A simple kindness

How much should a reporter or photographer get personally involved with the people they’re covering? AP staff seek never to become part of a news story, but there’s nothing wrong with a simple human kindness.

A recent example:

A Pakistani girl comforts her brother near her family's makeshift tent in a slum in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Slums, which are built on illegal lands, have neither running water or sewage disposal. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

A Pakistani girl comforts her brother near her family’s makeshift tent in a slum in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Slums, which are built on illegal lands, have neither running water or sewage disposal. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

On Oct. 21, AP Photographer Muhammed Muheisen in Islamabad made this image. The caption said it showed “a Pakistani girl comforting her brother near her family’s makeshift tent” in an Islamabad slum.

Shortly afterward Muheisen received an email from an American woman who was touched by his photo: “… I never really appreciated what I have until seeing that picture. … Is there anyway [sic] to get money, food, clothing to that family … a doll or toy or something that shows them that their life is important and the love that they have for each other is everything?”

At first we checked to see if there was a local charity the woman could contact — the best vehicle to directly help the children. But there was no group that helps this slum. Muheisen then said he would be happy to personally relay the woman’s comments to the children and bring them some small gifts. We had no trouble with that suggestion.

AP staffers have showed humanity in many other such situations. As AP reporters fanned out to cover the devastation of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, they discovered a nursing home for the elderly where 84 residents were close to death from hunger, thirst and neglect. AP wrote a stunning story about conditions there.

The story generated huge reader reaction. It included questions on AP’s Facebook page and Twitter feed about whether reporters in such situations are obligated to just report, or are allowed or expected to provide help personally.

Reporters are human. We often give what help we can in situations like this. Our staff brought the elderly people water — the first the recipients had had since the quake — and came back later with more.

The greatest assistance journalists can render to people in need is to write about their plight and encourage help and compassion. Our story on the elderly Haitians eventually brought a response from a charity group. But our staff can extend some charity themselves, and often do.

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About Tom Kent

Deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press, responsible for accuracy and balance across all AP news services. Frequent contributor to forums and conferences on newsroom ethics and organization. Adjunct professor at the School of International Affairs and Journalism School of Columbia University. Former AP correspondent or bureau chief in Russia, Iran, Belgium, Australia and the United States. Graduate of Yale University. Languages: French, Russian, Spanish. @tjrkent