Monday, August 31, 2009

Katrina story will hopefully foster public conversation

A day after reading it, I'm still trying to shake the haunting thoughts and emotions that Sheri Fink's "The Deadly Choices at Memorial" evoked in me.

On a broad level, it's a disturbing story about one of the nation's worst recent disasters and the controversial end-of-life care decisions made at Memorial Hospital. (For another good Katrina anniversary story, see "After four years in exile, many Hurricane Katrina evacuees really know what it is to miss New Orleans," Times-Picayune.)

On a journalistic level, it's a compelling narrative chock full of the kinds of details and revelations that can only be achieved through in-depth reporting. While reading it, I constantly asked myself how Fink established such rapport with these sources, some of whom admit to easing patients into their death. Obviously, Fink is a doctor herself, so I'm sure that helped her gain the trust of other health professionals. But she also told the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma that her reporting philosophy is believing that "very few people do things in this world to be evil. People generally believe in what it is they've done. And I feel like, as a journalist, if you can go in there and be willing to hear that — that honest truth, their reality — that's the real key." See the full video interview here. (Although she doesn't really give away what specific reporting techniques and strategies she used for this story.)

On a personal level, as a Louisiana native who lived through Katrina, the last sentence stuck with me the most: "As bad as disasters are, even worse is survivors who don't trust each other." I think this story will definitely spark conversation among medical professionals and emergency preparedness departments. But I wonder if it will spark the conversation that no one wants to have – the conversation about what people should do during a disaster if a family member is in the hospital or nursing home. What can people who leave these members in the care of a facility expect? Would they be better off trying to evacuate or care for these people themselves, if it is at all possible? The story reminded me of Tom Junod's "The Loved Ones," which touches on many of these same themes. Both the Esquire and New York Times Magazine stories are told dramatically through narrative, as I believe they should be; however, it is my hope that these types of article spur the less dramatic but still quite important and controversial stories that can help people make evacuation decisions based on the condition of family members and understand what protocols the facility plans to follow should evacuation not be possible.

On a personal note, my grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer's and was able to be evacuated with my family to Tennessee last year, but this year, he probably wouldn't be able to make that long trip without falling severely ill. My parents and grandmother fall into the "trust no one" category. I don't think they'd evacuate if my grandfather were in a hospital or nursing home, unless he had already been evacuated. But that's not the safest situation either if the coast has more people not obeying evacuation orders because they don't trust caregivers. The more that hospitals try to put this disaster behind them and not enter the controversial debate, the more scared the general public gets. And as everyone who lives along the coast knows, it's never a matter of if another severe hurricane will hit; it's a matter of when.

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/30/09)

Ted Kennedy's coffin inside The Basilica of Our Lady of
Perpetual Help in Boston. (Damon Winter/The New York

- Dan Barry on Ted Kennedy's final farewell
- Sheri Fink, a ProPublica reporter, on what happened inside Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans as floodwaters approached*
- Robbie Brown on young New Yorkers who summer in the South because their family roots lie there

*See Stephanie Detillier's post on this article.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Will the American sports bubble burst?

Michael Kruse's "For SEC, tech-savvy fans might be the biggest threats to media exclusivity" made me consider the relationship between sports and American society and where it all might be going.

A few weeks ago, I vacationed in central Europe and spent a considerable amount of time watching soccer highlights from my hotel feed. After a few hours, a curious realization hit me: It was refreshing not to be bombarded with Brett Favre minutiae and the latest (and illegal) MLB PED leak and news about preseason contract holdouts by unproven -- and naive -- NFL rookies. There, before my eyes, the sports world spun sans the "SportsCenter" theme music. Who knew this was possible?

Which brings me to the Kruse piece. This summer, I had a discussion with a college friend about the connection between American sports and the current economic situation in which the world finds itself. I asked him, Will the American sports bubble -- for our sake this includes BCS-level college athletics and popular professional leagues -- someday burst?

It is a possibility. Since ESPN's rise as the dominant sports-content provider in the broadband age (a position that will never be challenged in my lifetime), major American sports have reached an unprecedented saturation level. Professional athletes earn millions and amateurs begin branding themselves for future endorsement dollars as soon as they are old enough to comprehend's five-star rating system. It is a vicious monster. And it is growing.

It has to crest someday, right? I think social media might play a part. Eventually, society is going to have to ask serious questions about whether the American sports beast has crossed its bounds. The hype. The money. The LeBron and Kobe puppets. It is becoming too much.

Do not get me wrong. I feel fortunate to be alive during a time in which incredible innovation and exposure are possible. Social media will define my adult life, and it might prove to be an unintended check upon an American sports landscape that, with each passing year, becomes disconnected from reality.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/23/09)

Shamsia. (Lynsey Addario/VII Network, for The New York Times)

- Dexter Filkins on how he bought a school bus for Afghan schoolgirls
- Drew Jubera on how poor old Sammy Green got buried

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Abortionist's Life

The September issue of Esquire features "The Last Abortion Doctor," a profile on Dr. Warren Hern, one of the only remaining doctors in America to specialize in late-term abortions. The author, John H. Richardson, drew me in largely because of the access he got to Dr. Hern's office and staff, mother, wife and patients. The intimate details keep you reading on to find out what his mother really thinks about her son's profession, how his wife copes with the death threats, why many of his patients get abortions even though they're morally against the practice and what Hern really thinks about antiabortionists who rejoiced at the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Throughout the piece, Richardson uses second person rather than first person. For example "Walking out, he leaves the door open. You hear voices drifting down the hall." I haven't seen this technique utilized much, but it did make me feel more involved in the story than if the writer had used first person. Richardson also uses "the abortionist" instead of "Hern." I suppose this technique was intended to humanize the word and challenge the notions associated with it. However, at times I became frustrated with the overuse of "abortionist." It seems like overkill to describe his mom as the "abortionist's mother" and his wife as the "abortionist's wife."

This story has gotten much flak because it describes Hern as the "last" doctor of his kind. Apparently, this is not the case. Newsweek is working on a profile of LeRoy Carhart, another late-term abortionist. Even the headline proclaims Hern "The Last Abortion Doctor." How could this have gone through the editing process without anyone realizing that other doctors exist, some under low profile because of the nature of the job? Words such as "last" and "only" usually raise red flags, so I wonder why they didn't in this instance. Otherwise, I thought it was a great read as was "The Man Who Couldn't Eat," a first-person piece by Jon Reiner.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/9/09)

Adam Lepak. (Jon Reis for The New York Times)

- Benedict Carey on how Adam Lepak is growing out of a brain injury
- Anne Barnard on the tough but contributive members of New York S.U.V. clubs
- Katie Zezima on the struggles Boston bicyclists face

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/2/09)

Sgt. Jacob Blaylock. (Shane Barker)

- Erica Goode on the rising trend of Iraq II veterans committing suicide
- Greg Bishop on how Rex Ryan, the New York Jets' new coach, is livening up a long-bored team
- Patrick Healy on gay life in Beirut