Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

"Looting" vs. "Finding"

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Amid Horrific Destruction, a Flap Over Word Choice

Amid the photographs of the horrendous destruction Hurricane Katrina brought to the Gulf States, it was the contrast in the photo captions of people who seemed to be looting — one of whites, the others of blacks — that created the buzz on the blogs and in e-mail traffic today.

"Black people loot, white people find?" was the headline on, one of several Web sites reporting the differences in wording.

"The images were shot by different photographers, and captioned by different photo wire services," as the boingboing writer noted. "The Associated Press caption accompanying the image with a black person says he's just finished 'looting' a grocery store. The AFP/Getty Images caption describes lighter skinned people 'finding' bread and soda from a grocery store. No stores are open to sell these goods."

Bridget Russel, a spokeswoman for Getty Images, had this explanation for the use of the word "find" on the photo of the white couple: "None of our photographers ever makes an assumption that they were looting when they didn't necessarily see that," she told Journal-isms. [Added Sept. 1: Photographer's response at the end of today's posting.]

Mike Silverman, Associated Press vice president and managing editor, said this about the AP photos: "AP makes no assumptions, either. In any case where we write a photo caption describing someone as having 'looted' goods, an AP journalist has witnessed the goods being taken."

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From Storm Zone: "Happy Just to Be Talking to You"

The looting and the shooting, by "people of no conscience," are among the most disappointing parts of the disaster for Freddie Willis, a copy editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune who is president of the New Orleans Association of Black Journalists as well as a native of the city.

Willis vacated the Times-Picayune building for Baton Rouge along with 60 to 70 other staff members Tuesday, working out of the Manship School of Journalism at Louisiana State University. Willis left behind his parents, who live on the eastern side of New Orleans where, he said, it had never flooded. But Willis said he had not heard from them since they talked Monday night. "I have a feeling they left, I just don't know where," said Willis.

While his parents chose to stay, many of the others remaining, are "the less fortunate that don't have a means to get out. I'm just happy to be talking to you," Willis said. In all the hurricanes to hit the Gulf Coast, "I've never experienced anything like this." He said he didn't know whether he would return to his hometown.

With him last night in Baton Rouge were these Times-Picayune journalists of color: Colleen McMillar, an assistant sports editor; Terry Baquet, front-page editor; Darrell Williams, a copy editor; and Jarvis deBerry, an editorial writer. The paper's stories were being posted on its Web site, though "the plan is to start putting out an edition in the next few days." Other staff members were at the offices of the Houma Courier, more than 50 miles away, Willis said.

Members of the WDSU-TV news staff fled to sister station WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss., including news anchor Norman Robinson, who has lived in New Orleans for 20 years.

What have the past few days been like?

"It's uprooting and moving your entire life from one location to the next and not knowing how you're going to face and deal with your own set of emotions, because this time you're going to suffer from the same experiences as the people you're reporting on," Robinson told Journal-isms. But you internalize the emotions, and "once you figure that out . . .you go about the business of reporting. I'm going to survive from day to day and do my job as a journalist" and family man, Robinson said.

With Robinson at WAPT-TV were journalists of color Roop Raj, Ken Jones, Helena Moreno and Camille Whitworth, who were among 20 to 25 who made the trip, reporter Travers Mackel said. However, Moreno moved to Orlando and Whitworth to Pensacola, Fla., to provide some more breathing room in the Jackson studio, according to Mackel.

At the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Managing Editor Don Hudson provided this update:

"We have folks from Gannett News Service, Fort Myers, Pensacola and Florida Today in Mississippi helping with our coverage. Hattiesburg is just getting phone service back today; it has been really tough on our sister paper there. No phones. No water. No communication at all.

"Clarion-Ledger reporters are having to dictate from various parts of the state because there's no phone service. Reporters are having a hard time finding gasoline just to return home. One of my reporters today purchased gas from a tree trimmer just to get to another area of the Gulf Coast.

"This is unreal. Just unreal. The lost lives. The destruction. As one of our photographers put it today: 'We've all seen it on TV. But unless you're here to see it, you wouldn't understand.' That was from Brian Broom, who is shooting on the Gulf Coast."

Bryan Monroe told Journal-isms from Mississippi's Biloxi Sun Herald that four African American journalists -- Cathy Straight, managing editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press; Mike McQueen, managing editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, Mizell Stewart, former executive editor of the Tallahassee Democrat and himself -- were helping to lead the effort to put out that paper. Monroe, assistant vice president/news for Knight Ridder as well as president of the National Association of Black Journalists, called the catastrophe "the most difficult, emotional thing, but powerful and incredible story I've ever covered." He added, "our black journalists are doing a job down here."

