The Times podcast: Masters of Disasters: Broken records!
The story of how The Times came to cover the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
In the early weeks of February 2008, in Sichuan, China, an earthquake in the city of Ezhou killed nearly 300 people, injured hundreds more, and caused damage estimated at $300 million. It was the deadliest earthquake ever to strike the country.
An estimated 1,000 of the people killed were children. It was the largest earthquake in China in more than a century. On April 11, the earthquake’s effects were still visible in the town of Ezhou, the first to be hit. Its citizens, in many cases still in the dark as to what had really happened, took to living in their damaged houses out of necessity.
In the days and weeks that followed, the Chinese government spent more than $250 million on disaster relief, more than half of which was reportedly given by state-run companies in Sichuan. The government also announced a new state-run fund to assist victims and provide support to families with children. The new fund was designed to be similar to the state funds already in place for relief workers who had been mobilized to work in the aftermath of previous earthquakes.
State-run China News Service was one of a few Western news organizations to be given access by local officials to the stricken area. When journalists from the Chinese media tried to investigate the cause of the disaster, they were rebuffed. One reporter was later told by local officials that “we don’t allow foreign journalists to come here to report on our earthquake,” according to an internal e-mail from then-China Bureau chief Lu Zhiyi.
After China’s initial shock subsided, government officials began issuing their own press releases, which were frequently contradictory and contradictory themselves. Some of the press releases focused on the need for more earthquake and disaster relief supplies. Others reported that the Chinese people were victims of a deliberate act.
The story of how The Times came to cover the 2008 Sichuan earthquake was, at first, a tragedy of lost opportunities.
It began with a long e-mail to editor Paul Gardner, sent by the editor of our sister publication, the Times of London. It contained a question, which I took to mean a challenge. It was as follows:
Dear Paul, When we first discussed