Today, we’re starting something new with our friends at KPCC in Los Angeles: A community storytelling project through @Instagram. We’re calling it Public Square.
Each month will have a theme and hashtag. We’ll ask you to share a glimpse of your life — but beyond that, to tell us stories.
First Assignment: Hard Work (#PShardwork)
Find someone with a thankless job and thank them. The person who makes your burger, checks your luggage, wires your street lights, edits your writing, engineers the car you drive.
Take their portrait or capture them at work. Get all the info — name, age, story — put it all in the caption, and tag it #PSHardWork
How Public Square Differs:
We’re public media, and storytelling is in our DNA. For this project, we want more than just a photo. Your words are equally important.
Please tag only one photo with #PSHardWork on Instagram between now and Monday, August 19th
(photos by Sheldon Serkin/@shelserkin, Michael Baranovic/@mishobaranovic and John Poole/NPR/@johnwpoole)
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Finding hope and healing in a remote stretch of Alaska
Eleven-year-old James Weatherwax has Apert syndrome, an extremely rare condition which fused his bones in the wrong places, making everyday life a struggle, one that led his mother Kecia to bring her son to her ancestral home on Prince of Wales Island in far-off Alaska.
Our own Kim Murphy has been following James and his mother’s fight through everyday hardships and constant surgeries, but amid the difficulties, the two have found a loving home:
Most people here don’t seem to notice James’ appearance, or are sidetracked by his infectious good humor. Johnny Roberts says he got to know James the day he confronted some boys who were bullying him. “He came over and gave me a big hug, and we’ve been good friends ever since,” Johnny says.
As recounted by photographer Genaro Molina, who found it hard to maintain the “fly on the wall” mindset typical of photojournalists:
…on the day of the surgery, James’ tears were hard to hold back. While on the gurney in the operating room he tearfully shouted, “I want my grandfather!” Remembering his grandfather was back at home, James shouted, “I want Genaro!” The medical personnel looked in my direction. My heart sank. I reassured James that I was one of the individuals in surgical attire and that I was there with him.
There comes a point in many stories where you make a certain connection with the subject, and it doesn’t get any more dramatic than this. How could I not root for this kid?
Photos: Genario Molina / Los Angeles Times
A crisis of management at the CIA
The beginning of this story from reporter Ken Dilanian speaks for itself:
For the Central Intelligence Agency, he was a catch: an American citizen who had grown up overseas, was fluent in Mandarin and had a master’s degree in his field. He was working in Silicon Valley, but after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he wanted to serve his country.
The analyst, who declined to be named to shield his association with the CIA, was hired in 2005 into the agency’s Directorate of Intelligence, where he was assigned to dig into Chinese politics. He said he was dismayed to discover that unimpressive managers wielded incredible power and suffered no consequences for mistakes. Departments were run like fiefdoms, he said, and “very nasty internecine battles” were a fixture.
By 2009, he had left the CIA. He now does a similar job for the U.S. military.
Read more on the CIA’s troubled inner workings, as revealed by a series of internal documents and interviews, here.
Photos: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images, Los Angeles Times
Solitary solidarity: The men behind California’s prison hunger strike
A man decked in Neo-Nazi tattoos and locked away in solitary confinement, armed with a paralegal degree and a prison library, has emerged as the most prominent figurehead in California’s ongoing prison strike protests.
The convicted murderer Todd Ashker, along with three inmates with ties to the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia and the Black Guerrilla Family, have sparked a protest of state prison conditions which, at their peak, involved more than 30,000 prisoners.
He describes the group as "a collective effort initiated by a multiracial group of long-term, similarly situated (SHU) prisoners who decided enough is enough."
But you would expect, not everyone’s on the prisoners’ side:
Terri McDonald, who ran California’s 33 prisons until a few months ago and now runs the Los Angeles County jail system, said Ashker and his compatriots in the Short Corridor Collective are not fighting for rights, but power.
"From my perspective, they are terrorists," she said.
Read more of reporter Paige St. John’s continued work covering California’s prisons here.
Photos: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
In a gilded but often lonely life, Cordelia Scaife May, heiress to one of America’s most storied fortunes, had a few cherished passions.
Protecting birds was one. Keeping immigrants out was another.
The NRA’s unlikely spokesman
Practicing attorney Colion Noir has gone from gun supporter to National Rifle Assn. superstar, acknowledging that he stands in contrast to the stereotypical gun owner in America.
