Shouting into the wind

May 7, 2008


Before I start please spare a thought for the thousands who died when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and the thousands more affected by it, who have lost loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods.

For a news pictures editor in charge of Asia yesterday was a tough day. The death toll was rising steadily as the enormity of the tragedy slowly unfolded and we worked hard at getting pictures from staff and stringers. Handout pictures from pressure groups were scrutinized and checked for usage rights usage and potential bias. We had staff waiting at airports to speak to tourists who may have had images of the scene as the cyclone struck.

The day was a stream of planning meetings, coordination with text and TV meetings, safety meetings, negotiations with wide eyed tourists all believing they had shot a million dollar picture, editing and captioning the results, trying to find staff with the requisite experience for the conditions, stroking those who had volunteered but lacked the experience and speaking to the photographers on the ground (compared to whom my day was a walk in the park – no power, no water, no food was the least of their worries).

So what was all this stressing about? The bottom line is to tell the story, honestly, fairly and objectively so the rest of the world can see something of this disaster in one of the most closed and oppressively run countries in the world.

At the end of yesterday I went home believing that a caring world knew about what was going on.

Once at home, after explaining to my 12 year old son why so many had died in a cyclone, I browsed a few of the international news sites to see how the world was reacting to something I felt  was the most important news event of the day.

The first blog I read under a slide show of pictures on a major US news site read (I paraphrase as it has been removed now) “why should we care about this dirty little washed up country and who gives a damn anyway”

This comment on the blog chilled me, not because it was there but because it was supported by many other comments.

But I care and so do the team who will deliver today’s file and tomorrow’s. 

Am I just shouting into the wind? Should we all become wedding photographers?


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That’s funny, because everyone in the US was crying when Katrina rocked the south coastline. We all wanted everyone else to give a crap. The irony of it is, we had the money and resources to bail ourselves out of that disaster. These people in Myanmar had very little, and what little they had just got washed away in a storm surge.

Why is it that when America is in a bad place, we want the world to grieve for us. But if there is a disaster on the other side of the planet, it’s percieved as “someone else’s probelm” or just a waste of front page real estate? Kind of makes me sick to know I share a country with people who really feel that anything of importance is going to happen right here, within our own borders. Everything else is non-important.

The reported loss of life in Louisiana after Katrina was 1,464. There are still fundraisers going to relieve the victims of that storm.

Myanmar has an estimated death toll of over 20,000 people and their resources can’t compare to what we have here. Now you want to ask why we should care about it…? To me, that seems sad.

Posted by benjamin | Report as abusive

Russel, you are not shouting into the wind. You are doing your job. Period. And for many people your work and your team’s work on the edge is inspiration.
I like Finbarr O’Reilly’s words about work: “If we only provide images that people want, then we are pandering to an audience instead of challenging them and pushing them to think differently. That is why the best photojournalism is often discomforting to look at”.
And when it seems that people don’t care – there is always someone – for example your colleges who respect you for your work, your help and professionalism.
Best regards from RIA Novosti correspondent in Washington, DC.

Posted by Alexey Berezin | Report as abusive

Russel, you are not shouting into the wind. I am a wedding photographer who wishes he could be doing what you guys do!

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

How far-reaching are our past shortcomings ! The exposures of 9/11 and Katrina remain fresh in the memory of ‘third world’ nations. The victims of those disasters are still waiting relief efforts to reach them in many instances. Because they live with disasters that are not only natural but also a result of Governments who are corrupt, lackluster and self-righteous, the Third World victims have come to accept whatever their fate is with little sign of hope. Hopefully the pressure from International aid agencies will bring about a new
mindset not only for the Myanmar officials but for the rest of the needy people around the globe.

Posted by Fred | Report as abusive

I wish I could say I do not belive your “shouting in the wind” comments, but I do. There is a group of people in this country who are so terrified of the dark – I don’t know how else to put it – they react negatively to anything they cannot control or understand. And there are groups like that around the world, hence Myanmar’s government’s unwillingness, or at least foot dragging, to allow international aid. You are NOT shouting in the wind! Keep shouting!

Posted by Dan Scribner | Report as abusive

Be encouraged. Don’t let silly folks determine what we know is in humanity’s interest. Those who carry no burden for others, will one day find themselves with nothing left to live for…

Posted by Johan Etsebeth | Report as abusive

Wedding photographers? Absolutely not; contrarily I wish there were more resources on how to get involved with this sort of journalism…

Posted by Reuben | Report as abusive

same here!

Posted by home and landscape mn | Report as abusive