Thursday, March 26, 2015

Feature: WSU alumnus, Ebola survivor speaks at alma mater

   Wayne State alumnus Dr. Craig Spencer returned to the School of Medicine to discuss the challenges and controversies of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic on Feb. 17.
   In September and October 2014, Spencer, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, volunteered with Doctors Without Borders and spent six weeks treating Ebola patients in Gueckedou, Guinea. He returned to New York City on Oct. 17, and gained worldwide media attention after he tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 23. Twenty days later he was released from New York City’s Bellevue Hospital after he recovered from the virus.
Wayne State's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies Director Frederic Pearson (left) presents the Global
Peacemaker Award to Dr. Craig Spencer (right) for his volunteer work with Doctors Without
Borders in West Africa. Spencer accepted the award and spoke at the WSU School of Medicine on Feb. 17.
(The South End, Alexander Franzen)
      In his presentation, Spencer took on some of the international and domestic issues related to Ebola. “There is a lot of misinformation that is being spread, which I think has caused problems with stigma and fear,” Spencer said.
   He argued that some of the best U.S. academic medical centers and public health schools have made it nearly impossible for U.S. doctors and medical students to volunteer in West Africa to treat Ebola patients. Spencer said these institutions claim that people like himself—“a post-doctoral fellow of international emergency medicine” who completed a residency in medical school—“aren’t mature enough or don’t have enough training.”
   “A lot of medical centers say ‘it’s not in our job title, it’s not in our description, it’s not what we do,’” Spencer said. WSU geography student Marion Quemener said she did not understand why academic medical centers made these excuses. “The aim of doctors or new students is to cure people,” Quemener said. “If you look at their description, it says that they’re there to help people who are sick, people who need healing, regardless of race, regardless of ability to pay, regardless of all these issues,” Spencer said.
   In West Africa, however, locals without any formal medical education—certainly without medical training—are being taught to treat Ebola patients at Doctors Without Borders clinics. “You’re taking people without a high school education, you’re teaching them through weeks of repetitive training how to put on and take off personal protective equipment and about very basic virus ecology,” Spencer said. He was assigned 30 to 40 Ebola patients a day at the Guinea treatment center, which took in up to 100 patients a day. “We had five doctors when I started, and we had to send two home because they were falling asleep in the middle of rounds,” Spencer continued, “they were working 14 hours a day for six months.”
   Spencer questioned the U.S.’s focus on its domestic Ebola response, rather than its international response. “More money has been spent on building bio-containment and isolation facilities at hospitals in New York and all throughout the country than has likely been spent on the treatment of all the patients in West Africa at Doctors Without Borders facilities combined,” Spencer said. Quemener agreed with Spencer’s argument. “All of these facilities at U.S. hospitals are totally useless,” she said. “The U.S. should put this money in West Africa, where the real problem is.” Doctors Without Borders’ 2014 operating budget to treat Ebola in West Africa was somewhere in the $50 to $60 million range. “I’ve heard that all Michigan hospitals have isolation facilities,” Quemener said. “It’s ridiculous.”
   Spencer also disagreed with New York and New Jersey governors who supported heightened standards to quarantine all U.S. health care workers returning from West Africa in 2014. “They knew that public health experts would disagree with their decision, but decided they wanted broad, tough policy that would calm people’s fears,” he said.
   Matthew Seeger, dean of WSU’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts and co-author of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s manual titled “Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication,” agrees Ebola became a very political disease. “All disease and all crises have politics associated with them. It’s always part of the conversation,” Seeger said. “But in this case, we had some politicians who were actively promoting fear of Ebola. And that’s a relatively unique circumstance.”
   Seeger explained the difficulties public health professionals face when making policies in the midst of an outbreak. “There are significant challenges involved in helping the public understand risks and how those risks can be effectively managed,” he said. “Part of the problem is that there is a lot of uncertainty with risks.”
   Spencer concluded his presentation with remarks about his initial reluctance to volunteer in West Africa and why he overcame them. “People say ‘oh, you’re so brave, you’re so courageous, people like you are heroes,’ and I don’t necessarily think that’s true,” Spencer said. “I just think we have a different set point for what we’re willing to do and what we think is irresponsible not to do.”