The NRA does not release membership demographics, but according to a Pew Research Center survey, many gun owners in America are white — 31% of whites polled this year said they owned guns, compared with 15% of blacks and 11% of Latinos.
His videos, like the one seen above titled “You know you’re a gun control hypocrite if…” have attracted the attention of the NRA, which is still fighting gun control proposals across the country. Noir is now a “paid commentator,” and his videos applauding gun ownership are branded by the NRA.
Noir has his fair share of critics, but dismisses accusations of betraying fellow African Americans for his stance on guns.
"Calling me an Uncle Tom simply because I’m into firearms, it doesn’t even make sense. My entire identity as a black guy is based on my ownership of guns? Really?" he said. "Some of the most influential black individuals have advocated for the use of firearms, so how come when I do it, I’m vilified? Take a look at the Black Panthers, MLK, Malcolm X."
Read the full story in our latest Column One story.
Coverage of royal babies past
There may not have been the constantly-updated #royalbaby feed all the way back in 1948, nor endless live footage of the entryway of Queen Elizabeth’s hospital, but people nonetheless heard the news - in part thanks to old-fashioned newspaper front pages.
Above is just a sampling of how the Times has covered previous royal births. Stay tuned for tomorrow to see how we tackle William and Kate’s newly-announced 8 lbs., 6 oz. baby boy!
And, you can look at all of the front pages here.
Is Michelle Obama’s health campaign doing all it can?
First lady Obama has long been an advocate for healthy food and exercise during her stint in the White House, headlining the “Let’s Move” campaign and hosting frequent events in her garden to highlight the benefits of quality food.
But when it comes to the marketing of sugary treats and syrupy sodas to children, did she do enough to try and save failed federal guidelines she had previously praised?
…when food and media companies — including many that supported her anti-obesity campaign — mounted a fierce lobbying battle against the guidelines in 2011, the first lady went silent.
It wasn’t until earlier this year, after the guidelines had been blocked, that Obama resumed her call for more responsible food marketing.
And despite her victories in the fight against obesity, Obama is not without her critics:
…some who see themselves as Obama’s allies in the fight against obesity believe her desire to create partnerships with industry kept her quiet when her voice would have counted most. Fourteen companies that back Obama’s anti-obesity campaign helped kill the voluntary advertising guidelines, lobbying reports and other records show.
"The White House got cold feet," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had championed the guidelines. "It sort of undermines everything that the first lady was doing."
Photo: Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press/MCT
A look inside of Pelican Bay State Prison
Photographer Mark Boster, with Times writer Paige St. John, recently took an opportunity to peek inside the Secure Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, Calif.
Below, Boster sits beside prisoner Javier Zubiate. As recounted by Boster:
Javier Zubiate, with his shaved head, sunglasses and numerous tattoos, gave us a glimpse of his life as a lieutenant of the Nuestra Familia gang. He was soft-spoken and well-mannered. I had to remind myself that he had been convicted in a 1995 murder and there is a good reason why he is now in isolation on the Secure Housing Unit.
California’s prisons are a "system in crisis," widely criticized for its treatment of prisoners and its overcrowded conditions, recently prompting thousands of prisoners to take part in a hunger strike protest.
And Gov. Jerry Brown is currently combating a court order to release more than 9,500 inmates by the year’s end to combat the rampant overcrowding.
Photos: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times
Balancing a battle with cancer with parenthood
Nina Polvanich Louie is a 32-year-old new parent, experiencing all of the joys and responsibilities that come with raising a child.
But she is also in the middle of a lengthy battle with cancer, one that has left her with a 1-in-20,000 chance of finding a crucial bone marrow match for a transplant that doctors say has a solid likelihood of working.
Doctors declared that her first bout with cancer left the illness in remission, but in March, a routine scan uncovered a harrowing discovery:
Surgeons removed a piece of Nina’s skull to take a biopsy of the mass, which turned out to be lymphoma. They also found more cancer in her spine.
Doctors began giving Nina more chemotherapy and performing regular spinal taps, a process that can take 30 minutes and be excruciating.
She gets through it by thinking of Donny.
"I think about his 5th birthday, I think about his 10th birthday, I think when he’ll get married," Nina said. "I try to remember why I’m doing all of this."
