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Times coverage from Haiti

January 26, 2010 |  3:30 pm

Times journalists have been reporting from Haiti since shortly after the devastating earthquake struck Jan. 12. Readers have largely praised the 26 stories and 58 photos that have run in the print edition as of Monday and the additional coverage on latimes.com, including narrated slide shows and panoramic images.

Individual articles on latimes.com have drawn dozens of reader comments apiece. And news headlines from The Times’ Twitter account have each been retweeted hundreds of times.

But there have been questions as well -- about missing charity contact information in print, potentially loaded language and use of images (to be covered in a later post).

An information box that ran in the print edition on Day 2 told readers a bit of the story behind the story: Reporters Tina Susman, Joe Mozingo and Tracy Wilkinson and photographers Carolyn Cole and Rick Loomis filed the first stories and images. Reporters Scott Kraft and Mitchell Landsberg and photographer Brian Vander Brug have more recently arrived on the scene.

Damiana Chavez of Los Angeles is among the readers who wrote in. “I am so moved by the stories and photographs that are as compassionate as they are factual. I'm saving these pages,” she said.

And Tamara Lipson of Long Beach congratulated the photography: “Kudos to Carolyn Cole and Rick Loomis, L.A. Times' brilliant photographers. They put credence to ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Their photographs of Haiti's damage stand alone as essays on tragedy's toll.”

Two readers have called to ask how to contribute money to relief efforts. A list of charities has been displayed on latimes.com and linked to via Twitter, but details in the print edition have been limited to one item on donating to the Red Cross via text message. The first caller, however, said she did not have Internet access, and the second said he preferred to write a check. Both were looking for an 800 number that they could call.

In the coverage itself, the term “looting” has been under debate. 

“It is very unfair to label as looters the Haitians who remove food from collapsed stores and distribute it to their friends and community,” said reader Tom Lent of Berkeley. “These are desperate starving people in a place where the commercial infrastructure has collapsed [and] aid is only slowly trickling in.”

The term has been used in nine stories as of Monday, most recently Jan. 20. Many references are along the lines of “looting was reported.” But here are two specific examples:

Haiti-arrest A photo by Cole (at right) published Jan. 16 showed a man who’d been tied up by police for having a bag of canned milk, and the caption called him a looting suspect.

Three days later, an article by Joe Mozingo and Ken Ellingwood described this scene:

Looters pilfered from a wholesale food market on the Grand Rue downtown Monday afternoon. U.N. and Haitian police tried to stop them, to no avail.

"The population was throwing stones at us to stop us from preventing the looting,” said Gabriel Diallo, a United Nations officer from Guinea. "They said we can't stop them from looting the food because they were hungry."

Reader Lent wondered whether the term was “even literally correct to apply to people removing foodstuffs from collapsed stores," where Lent thought the owner could have been killed by the quake or had fled. 

Foreign Editor Bruce Wallace said reporters and editors have been trying to avoid using the term looting, “because we are not always sure whether food has been stolen or not. But if someone has taken something by force, and we know it, that is looting. Under these conditions, many people would justify looting, and readers can decide for themselves whether the terrible conditions and desperation in Haiti excuse it.”

The Times’ preferred dictionary, Webster’s New World College 4th edition, defines looting as “goods stolen or taken by force.” It does not give exceptions, such as in the case of something being taken for basic survival.

In both the Cole photo and the Mozingo-Ellingwood article, the subjects were taking food. But in each case, authority figures were present. So “looting” seems to be technically accurate. But as Wallace says, each of us can decide whether we find the actions to be warranted.

What do you think?



--Deirdre Edgar
Twitter: @LATreadersrep

Photo: A man is arrested in Haiti after taking some canned milk. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Related:

NPR’s ombudsman addresses the "looting" question

CJR on using technology to search for Haiti's missing


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