Andrew Awabdeh (left), Nathan Gyani (center) and Hannah Varughese (right) perform in front of
Yousef B. Ghafari Hall on April 3. The Detroit CRU organization hosted the performance.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Don't manipulate that photo: Journalistic laws, ethics and the First Amendment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances." First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
   If Congress holds up its end of the deal with the First Amendment, we photojournalists shall hold up our end by making ethical decisions when we shoot and publish photos.
   What really jumped out at me in this lesson was how photographers and editors blatantly violate the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics. Manipulating photos (aside from cropping and minor contrast adjustments), for an example, is not acceptable. Photojournalism is journalism, not art. Therefore, even slightly altering a photo, say, by removing an unwanted electrical socket on a wall or a Coca-Cola can from a portrait photo, is against our ethics. Nothing is perfect, so why strive for perfection in photojournalism?
   As a professional, I will always ask myself, “What’s more important, publishing a flawless, manipulated photo or maintaining credibility and reputability throughout your career?"
   It was also interesting to learn when and where a photojournalist can shoot. Kenneth Kobré’s excerpt on the Florida Publishing Co. (Times-Union) vs Fletcher case in “Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach” explained an exception to the law of trespassing for photos. In this case, the court ruled in favor of Times-Union photographer Bill Cranford, who entered the Fletcher’s house after a fire and took a photo of the spot where 14-year-old Cindy Fletcher’s burned body had left a silhouette scorched on the floor. Her mother was not home at the time of the fire, saw the photo in the next day’s newspaper, and attempted to sue the Times-Union paper. However, Fletcher lost the case because the police and fire marshal gave Cranford permission to enter the home and take photos, and since she was absent at the time, she did not object.
   Although this case may not be morally sound, Cranford did not actually break the law. Along with this example, this lesson provided a complete guide on the First Amendment and journalistic ethics and laws.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pictures are worth a thousand words, great captions are priceless

   A caption can be the icing on the cake for a great photograph.
  But captions also can damage a photographer’s or a news mediums’s integrity when improperly written. Author Van Jones wrote an article for the Huffington Post about this issue in 2011. In the article he pointed out that in 2005, two different media outlets published similar photos of Hurricane Katrina survivors wading in chest-deep water—with quite dissimilar captions. 
   The Agence France-Presse agency published a photo of two Caucasians wading in the water “after finding bread and soda from a local grocery story.” The Associated Press, however, published a photo of an African-American wading in the water “after looting a grocery store.”
  If you look at both photos, side by side, without reading the captions, you sympathize for whom you see in the photos. But when you glance over the captions, does your compassion still exist for both parties?
   I think Kenneth Irby outlines the key tips for writing photo captions in his piece for He reminds photojournalists to “check the facts, be accurate and identify the main people.” The two key points that stuck out for me were “avoid making judgments” and “don’t assume.”    
  Captions are without a doubt essential for any news photograph. Readers like to know ‘the who, what, where, when, why and how,’ but, in my opinion, the words you choose for a caption never should be used carelessly. A two-sentence caption can make or break your photo by altering the truth of the event.

When in doubt, I'll check the white balance

Dog lunges at top speed on a crisp winter afternoon.
(ISO: 200, f/4.5, Shutter: 1/400 sec.)
   The first photo demonstrates the blurred action element. I was really going for an excellent stopped action shot, but after taking countless photos for an hour, I had to bring my shivering dog inside and soak my numb fingers in tepid water. 
   It was well below 32 degrees outside, so I had no choice but to work fast. I set my ISO at 200, stepped outside, cursed at the weather and white balanced the snow. Then I lay down on my stomach, used my left forearm as a makeshift monopod and waited for my dog to gallop towards me. For each pass he made I could shoot about two or three photos before he reached point-blank range and try to smash his nose into the camera lens. The blurred action element does capture his strength and speed.
   The second photo demonstrates the shallow depth of field element. The room was very dark, so I set the ISO to 1600. The shutter was at 1/5 sec., so to hold the camera steady I lay on my stomach and used my left forearm as a makeshift monopod.
Cat takes a break to catch his breath after chasing a dog.
(ISO: 1600, f/4.8, Shutter: 1/5 sec.)
   The third photo demonstrates window lighting. It was very sunny when I took the photo. I probably could have had the ISO at 400, maybe even 200.

The Shiffman Medical Library celebrates diversity with an exhibit and lecture series titled "History
of African-Americans at WSU School of Medicine."
(ISO: 1600, f/7.1, 1/160 sec.)