Tuesday, June 29, 2010
AFTER JONESTOWN, 1985
Photo of Lloyd Francis, Howard Ford at The Daily Review by Photographer Saul Bromberger, 1985. Reporter Chris Arellano inside office.
Published news story by Editor-in-Chief Lurene Helzer for Chabot College Spectator, June 7, 1985, “After Jonestown: Photojournalist Leaves Legacy; Former Chabot Students Win Awards”. Story concerns student journalists Howard Ford and Lloyd Francis Jr.
They’d won in 1985 scholarships created in the memory of San Francisco Examiner Photojournalist Greg Robinson/others killed during the Jonestown Massacre of 1978.
Altogether, 918 died through either murder with poison or – in a few cases -- suicide. Examiner Photojournalist Greg Robinson was murdered. Northern California Congressman Leo Ryan also was murdered:
A trio of Spectator reporters had gotten credentials to get in the Democratic National Convention, among them Howard Ford.
Howard was excited and as soon as he stepped into the busy San Francisco streets, he started to visualize the images before him.
But even though Howard reacted in the political uproars spilling out of the streets as a baby would seeing its first ray of sunshine, he was a veteran of the characteristically offbeat style of San Francisco activism. His 1972 press pass that said “NIXON” proved it. The tattered card now hung next to his convention credentials like an old friend.
“Move it. Get out of my way!” barked Howard to the female companion and fellow conventioneer walking next to him. “I see a picture!”
Usually an ultra-reserved person, Howard’s obsession with photography was the only time his stormy interior would emerge. Understanding this part of Howard, this partner forgave him immediately for being so snappy. After all, it might make a good story one day.
Lloyd was, in the meantime, risking his limbs mingling through slam dancers in the Rock Against Reagan rally in front of Moscone Center where the convention was being held. After getting tired of seeing punks trying to swallow each others’ flying spitwads, he decided it was time to get a few good shots from the stage. Before going up, he saw a man being thrown off the stage. Without thinking that the same could happen to him, he snapped the shot of the descending man and hopped up onto the stage.
Several hours later when the day’s festivities had drawn to a close, Lloyd met up with his friends at a restaurant. Never mind that he had nearly been arrested, never mind he nearly got pulverized by the rambunctious crowd and paid no attention to the fact that his friends were wondering if he would come out of it alive.
“So how did you get up on the stage, anyway, Lloyd?” asked Howard.
Lloyd clanked his spoon against his coffee cup and said, “I just told them ‘UPI asshole!”
“That’s journalist lingo meaning, ‘Get the hell out of my face.’”
Howard Ford and Lloyd Francis Jr. are former Chabot College journalism students who recently won scholarships created in the memory of the journalists killed in the Jonestown massacre. Howard’s scholarship, the Greg Robinson Memorial Scholarship, is the largest photojournalism scholarship in America and is as interesting and compelling as those exceptional students who win it.
The scholarship is awarded to students of San Francisco State who have at least a 3.0 average, are majoring in journalism, and have passed a competition which includes a portfolio review and written essay. There are seven judges, a combination of three reporters from the San Francisco Examiner and professors from San Francisco State. But although the honor of winning the scholarship was uplifting, the recipients remember the honor came about because of a curse called Jim Jones.
In 1972, Jim Jones was operating the People’s Temple in San Francisco. Although a San Francisco Examiner story written by John Burks, now a journalism advisor at SF State, exposed Jones as a phony “faith healer,” the city government seemed to accept him as an upstanding member of the community.
Jones was appointed to the San Francisco Housing Commission by the late mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, in 1976. According to Examiner reporter Tim Reiterman, who was covering the People’s Temple at the time, some people believed that Jones played an important role in Moscone’s election in 1975 by supplying people to hand out leaflets and attend rallies.
Reiterman added, however, that the mayor’s office was under the misapprehension that a thousand People’s Temple members were registered to vote. In actuality, there were only 50 members of the temple who were registered San Francisco voters. Even more perplexing was Jones’ own political affiliation. Jones was a registered Republican in Ukiah, California, but in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, where the other two of the three temples were located, Jones portrayed himself as a “liberal Democrat,” said Reiterman.
Jones’ portrayal of a liberal was so convincing that he was once considered for a statewide appointment by former California Governor Jerry Brown. Before long, though, Jones would leave San Francisco as a discredited and vengeful man.
A Fresh Approach
When Lloyd and Howard talk about photography, people listen.
Most of the listening is done by members of The Spectator news staff who are looking for better ways to capture images on film. The two often come in to their old newsroom to talk about the horrors of a four-year institution to wide-eyed beginning journalism students. They talk about the dedication it takes to “make it” as a journalist.