Read more about Nina’s struggle to make the most of what may be her last moments with her son in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
Years of abuse, years of silence
Long before Father Donald Patrick Roemer was charged with molesting a young boy, his behavior had been observed by churchgoers, fellow priests, school officials and police authorities. Yet none of them did anything.
The trail of inaction is called the “bystander effect” by many, a term used when individuals fail to help in tragic situations.
Often they are more wary of falsely accusing someone than of their fears being confirmed. They question whether it’s their responsibility to help, whether stepping in would do any good. If no one else is upset, they assume it’s OK to walk away.
"We think our way out of situations we don’t want to believe," said Pete Ditto, a UC Irvine professor who studies moral decision-making.
Read more on reporter Ashley Powers’ harrowing account of Roemer’s crimes in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times, Jason Wise / For the Times
“Michael Hastings did not write to make friends, but if you were his friend, he was an inspiring and exciting and original and deeply lovable guy.” - Rachel Maddow, who paid moving tribute to Michael Hastings last night on MSNBC.
Select work by Hastings:
The Runaway General: the 2010 profile that took down General Stanley McChrystal.
Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview: Hastings’ 2012 interview where the WikiLeaks founder talks about the future of journalism.
The Rise of the Killer Drones: Hastings’ 2012 piece on how killing by remote control has changed the way we fight.
America’s Last Prisoner of War: Hastings’ 2012 investigative piece on a soldier that became a crucial pawn in negotiations to end the Iraq War.
Hastings, whose story on McChrystal prompted the general’s exit from leadership, reportedly passed away in a solo-car accident in Hollywood early Tuesday morning.
Though he has been eulogized, particularly in a moving piece by Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, police have yet to confirm that the body recovered from the wreckage was indeed Hastings. Police are still working to determine the cause of the crash.
Read more on the tragedy over at L.A. Now.
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The return of the Homicide Report
Originally started in 2007 as an effort to catalog every homicide in Los Angeles County over the course of the year, the Times’ homicide report continued for a while afterward, until it was turned into a database of all L.A. County killings in 2010.
But with reporter Nicole Santa Cruz at the helm, a new era for the Homicide Report begins today. As Cruz writes in her story announcing the report’s return, recollecting her time with Nancy Ekelund, whose daughter Lynsie was murdered.
It was not the first murder I’d covered, but something about Ekelund’s raw pain left me wondering often about the people left behind when a loved one is killed. Whether it’s the case of 20-year-old Lynsie, last seen alive in February of 2001, or that of 55-year-old Richard Vidaurry, shot once in the head and killed by an unknown assailant last month — their stories matter.
The saga of a lost iPhone
For many people, losing their phone is an inconvenience, but for Times reporter Nita Lelyveld, losing her iPhone prompted the realization of just how indispensable the device is as the hours and days ticked by.
While she had the ability to spot the location of her phone, and she was badgering it with text messages in hope of reaching a good mobile Samaritan, the iPhone remained lost, and her calls for help went unanswered.
By now I’d realized that everything on my phone was backed up. This wasn’t about lost photos — or even, really, the phone.
I felt toyed with. I was angry. I was ready to get mean.
I decided I would make my phone play its “find me” ping each time it was turned on.
I had also discovered that if I put it in something called Lost Mode, I could have it display a big message — filling the screen.
To Anaheim, I sent stern words: “I’m watching you! Return my phone.”
Photos: Nita Lelyveld / Los Angeles Times
Safeguarding the possessions of the homeless
The Central City East Assn. has served as a storage center for Los Angeles’ homeless since 2002, with 1,100 bins set up to provide those most down on their luck with free means to preserve their belongings.
So how does the system work?
Abandoned items are bagged, tagged and dragged to a fenced storage area in the back. They are held for 90 days. Then they disappear into a landfill.
In the tall metal shelves that hold unclaimed belongings, hints of past lives peek through the plastic bags like puzzle pieces — romance novels, new Barbie Princess sets, strings of pearls, blocky old computers and a cardboard advent calendar, the chocolate crumbling inside.
Leading the project is Peggy Washington, whose former homelessness informs her hard, but mailable line with those who come to the center. She gives individuals leeway in their storage needs, and works for the joy of seeing someone pick up the pieces are successfully move on.
But all too often, she ends up depositing unclaimed items into that aforementioned landfill.
Read more in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times