Reporters on the Job

Uncle White Guys: Staff writer Scott Baldauf and photographer Andy Nelson know that the rules of reporting don't normally allow gift giving. You don't want to distort what people say through gifts. But to spend a year reporting on the progress of two Indonesian families rebuilding from the Dec. 26 tsunami would require them to impose on the families. "And for better or worse, we became close to them," says Scott.

"So, to thank our host families for their willingness to open up their lives to complete strangers - and our readers - we would bring small things. I brought a few toys for the children - helicopters or planes. And Andy brought some of his photographs of the families, a prize for families who had lost all mementos of their former lives."

Scott says the two families seemed happy to have someone to tell their stories. "We, in turn, looked forward to seeing how their lives changed. It's rare for a reporter to be able to follow up on a single person or family, and to have such intimate access to people's lives."

He says the families weren't letting them into their lives in hopes of favorable treatment. "We explained that a couple of reporters would be pretty useless in getting them preferential treatment. Most aid groups don't work on such a small scale, and would have ethical problems in benefiting only one family. At best, Andy and I would become a useful distraction - a way to measure how far they had come."

But even their small gifts started to cause a stir among the neighbors. One of Juriah's neighbors complained that the two Uncle Boolehs (literally Uncle White Guys) weren't bringing them gifts. For some, the mere fact that they only visited Juriah's family was a cause for resentment and envy.

"Perhaps we could have done a better job of explaining our mission to the neighbors," says Scott. "In order to do our job, we had to spend ample time with the families. There's no cutting corners there."

David Clark Scott
World editor

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.