Aside from being master intimidators, though, Lloyd and Howard have gained the respect of their advisor at San Francisco State, John Burks.
“It’s interesting that Howard, in the world of photojournalism, is doing some radical news photography. He’s either going to make a name for himself or find himself unemployable. It winds up as a style of photography that old school photographers don’t respond to very well. His stuff is so fresh and different, that it’s interesting six months later. That’s the real strength of Howard’s work. There’s times I would have died to have work like Howard’s,” said Burks.
“And with Lloyd, he always has a very direct shot. You feel as if you’re there with him (at the news event). You don’t get that distant approach.”
San Francisco Examiner reporter Tim Reiterman had been following the activities of Jim Jones on and off for 18 months by the time November of 1978 rolled around. He and photographer Greg Robinson, an Examiner employee who was known by colleagues as a dedicated journalist who had a special love for his craft, were preparing for a trip to Guyana on November 13 with Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who would be making a fact finding mission.
Reiterman remembered meeting Robinson around the office, but up until the point of the Jonestown assignment, they had not been close friends.
But Reiterman and Robinson developed a quick bond as they went over the newspaper clippings and briefings prior to the trip.
“Our first conversations were about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple,” Reiterman said.
Robinson loved traveling. Up to this time, though, Robinson had only had one reasonably dangerous assignment, covering the fight over Indian fishing rights in Washington State. Robinson wondered whether he would come back with any salable photos from Jonestown, since his photos from the previous trip had been rejected.
The trip made by Robinson, Reiterman and some other journalists was anything but relaxed. When they finally got on the road in a truck bound for Jonestown, Robinson and Reiterman shook hands, thankful that they traveled as far as they did.
That night was spent in Mike and Son’s Weekend Disco, Reiterman said half laughing. The journalists covering the event were the only patrons. There Robinson and Reiterman passed the hours away developing a close camaraderie over beer and rum. Along with the other reporters, they told stories and jokes, perhaps to ease the tension of wondering what would happen the next day.
“The first day of the visit was relatively nothing compared to the second day. The second day was extremely stormy, literally and in terms of the mood. A number of church members had decided to leave with the delegation and Greg had photographed the bitter goodbyes before piling on the truck to leave Jonestown,” said Reiterman.
As the press crew was about to leave, Congressman Leo Ryan was seen staggering down the road.
Ryan was attacked and in the resulting struggle, had his assailant’s blood splattered lightly on his shirt.
Before the first shots were fired near the plane on the airstrip near Port Kaituma, Reiterman remembers saying to Greg Robinson, “I think there might be some trouble. Watch yourself.”
“Moments later the first shots started and everyone scattered looking for cover. I didn’t see what happened to Greg in those next seconds. I was diving for cover behind the wheel of the plane. I was hit in the arm and wrist. I reacted to getting shot and got out of there as fast as I could.”
Reiterman and the other surviving members of the delegations took cover in the jungle, giving crude treatments for wounds. When Reiterman reemerged from the hide-out, he found Robinson’s dead body and next to it, his camera equipment.
“The last frame on his camera I’ve never quite been able to figure out. It’s kind of angled. It’s the end of the jungle and the beginning of the sky…it could be that. People speculate on what it is.”
“Do or Die”
Lloyd, who was awarded with a 250 dollar scholarship from the San Francisco/Oakland chapter of The Newspaper Guild, also in memory of Robinson, frequently sells his work to United Press International when there’s a news event within his reach. Sometimes, though, Lloyd finds photography ruthlessly challenging.
“I get very frustrated with what I’m doing sometimes. It’s hard to communicate ideas without words. I want t the viewer to look at the picture and know what’s going on without asking questions. I want my photos to have a signature without me signing it,” said Lloyd.
Howard, who will take over as photo editor of the San Francisco State magazine, Prism, this fall, will undoubtedly try to introduce his journalistic philosophy to his staff.
“I use tilted horizons a lot in my work. Not because I’m fond of tilted horizons, but because it’s often necessary to do that in order to include all of the important information. It’s like when you’re writing your lead for a news story – the reader needs to know the classic who, what, where, when, and why. The foundation of good journalism is to be complete. But photojournalists are expected to be incomplete,” said Howard.
Burks describes his two enterprising students as the “do or die” types. This description seems to make the scholarship almost tailor-made for them. Because aside from the skill involved, there is that element of dedication in Lloyd and Howard that Reiterman and Robinson used to the fullest extent. Another thing they share is the sense of photographers being brothers and sisters in the same darkroom.
“Even though this will help me tremendously, I really wish that Greg had lived,” said Howard of the photojournalist he never knew, but came to admire.
This 1985 story reminds me of those killed at Jonestown, but also of Journalist Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, who was also brutally murdered in the course of his reporting work.
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