[UPDATE - Post rewritten at 5:20 p.m. PDT]
Joseph Odino, editorial director of Kenya’s largest newspaper, the Nation, was suspended Sunday after readers strongly objected to today’s cover photo depicting a blood-splattered victim screaming in terror during Saturday’s terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall.
I happened to pull a low-resolution copy of the cover late last night:
In addition, Linus Gitahi — chief executive officer of the Nation Media Group — tweeted Sunday:
Kenyans, we made a poor judgment on our front page photo today. We sincerely apologize for the hurt caused.
Odino was not fired, according to Charles Onyango-Obbo, executive editor for digital media.Rather, he…
…took responsibility and a suspension… He’ll be back, he did the grown up thing.
Yes, this is the newspaper group at which I spent two weeks consulting last summer.
More details about the suspension and the apology are at the bottom of this post.
THE NEWS AS OF SUNDAY
Saturday, an upscale shopping mall in Kenya was a attacked by 10 to 15 gunmen who are reportedly affiliated with al-Shabaab, a militant group based in Somalia and, in turn, linked to al Qaeda.
As of 3 p.m. Sunday PDT, the death toll stood at 68 dead and 175 hospitalized. However, the gunmen are still in the mall, holding a number of people — about 40, officials think — hostage. In addition, there are parts of the five-story mall the Kenyan authorities have not yet been able to reach. So expect that number to only go up.
On the other hand, more than 1,000 got away unharmed. Good news, indeed.
UPDATE: 8:15 a.m. MONDAY
The incident is well into Day Three now.
- The Kenyan government claims its army is now in control of the mall, but gunfire and blasts continue to come from the building.
- Officials seem to have decreased the number of hostages — they’re saying 10, now.
- The Red Cross has downgraded the number of fatalities to 62, saying that some bodies had been double-counted.
- Al-Shabaab claims three Americans were part of the attacking party, but this has not yet been confirmed.
- Kenyan authorities say they’ve made related arrests at their airport. How many arrests? “Around four,” whatever that means.
Here is the front page of Monday’s the Nation.
I can’t see it at this size, but note that box at the bottom of the page. The headline says:
It’s safe to presume that’s a front-page apology for Sunday’s front page photo.
A FEW EXAMPLE OF SATURDAY’S PHOTOS
I’ve been monitoring the news via the Nation and CNN. Throughout the day yesterday, shoppers and employees fled for their lives as soon as they were assured the Kenyan army was covering their exit.
That picture is by Jason Straziuso of the Associated Press. You can see the mall in the background of that shot. In contains 80 shops and stores in 350,000 square feet. The six-year-old, Israeli-owned mall is frequented by wealthy Kenyans and by expatriots living in Nairobi, the Nation reports. It had been identified previously as a possible target for terrorists.
Still, help was slow in coming Saturday. The Nation‘s Andrew Teyie reports:
According to a top police officer attached to Kenya’s anti-terrorism unit, who did not want to be named, the Westgate Mall incident caught security personnel by surprise.
The officer admitted there was no intelligence on the attack.
Initial reports received by the police were that a robbery was taking place at the mall.
The first to respond were a team of flying squad officers and police from Gigiri Division, under which the mall falls.
It took at least an hour before a team of specialised units were deployed to the scene.
Shoppers hid for hours before they were encouraged to make a break for it by police and/or soldiers. Here, you can see a member of the Kenyan military advancing past what appears to be a jewelry store… and a dead Footlocker employee.
Here, a woman puts herself between her baby and a soldier keeping watch.
Both of those pictures inside the mall were by Kavir Dhanji of the European Press Agency. And they both speak to me in a powerful voice. Because both pictures look as if they could have been taken at any mall here in the U.S.
I was awfully moved by this picture yesterday from Reuters.
That’s an unidentified journalist, helping to carry a woman to safety. The picture is by Reuters’ Thomas Mukoya.
UPDATE – MONDAY, 7:45 a.m. PDT
Liza Albrecht, longtime newspaper editor and now a media manager for a political party in South Africa, tells me:
The unidentified journo is South African journalist Tom Kirkwood.
Tom is formerly the Africa editor for Reuters Television. He tweeted afterwards:
JUST HAPPENED TO BE IN THE AREA
Among the the first journalists on the scene Saturday was Tyler Hicks, a photographer for the New York Times, who lives in Nairobi and happened to be nearby when the incident started. He spoke last night with James Estrin of the NYT’s Lens blog:
From the beginning I wanted to get with some security forces inside the mall.
We managed to find an entrance where people who were hiding inside the mall were coming out. We ran into that service entrance and we hooked up with some police who let us stay with them as they did security sweeps clearing different stores — very much like what you see when the military enters a village. Shop to shop and aisle to aisle, looking for the shooters who were still inside.