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Media Groups Mobilize; Coverage Questions Raised

"In the aftermath of this weeks devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, BET is partnering with the National Urban League, American Red Cross, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network Chairman Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles and the Warner Music Group, Essence Communications and numerous concerned celebrities in a telethon to raise financial aid to benefit the storm victims," Black Entertainment Television announced tonight.

"The telethon is set for Friday, September 9 on BET, starting with a special benefit episode of 106 & PARK: BETS TOP 10 LIVE at 6 p.m. ET*, followed by the telethon from 7:30 – 10 p.m. ET* (*tape delayed to the West Coast; pledge phone lines will be open)."

A news conference is planned for Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Meanwhile, syndicated morning radio host Tom Joyner plans to announce a relief effort on Friday, according to spokesman Neil Foote. "This hurricane hit the heart and soul of Black America," said Joyner. "We're going to do everything we can to help out."

A perceived lack of visibility on the issue by the black media and black politicians was one of the concerns expressed by black journalists and others discussing coverage of the disaster on the National Association of Black Journalists listserve and in other venues.

"It's embarrassing, given the progress and the status of black media owners," Dwight Ellis, a consultant and a former vice president for human resource development of the National Association of Broadcasters, told Journal-isms. "We have the means to deliver messages. We need to tell our people that we are raising funds. We have to show solidarity with our brethren."

Others turned to issues of coverage:

  • The cost of the war in Iraq was related to the resources available to deal with the hurricane. "Forty percent of Mississippi's National Guard force and 35 percent of Louisiana's is in Iraq. Over the past eight months 23 members of the Louisiana National Guard have died in Iraq — only New York's Guard unit has suffered as many deaths," Amy Goodman said on the Pacifica radio show "Democracy Now!"
  • "Questions are also being raised if the federal government could have done more to protect the region from the deadly flooding," Goodman continued on the same show. "In 1995 Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. Over the past decade the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations. But another $250 million in work remained. According to press accounts, the federal funding largely froze up in 2003. Over the past two years the Times-Picayune paper has run at least nine articles that cite the cost of the Iraq invasion as a reason for the lack of hurricane and flood control funding. Earlier this year President Bush proposed significantly reducing the amount of federal money for the project. He proposed spending $10 million. Local officials said six times as much money was needed."
  • "The real economic question," retired journalist Ernest Holsendolph asserted to Journal-isms, "is why is this city, surrounded by oil and gas, so poor?"
  • Syndicated columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote today, "Two things happened in one day that tell much about the abysmal failure of the Bush administration to get a handle on poverty in America. The first was the tragic and disgraceful shots of hordes of New Orleans residents scurrying down the city's Hurricane ravaged streets with their arms loaded with food, clothes, appliances, and in some cases guns, that they looted from stores and shops. That same day, the Census Bureau released a report that found that the number of poor Americans has leaped even higher since Bush took office in 2000. . . . New Orleans has one of the highest poverty rates of any of America's big cities."

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In "Editing Lapse," Part of Oprah Story Omitted

On Friday, an item about Oprah Winfrey being "furious" at the suggestion that she did not pay proper respects to publisher John H. Johnson filled newspaper "people" columns around the world, largely based on an Associated Press story from Chicago.

Winfrey had called Chicago Defender Editor Roland S. Martin to say that "I am furious at the allegations because it's just not true. It's not true and it's unfair. I did send flowers and I did send a note" to Johnson's widow, Eunice, and daughter, Linda Johnson Rice," Martin—and the news media reported.

What did not make most stories outside Chicago was Rice's statement later that day that she had not received Winfrey's flowers or note, though she said "we have no reason to question her statement," as reported here on Friday.

"Our Chicago bureau updated the story with the statement from Johnson's daughter when they received it, around 5pm their time last Friday," Mike Silverman, vice president and managing editor of the Associated Press, told Journal-isms. "Because of an editing lapse, that updated version did not move on the national wire."

Was Winfrey's anger news in the first place? Some called the discussion unseemly. But it made two successive programs of "News and Notes" with Ed Gordon on National Public Radio this week. "In the context of, obviously, Oprah Winfrey, having become the wealthiest black celebrity in the nation, in the journalism-broadcasting business, clearly, following Mr. Johnson's footsteps," said Robert George, editorial writer at thce New York Post, "I'm assuming Roland felt that she, of all people, should be held to a particular higher standard. . . . I can certainly understand where Roland was coming from."

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Not Your Father's Ebony: In Essence's Footsteps?

In an announcement reminiscent of one that might come from Essence magazine, Ebony magazine announced this week that it and the Black Womens Health Imperative are sponsoring a "soulful wellness journey" at the Sisterspeak: Health and Spa Getaway on the island of Bermuda from Oct. 6 to 9.

