Flood coverage : the bigger picture and a self-critique

I received some very nice emails and phone calls from concerned family and friends the past few days, as they watched TV and Internet coverage of the Hanoi floods from afar. I was surprised when they asked after my safety and well-being. After all, the flooding, although fairly serious in pockets of the city, had been largely isolated to those pockets: alleyways and streets that quickly flooded due to poor drainage. If you looked at a map of the city, you’d be looking at very small portions affected by flooding. Now of course, flooding doesn’t only affect those areas that are actually underwater, as it wreaks havoc on urban infrastructure systems like surrounding traffic and power lines, but its not like the entire city had become Atlantis. But that’s kind of what people watching the news thought. And I can’t blame them. I blame myself.

As a member of the media, I have a responsibility to provide accurate reporting in the photographs that I take. My flood coverage consisted of images of people struggling along flooded roads, up to their waists pushing motorbikes etc. The usual stuff. But nowhere in my captions did I indicate that the flooding, however severe, was limited to specific areas of the city, or that despite the flooding, much of the city’s infrastructure remained intact. Not only was this lazy, but without more caption information to inform the viewer, it was actually misleading. If you see a picture of urban flooding, it is not unreasonable to assume that the entire city is flooded. And in a post-Katrina world, isn’t this what you would assume?

Captions are an extremely important element of photojournalism, and I dropped the ball on this one. A good caption makes a good picture better. A poor caption ruins a good picture. Simple as that.


~ by Julian Abram Wainwright on November 5, 2008.

4 Responses to “Flood coverage : the bigger picture and a self-critique”

  1. Julian,
    Thank you for your positive words about the current situation as we arrive in Hanoi on Friday, 7 older Americans, 6 of whom have never been in Asia. We have been trying to balance the news through the media with the personal reports we have been receiving from local people such as yourself, which differ greatly. However, I am told that the real danger is not the temporarily flooding but the very real danger of disease when the water subsides. Also, that food is now difficult to get and contamination more likely. Nevertheless, we hope to meet you on Friday!

  2. Julian.
    we are leaving for hanoi on sunday [8/11/08] – and are just curious as to the state of flooding and secondary conditions etc.as we still have time to change our itinerary if need be

  3. Would you leave poor Katrina out of this! That woman has suffered enough.

  4. Julian,
    I love the work you do. I am a photographer that returned from Northern Vietnam in August after traveling as the official photographer for Good Samaritan Medical Ministry in Northern Vietnam. I have traveled the world on my own to capture the images that are on my website 5 out of 7 continents. I am a travel photographer and I own my own business. Please click on http://www.gsmedicalministry.org to see my work. I did the banner on the site. I love what you do! Documenting the medical mission was so very fortunate. It gave me the chance to convey the need in the world with my images. I would love a chance to talk to you sometime. http://www.lascottphotography.com I hope to do more work as a photojournalist. I have realized it is where my work would be most effective. Sincerely, LA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: