Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From the Editor: Take Two

by Kaukab Jhumra Smith

We’ve received a number of e-mails, phone calls and personal reactions from readers and vendors about our coverage of drugs and homelessness in the April 16 and April 30 issues of Street Sense. I wrote about some early reactions in my last column (“Cracking It Open,” 4/30) and we are printing several representative letters on these pages.

However, I think it’s worth another short note to document the distinction in many vendors’ heads between our decision to publish the stories by Brittany Aubin and the decision to publish close-up photographs of a man smoking a crack pipe (4/16) and of a pair of hands loading a crack pipe (4/30). For many vendors, the photographs are the problem, particularly on the front page of the paper. They were taken in downtown D.C. by a volunteer, Dan Wilkinson, who spent an hour and a half with the subject, disclosed his assignment with Street Sense and received his consent to photograph him. The man told Dan he was not homeless but came to the area near Franklin shelter to buy and use crack.

I’ve listened to enough offended vendors now to understand that these photos could serve as a trigger for individuals already struggling with a substance abuse problem. And while I apologize for any inadvertent harm the photos may have caused, I don’t know if I would change my original decision. Because I also received a call from a woman last week, who thanked us for printing photos that helped her identify the instruments she had seen lying around different places. “You have no idea how many families out there you are helping,” she said.

Thanks to everyone who shared an opinion. Your perspectives strengthen Street Sense into a paper that fosters debate and understanding on difficult community issues.

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