Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

« Previous Post | Readers' Representative Journal Home | Next Post »

Roundup of reaction

January 14, 2008 |  6:00 am

Here's a grab-bag of reactions to four stories of the past several weeks:

For "Death in a seaside paradise" (Dec. 16)

"No meeting of the minds -- yet: Scientists still aren't sure what causes Alzheimer's or how to cure it" (Dec. 27, 2007)

For "The old men and the sea" (Jan. 1)

"From the depths of Moscow" (Jan. 8)

For "Death in a seaside paradise":

The Times' coverage of the death of a surfer that took place in a "seaside paradise," as the headline on the Dec. 16 Column One put it, brought dozens of comments reflecting anger at the problem of what one reader called "escalating, senseless violence," and praise for the story. Many of the more than 70 e-mails that came in were from La Jolla, the town in which the killing took place. Other comments:

Andy Schwartzel of Los Angeles found the story, which was written by Joel Sappell, "absolutely riveting.... It almost felt like reading 'In Cold Blood.' Crime writing does not get any better than this."

Said Adam Gold of Los Angeles: "Your story about Emery Kauanui Jr. touched me on so many different levels. I have friends from Hawaii, from La Jolla, and friends whom when I was in my younger 20s could have ended up like the Bird Rock gangsters but thankfully did not. It was very well written -- truly a tragic story."

Ronald Hamric, who lived in Southern California for 36 years before moving to Pine, Ariz., says: "A classic case of California narcissism. Of course there will be all the excuses and blame games, but when all is said and done these young men are guilty of taking the life of another either directly or in concert. But knowing the state of mind that exists in this country today, they will all probably get college scholarships for their actions. Money is power and power is politics."

For "No meeting of the minds -- yet: Scientists still aren't sure what causes Alzheimer's or how to cure it":

Gino Gaudio of Burbank called the piece by Terry McDermott, which ran Dec. 27,  a "very good, but disturbing, article."  As the story put it: "It's been 101 years since Alzheimer's disease was first theorized, and 30 years since the federal government began funding research on it, spending, to date, more than $8 billion. Private industry has spent billions more. What has been learned?"

Response came from people who have family members with Alzheimer's, those studying the disease, those who have the disease -- and others who said they were simply interested. [Update: the reporter says that some 50 comments came in from readers.]

Lucie Arbuthnot, PhD, of Sanford, Maine called it "thoughtful and elegantly written": "I appreciated your in-depth critical look at the scientific community's search for an Alzheimer's cure."

Mona Johnson of Largo, Fla., who devotes her own blog to the subject: "Excellent article.  Too many journalists write about the amyloid hypothesis as if it were a certainty, and portray people with memory loss as drooling vegetables.  My father had dementia, and since his death, I've been writing about Alzheimer's, dementia  and memory loss.  I've found these topics to be much more complex than I ever guessed. If you write about this again, it would be great to include the perspective of someone with early stage Alzheimer's."

For "From the depths of Moscow":

Megan Stack got 125 responses -- highly mixed -- to the Jan. 8 Column One on the Moscow Metro. There was lots of praise from Americans and Russians who now live in America, but also criticism from readers in Russia, who felt the piece unfairly focused on the negative aspects of Russian society.

From Tina Williams of Irvine: "I was very taken with your experiences in Moscow.  You had me in tears over the poor neglected dog.  Your description of the smells and sights on the trains put me there with you. Thank you for taking me to a place I will never see. I hope you are bringing a few smiles to this sad city."

But Galina Bragina in Gaithersburg, Md., who says that she and her daughter spend summers in Russia visiting family and friends, wrote: "I am upset. The Moscow Metro does not deserve this. You write 'People don't  smile' - it is not true - they smile seldom, but always from the heart. I hope you will learn the value of Russian warmth. And I guess you already have known Russian proverb - to laugh without reason is a fool's habit."

And Oleg Mirnov of Krasnodar, Russia, wrote, "You have to realize that nobody is smiling anywhere on the transportation routes in the WORLD. Have you ever traveled  on L.A. buses, where all of  disenfranchised America is riding into despair? How about the New York subway, gloomy and dirty, I feel scared all the way from people who never smile there. The New York subway is disgusting with a big 'D.' I cannot wait to see articles about L.A. buses and and the other transportation routes in America. You do not have a moral pass to write about outside world, when something exactly [the same] is happening right in your neighborhood."

But Elena Vasilyeva, a doctoral student at USC whose hometown also is Krasnodar, thanked Stack for a "perceptive and honest account," and even more for the reporter's "courage in exposing the cynicism that lots of people notice but think better of voicing beyond expat get-togethers. I go to Moscow as well as other parts for research for several months at a time and I have struggled with putting this disparaging feeling I get there into words for the entire seven years I've been away. I was saddened and relieved by your piece at the same time. What I really like is that you show the most disturbing aspect of the Russian life today - the feeling that, no matter where one comes from and, no matter how much distance one tries to maintain, one slips into participating in things that shorten that critical distance, where eventually one starts to wonder, 'but do I really have a right to stand in judgment when I am essentially doing the same things?' Thank you deeply for a brave, self-reflexive sketch that amounts to much more than it sets out to discuss."

And for "The old men and the sea":

Christopher Goffard's story of life at the Boatyard Storage in Costa Mesa focused on two men: Karl Markvart (of building his boat, he says, "It's like building Mt. Rushmore. It takes a lifetime to finish it") and Larry Myers (who as the story says is also "taking his stand against time"). It brought some 30 notes of praise for the story and the storyteller.

From Rick Page, who lives in Cairns in Tropical North Queensland, Australia (he signed his note, "Future Old Man on the Sea"): "This type of article can so often descend into maudlin nonsense and it is often very difficult not to tread this well-worn path.  You have veritably pole-vaulted over it, yet retained the sense of history, sadness and optimism that you were obviously trying to portray. An extremely difficult balancing act indeed. Fantastic writing, bloody well done."

Of the writer, Steve Barker of San Juan Capistrano said: "He captured his subject, of course, like a good journalist should.  But he also rendered a deft sketch of an archetypal American character, and of a singularly lonely way of life.  What a pleasure to find this kind of writing in The Times! Please give my thanks to Mr. Goffard, and just keep publishing his work.

Jeff Diercksmeier of Costa Mesa: "I live in Costa Mesa and never knew about Boatyard Storage. Nice work!"