Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are we trivializing war crimes? NO

Q. A week ago you printed a story with the headline, “U.S. general accuses White House of war crimes …’’ in which Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the abuse at Abu Ghraib, says, "... there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes." This seems like a pretty important story, one that should have been displayed prominently on Page A1. But instead, it is buried on Page A8 without even a reference to it at the bottom of page A1. How in the world do you justify minimizing such an incredibly important story? Do you consider war crimes trivial?
-- Mark Phillips

A. We agree that this story – and more significantly, this issue – is an important one. That’s why we published (and hope that you read) a five-part investigative series called “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law’’ on the front page last week and dedicated more than six entire pages to it. This exclusive series by our Washington bureau disclosed the Bush administration’s policies and practices at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan – including how U.S. forces routinely rounded up the ‘wrong guys’ and abused them. It made abundantly clear that the rule of law, Geneva Conventions, was thoroughly stretched if not outright violated by Bush policies. The story you reference reiterated the theme of this series, so we played it on Page A8.
Clearly, story play is a judgment call and wise people often disagree. We believe we positioned this story correctly.

Q. When the vast majority of newspapers are either reporting non-news or reporting with biases that render the information irrelevant, I want to thank you for taking the step to engage in real reportage (your Guantanamo Bay series). The Bush-Cheney policies demand a thorough investigation and an impartial evaluation and this will only come from an independent media. I hope to see more of this caliber of news.
-- Elaine Watson, Los Osos

A. You are most welcome. Indeed, we will continue to offer strong investigative coverage from our Washington bureau. The staff there has been praised nationally for exclusives on intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq and taking a hard look at the administration’s justifications for war.

-- Sandy Duerr

Monday, June 9, 2008

Action shots show strain of the race

Q. That picture you ran of my daughter was the worst photo I have ever seen in a newspaper. She ran a great race, but from the photo you would think she ran poorly. This was her final high school track meet, so why did you pick such a bad photo to end her career on? You owe us an apology.
-- Alan Williams, father of San Luis Obispo High School track star Tonie Williams

A. The photo in question was published on Page 8 of our Sunday sports section June 1. It shows Mr. Williams’ daughter, Tonie, just after she crossed the finish line in sixth place in the 400-meter event at the state meet. This particular race is one of the most difficult in track, pitting the best runners from throughout California.
Our photo shows Mr. Williams’ talented daughter in the heat of competition. Our managing editor, Tad Weber, notes that “pictures of athletes in the midst of their sport might not be any subject’s preferred pose, but we certainly aren’t trying to make anybody look bad. We're sorry this photo upset Mr. Williams.”
A quick review of other athletes’ photos that we published the same day – and that we published other days from other competitions – reminds me of what my 13-year-old daughter tells me of the pictures taken of her playing soccer: She hates most of them.
So why do we publish action pictures?
Because the intensity and emotion they convey make them compelling – plus the photos typically reflect the athletes’ determination and athleticism. Showing athletes during their events – just as we portray other people during news or feature events – also captures history in action.
In the case of Tonie, a freelance photographer who took pictures for us at the state meet sent us two pictures, says Sports Editor Ashley Conklin. Her eyes were closed in one image, so he used the other one.
To be sure, we photograph athletes in feature settings when we’re writing stories about their achievements. We did such a story on Tonie Williams in 2007 (see photo from then).
The question raised by Mr. Williams reminds me of a question posed by a Morro Bay High School football fan last fall: “Why do you publish photos of football players with their helmets on? You can’t see their faces.’’
Our answer to this fan was similar: We want to document the event, and at the same time, put our readers on the sidelines to help them experience it.