Sometimes good journalism is all about mastering logistics. Two major stories broke at the start of last week: foreign peacekeeping troops began to land in East Timor, and a deadly earthquake jolted Taiwan. Neither event would prove easy to cover.
As always, photographer John Stanmeyer was ahead of the rest of us. As the editors in Hong Kong awoke Tuesday to the initial, hazy reports of the temblor, Stanmeyer was already on a plane for Taipei. He made his way to Puli, just near the epicenter, ahead of many of the rescue teams. He spent the first night sleeping outdoors, cameras by his side, along with hundreds who had suddenly become homeless. Stanmeyer was soon joined by fellow photographer David G. McIntyre, who had also flown in from Hong Kong. What struck Stanmeyer most was the sense of duty among Taiwan's stricken citizens: In most countries that I've worked in during natural disasters, looting is common. In Puli there was tremendous trust and honesty.
Our reporter on the scene, Don Shapiro, has lived in Taipei for 30 years. He survived the quake intact but learned a lesson. Like many residents, I had become blasÚ about seismic activity, he says. No more. To cover this big story, we also sent in Hannah Beech, chief of our Hong Kong reporters. The pair provided moving accounts of the tragedy and of Taiwan's efforts to overcome the sense of shock. I was struck by the quiet, says Beech. Towns were eerily still. People were wandering around dazed.
Covering the news in East Timor involved even greater danger, as the killing of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes made clear. Reporter Zamira Loebis flew from Jakarta to Dili aboard a chartered plane--three days before international peacekeeping troops arrived. She focused on the Indonesian army, watching as soldiers distributed rice to refugees and as they gathered their things for the journey to leave East Timor, perhaps forever. She also witnessed the aftermath of Timor's killing spree. I got this chill inside, Loebis says, looking at the total devastation.
Reporter Jason Tedjasukmana flew to Dili soon after the international troops arrived. Food and vehicles were scarce, and most hotels had been destroyed. The atmosphere was tense. Still, he says: I have had to put up with fear for a week; the Timorese have endured it for 24 years.