"Each October, EBONY magazine and the Black Women's Health Imperative join together to create the special Women's Health section in the magazine. This year, the pages of the issue will spring to life at the breathtaking Wyndham Bermuda Resort & Spa," the announcement says. It's the first time the magazine has attempted such a program, a spokeswoman said.

In addition to offering such seminars as "Sexual Fulfillment," "Safe Sex Negotiation," and "Preparing for Fiscal Fitness Across the Lifespan," "soul diva Patti LaBelle will perform live in concert at the Bermuda Music Festival and Tony-Award winner Melba Moore will star in a special performance of her one-woman play 'Sweet Songs of the Soul.'"

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Short Takes

  • NBC-TV "Today" show star weatherman Al Roker "has been in sick bay this week during the havoc of Hurricane Katrina — arguably the biggest meteorological story of the past five years — and hasn't been on the air for nearly two weeks," Lloyd Grove reported today in his New York Daily News gossip column. "Superflack Howard Rubenstein, Roker's personal publicist, cleared up the mystery .. 'He goes in [today] for minor back surgery for a ruptured disk,' Rubenstein told me."
  • Gannett Co. veteran Bob Gabordi of the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times was chosen to succeed Mizell Stewart as executive editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, the Florida paper announced today. The paper was sold by Knight Ridder to Gannett. Stewart's removal reduces by one the number of African American top editors. He is remaining with Knight Ridder and was assisting hurricane coverage operations today at the corporation's Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald.
  • Editor & Publisher reported Monday that the St. Petersburg Times' Shelaine Peters moved to homepage editor of from her role as editor of the Brandon Times; that Eric Deggans will leave the editorial board to take up a new role as media critic; and that Marilyn Garateix will become metro editor/St. Petersburg, among other changes.
  • "With the start of the new school year in Southern California, La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language daily, is launching its first Newspaper In Education (NIE) program," Editor & Publisher reported Tuesday.
  • "Five years ago the idea of digital television in Africa would have seemed absurd. The continent was 'sucking information through a narrow straw'," Russell Southwood reported Monday in London's Balancing Act. "Now two countries have announced their intention to offer digital television," Senegal and Mauritius.
  • Veteran photographer Bob Black of the Chicago Sun-Times, formerly of the Chicago Defender, is among five local journalists the Chicago Headline Club is honoring with its Lifetime Achievement Award on Oct. 7. Ellis Cose, author, columnist and contributing editor for Newsweek magazine, will be this year's keynote speaker, the club announced.
  • In Sierra Leone, "an attack on newspaper editor Harry Yansaneh contributed to his death from kidney failure two months later, a judicial inquest found on Friday. A magistrate ordered the arrest of Member of Parliament Fatmata Hassan, three of her children, and two other men for suspected manslaughter after the weeklong inquest, local journalists said," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.


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Photographer's Response on His "Finding" Caption


Chris Graythen, Photographer, Photo Editor

Jeasus, I don't belive how much crap I'm getting from this. First of all, I hope you excuse me, but I'm completely at the end of my rope. You have no Idea how stressful this whole disaster is, espically since I have not seen my wife in 5 days, and my parents and grand parents HAVE LOST THIER HOMES. As of right now, we have almost NOTHING.

Please stop emailing me on this one.

I wrote the caption about the two people who 'found' the items. I believed in my opinion, that they did simply find them, and not 'looted' them in the definition of the word. The people were swimming in chest deep water, and there were other people in the water, both white and black. I looked for the best picture. there were a million items floating in the water - we were right near a grocery store that had 5+ feet of water in it. it had no doors. the water was moving, and the stuff was floating away. These people were not ducking into a store and busting down windows to get electronics. They picked up bread and cokes that were floating in the water. They would have floated away anyhow. I wouldn't have taken in, because I wouldn't eat anything that's been in that water. But I'm not homeless. (well, technically I am right now.)

I'm not trying to be politically correct. I'm don't care if you are white or black. I spent 4 hours on a boat in my parent's neighborhood shooting, and rescuing people, both black and white, dog and cat. I am a journalist, and a human being - and I see all as such. If you don't belive me, you can look on Getty today and see the images I shot of real looting today, and you will see white and black people, and they were DEFINATELY looting. And I put that in the caption.

Please, please don't argue symantics over this one. This is EXTREMELY serious, and I can't even begin to convey to those not here what it is like. Please, please, be more concerned on how this affects all of us (watch gas prices) and please, please help out if you can.

This is my home, I will hopefully always be here. I know that my friends in this business across the gulf south are going through the exact same thing - and I am with them, and will do whatever I can to help. But please, please don't email me any more about this caption issue.

And please, don't yell at me about spelling and grammar. Im eating my first real meal (a sandwich) right now in 3 days.

When this calms down, I will be more than willing to answer any questions, just ask.

Thank you all -

-Chris Graythen

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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