Reader: The photographer caught this devastated woman at possibly the most extreme moment of her shock and grief ("Woman dies, four children left injured and orphaned in northwest Bakersfield house fire," Feb. 9). How unkind, actually cruel, to publish this picture for the public to witness. I feel certain those who care are certainly in touch with her grief by reading the story. Please delete the photo.

— Darla Davis

Reader: I really wish you wouldn’t have posted this picture. This is a very private moment.

— Christie Thomas

Reader: Bakersfield is so great at giving back. I pray we all find the right place to give and let these kids know they are loved. 

— MyLena Blagg

Price: This debate underscores the power of the photograph. Darla, you say you're "certain" that caring readers like yourself would have completely empathized with Kristina Stratton's grieving family without the benefit of the photo; just reading the story would have sufficed. Seems to me that's difficult to say with certainty once you've already seen the photo; you can't un-see it. While a skilled writer of prose can elicit strong empathy with words alone, nothing quite brings it home like a photograph.

Compare the tragic story in question here — that of Stratton, who died Feb. 7 trying to rescue her children (who had already escaped) from their burning house — with the story of Jenica Okianna Lozano, a five-month-old baby killed in a Bakersfield mobile home fire two years ago. The initial story about the Stratton tragedy, accompanied by the heart-wrenching photograph of an unidentified relative, attracted thousands of readers and dozens of comments; the story of Baby Lozano — a total of six articles, combined — attracted one-fourth as many readers and exactly one comment focusing on the party allegedly at fault, not the family's loss. One story has a gripping photograph, the other a small, family-provided snapshot. Not nearly as compelling. The attention brought to the Stratton story, in part by the photo, will surely boost the GoFundMe accounts established for the orphaned children. The attention also gave the fire chief a soap box to remind us once again about the importance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and family escape plans — words that can save other lives. 

Was this really "a private moment" that photographer Tomas Ovalle should have left alone? Chaplain Angelo Frazier and Stratton's unidentified relative had very consciously made themselves available to the media outside the fire-damaged home. So it was not private. Painful, personal and authentic, yes. But not intended to be private.

I included MyLena Blagg's comment here because she expressed what I would hope most readers take away from the story: The community can and should respond, and has. Ovalle's photo delivered the emotional punch that helped lead us there.

That said, decisions to publish or not publish photos like these are never easy. We have declined many times over the years.


Reader: It is disappointing to see only boys pictured in the story of the Lakeside School and Independence High School Energy Science and Career Fair ("The love of science," Feb. 15). It perfectly exemplifies the expectations and reality of girls in school and business. If you want an explanation for why women's income is a percentage of men's, you could hardly do better than to study that photo.

You can't tell me that there were no girls interested in skipping a day of class and participating in hands-on science activities. It is frustrating in 2019 to see this gender bias perpetuated.

— Kathy Harlan

Price: If you want an illustration of 13-year-old boys acting like 13-year-old boys, you could hardly do better than to study another Tomas Ovalle photo of nine Lakeside School eight-graders throwing paper airplanes against a backdrop of Valentine's Day wall decorations. Editors selected that photo for our cover based on its artistic composition, gentle humor and slice-of-life authenticity.

But you make a valid point about the importance of portraying girls as capable students of science, technology, engineering and math. I would feel worse about this if we regularly failed to write about opportunities for girls in STEM education and careers, but I counted 10 stories in the past three years that qualified, most recently a March 2018 article titled "Facing dearth of skilled employees, STEMposium seeks to 'light a fire' in kids — especially girls."

However, we published three more photos of the Feb. 14 event on page 6, and none showed girls' faces. And plenty of girls attended. I don't believe this was an instance of gender bias — those four just happened to be the most illustrative photos. But it's an issue we should be paying attention to.


Reader: One more thought about the Nazi flag displayed in David Gaeta’s room at Frontier High School ("Nazi flag apology? We never got one, and thank you for that," Feb. 6). I believe the issue is that it was displayed without any frame of reference. If he had added a notation next to the flag citing it as a symbol of hatred, etc. that would give it better context. Displaying it without reference is confusing.

If I had walked into his class and had seen it there without explanation I would probably have assumed the worse. 

— Mary Bradford

Price: I might have assumed that too, Mary, but you're mistaken. Gaeta didn't just tack this up on the wall without introduction. He established very clear context. As Gaeta's son pointed out, the Frontier teacher has always been very careful to explain the flag's significance, then and now, on the first day he displays it every year.

Frankly, if he is still teaching his history unit on World War II (but he's probably moved on to the Korean War by now), the Frontier administration should encourage him to put the flag back up so he can talk more about the foreboding power it still possesses, as exemplified by this recent dust-up. It's my understanding he has received an outpouring of support — texts, phone calls, emails, and social media comments — from students, fellow teachers, parents and the KHSD board of trustees.


Reader: Once again your editorial staff modified something that changed the meaning of a sentence. They must not have ever heard the word ameliorate but it certainly doesn't mean emulate.

— Steve Ledbetter

Price: In a Letter to the Editor this week you wrote, "If money was the answer to these problems couldn't cutting welfare money to illegals and generational recipients go a long way to emeliate healthcare costs?"

Our content management system didn't know what to do with the non-word “emeliate” and autocorrected it to "emulate." That doesn't really ameliorate the issue, but that's what happened.

My apologies.


Reader: Just to inform you that the Golden Empire and Modeling Society in Bakersfield is sponsoring the 26th annual model train show on March 9-10 at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

The club models HO and N Scale trains and has two layouts at the club, which is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Access is in the alley between 19th and 20th and Eye Street and Chester. Ring the bell next to the freight elevator door on the south side of the alley.

— John Donaldson

Price: That's what I get for trying to playfully invent Super Bowl watching alternatives ("Indifferent to football? The Super Bowl experience has something for you, too," Feb. 3). First I learn Bakersfield really does have a Cactus and Succulent Society, and now I see we've got model trains buffs, too. Who says we've got no culture?

Contact The Californian's Robert Price at 661-395-7399, or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. The views expressed here are his own.

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