pony up five times her amount? Hey, Bullock has money to give, no question. But a million dollars from her and only five million from ExxonMobil? One person's being generous. One corporation's being stingy.

We should also raise our eyebrows over any attempt by our government to "outsource" the aid they need to be giving to private donors. We maintain we aren't at war with Muslims, but a large number of Muslims were effected by the tsunami. We had the money to go to war with two Muslim nations so we better have the money (as a government) to give aid when it is so badly needed.

Doctors Without Borders and other agencies and organizations are announcing that they've received more than enough (from private donors) clothes or what have you. That's great, that's wonderful. That people have donated willingly and freely speaks of the goodness within those individuals. However, it does not let the government off the hook.

And sweaters and clothing are needs, no question. But reconstruction is a need too. Potable water is a need. Medicine and medical attention is a need. I'm going to point it out again: the administration was willing to spend money to go to war with two Muslim nations. It needs to demonstrate that it has a response other than war, that when people are in dire need, it has the "compassion" it so often speaks of.

Bully Boy's AIDS monies were an unfunny joke (and they've remained one and, credit where it's due, Nicky K -- Nicholas Kristoff at the New York Times -- has been on that story repeatedly).
They were cheap words tossed out to garner goodwill. They've not resulted in the promised amount or in anything to take great pride in. (Creating "faith based" organizations took monies away from organizations already on the ground addressing the issue.) Now Scott McClellan tells us that this committment is genunine and that it will continue even after the media attention fades.

Sorry if I'm not eager to just nod my head and say, "Okay." This is the White House built on broken promises.

So the Times continued coverage is appreciated. In the last two days, the following journalists have worked hard to keep the human costs of the tsunami on our minds:

Robert D. McFadden, Choo Youn Kong (Agence France-Press/Getty Images), Amy Waldman, James Brooke, Patrick Degerman (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images), Alan Cowell, John Schwartz, Mast Irham (European Pressphot Agency), Jane Perlez, Seth Mydans, Chang W. Lee, Tatyana Makeyeva (Agence France-Press/Getty Images), Saurabh Das (Associated Press), Stephanie Strom, David Rohde, Richard W. Stevenson, Neil MacFarquhar, Arko Datta (Reuters),
Andrew Wong (Getty Images), Elizabeth Becker, Binsar Bakkara (Associated Press), Ian Fisher, Yuriko Nakao (Reuters) and Jim Yardley.

In addition, there are people working on stories that don't make the paper, there are editors worthy of thank yous. This has been the Times finest moment in the last twelve months.

Gina wrote: "I was thrilled when you posted on Ad Nags [Adam Nagourney] on Sunday. The idea that I would have to stomach Oprah moments and you're going soft on the Times had me worried."

We'll continue to criticize when we feel it's appropriate (not just me). Ben despised the story John Schwartz's story Monday ("Myths Run Wild in Blog Tsunami Debate"):

"Isn't it funny that not long ago, the Times was obsessing over 'values' and yet when someone expresses an opinion that there might be something deeper than science going on, Schwartz rushes in to mock them for their beliefs. If it's known scientifically that a butterfly's wings can have an impact miles away, I'd think Schwartz could be a little more tolerant about the people he mocks. Do I think it goes beyond basic science? No. But I don't have the need to mock someone for their faith. Would he have mocked them if they were right wingers? I don't think so. He would have simply reported what they thought and then noted what science says and that there's a scientific explanation. Instead, he wants to mock people in a way that the Times would never allow Bush to be mocked for any of his distortions. It's this attitude of 'we can mock the faceless' that really irritates me. It doesn't demonstrate courage to mock the little person the way it does to mock the powerful. It just demonstrates that you're capable of being very petty. But you know what, it was one article and if it got one more person to pay attention to the tsunami, I can live with it. I'll even note him publicly in my journalism classes."

Kara: "I'm glad that new voices are keeping this spotlighted in the paper but the editors need to realize that it is the people like Amy Waldman and David Rohde that have earned on our trust on this story. They and the others who were there all along, not off on a vacation. I wish I could remember every name but those are the two that come to my mind and when I see their names in the paper, I stop and read them. Building that kind of trust isn't easy and the paper better recognize the contributions that were made while everyone else was off on holiday. I'm not turning Waldman or Rohde into heroes. I'm sure both will let me down at some point. But right now they have earned trust and they deserve praise. The editors of the paper should feel the same way and be both thankful and proud that they had the photographers and writers dealing with this horror when others were off on holiday."

Trina: "As long as Stephanie Strom doesn't start writing the "White House Letter," I'm going to pay attention to her stories."

Brad: "I scan for Seth Mydans byline and read when I find it."

The Times does need to realize that over a week's time of this coverage readers bonded with the reporters bringing them the words and pictures. It's helped the paper's reputation and it's resulted in more e-mails of praise to this site than complaints. I'm sure the Times is very aware that people are more likely to comment when something bothers them. So they should realize that this story, as it was conveyed in words and pictures by some very hard working journalists,
has elevated the paper's image.

No, an event like the tsunami doesn't happen every month, and thank God because this has been horrible for the people effected. But a news paper is supposed to bring you the news, good or bad, and the New York Times did that, and continues to, with the tsunami. Monday, we saw the editorial board weigh in with a powerful editorial on social security. This is a high water mark for the paper. It should work hard at rising to that level when covering every topic.

The excuse that it can't be done or that print's not important anymore or any other excuse has been disproven. The Times can be as powerful, as moving, as educational and as informative as it works at being. The glory years for the paper don't have to be in the distant past.

Newspapers once told us stories, told us them in a way that said why it mattered, how it effected others, how it effected us. Circulation woes come when your paper stops mattering to the people reading it. The photographers and reporters made this story matter. Hopefully, others at the Times paid attention.