I had a clear view in there. I could see that there were multiple bodies lying dead in the mall, some lying together just next to where they were having lunch at a cafe. It seemed everywhere you turned there was another body.
Military forces didn’t know where the militants were, so they continued to sweep through looking for them. Of course, there was the concern of I.E.D.’s or that they would throw a grenade or shoot. In the shopping mall, there was an endless amount of places that they could hide or potentially attack from.
Q. How long were you there?
A. I was around the mall for the better part of the day. I was inside the mall for about two hours.
It should be noted that Tyler was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for its war coverage in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The interview is compelling stuff and definitely worth using one of your ten free pageviews this month. Find it here.
POPULAR RADIO HOST ONE OF THE VICTIMS
Among the victims of the attack was Ruhila Adatia-Sood — below, center — a broadcaster for Nairobi’s East FM and Kiss 100. She was at the mall Saturday, hosting a cooking contest for children, sponsored by a company that sells rice.
She sent out a number of photos Saturday via her Instagram and Twitter accounts. The one you see there was the last.
A native South African, Ruhila was pregnant with her first child, the Nation reports.
Reports yesterday were that gunmen asked Muslims in the mall to leave. They said they wanted only to target non-Muslims, witnesses told officials.
THE BAD GUYS LOVED THEIR TWITTER
If you’re like me, you’ve never even heard of al-Shabaab. They’re a very nasty Somali group, affiliated with al Qaeda and they apparently love to use social media, right down to pushing hashtags on the attacks it makes.
“Remember Mumbai?” one tweet asked Saturday, as gunfire was erupting from Westgate mall in Nairobi. The comment was an apparent reference to the 2008 attack in which 10 Pakistani men associated with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba stormed several buildings in Mumbai, India, killing 164 people over a three-day period.
“Some youngsters resist death even when told not to be taken alive. It’s going to be a long ordeal,” Saturday’s tweet said.
Soon after, it announced it was responsible for Saturday’s attack in Nairobi, Kenya. “Alshabab confirms its behind the #Westgate spectacle,” it said.
Watkins also reports that the group tweeted names of the gunmen involved in the attack. Interestingly, three Americans were on the list, he reports.
Eventually, Twitter shut down the account. It was the third time this year Twitter has shut down a feed from al-Shabaab, the Nation reports.
FOR MORE READING
Again, this is still an ongoing story. Just since I began assembling it, CNN has reported that a “final assault” was made on the mall by Kenyan military, with a huge hand from Israeli forces. Most of the hostages have been freed, CNN says.
I’m not seeing any details, however, nor am I seeing that reported elsewhere.
For further reading…
- Go here to find the Nation‘s ongoing coverage of this story.
- This appears to be the Nation‘s live blog of the story.
- Find CNN’s latest reports here.
- Among the people who escaped the mall Saturday: The Kenyan president’s older sister.
- Here’s an eyewitness report by a college student who was working a promotional kiosk for a baby diaper company.
- Here’s another eyewitness report via video from CNN.
- Here’s an eyewitness report via Skype from a woman from Elizabeth City, N.C., who moved to Kenya in July.
- Go here to find a story from the BBC on how African papers played the incident.
MORE FROM AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS POST
I posted the original version of this article around 3 p.m. PDT. I didn’t know anything about the apology or the suspension.
I did include the image of the cover, however. I pulled it late last night from the Nation’s web site. I had hoped to find a larger version of it today. Not only did I not find one, I did notice the one at the Nation‘s site was missing.
I was puzzled by that, but not puzzled enough, evidently. When I wrote my post, I didn’t say much about the cover, other than to note it was “terrifying.”
Almost immediately, an irate Kenyan resident responded via Twitter. Here’s our exchange…
Well, for the record, the visual journalists I worked with in Kenya chose not to “friend” me on Facebook like my friends in Nigeria and South Africa have done. My two closest contacts from my sessions in Kenya, in fact, are the group design director — whose contract is over, so she’s returned to the U.S. — and a graphics editor who actually works in Uganda. I just posted his birthday the other day.
So point taken, I suppose.
What was really fascinating were the replies to Linus’ tweet. Sure enough, readers in Kenya were really upset over the cover.
From that lengthy thread, I stumbled upon the Twitter feed of Charles Onyango-Obbo, the group’s executive editor for digital media. In reply to readers who asked who had been fired over the cover, Charles replied:
Which then led to…
So not really a firing. A suspension. But still: Interesting.
While I never enjoy being chewed out via social media, I am grateful to Cyka UchuuJin for bringing this to my attention. For visual journalists, the story today was even bigger than I knew.
I posted a second version of this post — including these tweets and the news of the suspension — shortly after 4 p.m. I reshaped the whole thing into what you see now at 5:20 p.m. Sunday, PDT.