The New York Times on the Conflict in Somalia - Three Versions of a Caption

11:02 PM

Sometimes a picture speaks a thousands words, and at others the words can drive the interpretation of the image.  Take this image from today's New York Times front page article "U. S. Relies on Contractors in Somalia Conflict."
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Like all images, it is enigmatic.  The Times tries to put it into context and point towards a particular range of interpretations by supplying a caption.  Like the headlines, the captions are not written by the reporter but by specialized editors and editorial assistants.
Now that the New York Times is putting more and more content online, more of the online content is diverging from the print version, as noted recently by the Public Editor.  In this case, the slip provides an opportunity to compare not only how the captions in the Times work out given ideologies, but also how the altering of the text can alter the interpretation of the image.  The online version of the story did not differ from the print version.  The first paragraphs read:
U.S. Company Trains African Troops in Somalia.
By Jeffrey Gettleman, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
Published: August 10, 2011
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Richard Rouget, a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.
A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.

Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the State Department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda.

The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired in chaos for years. The fight against the Shabab, a group that United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.

“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department official for Africa....

The image appeared with the following captions:

Print Version:
"Richard Rouget, center, a military adviser hired by an American Private security company, trains troops in Mogadishu, Somalia."
Online version:
"A Ugandan soldier leads Richard Rouget, a military adviser with Bancroft Global Development, to the roof of a building to monitor a firefight."
Version from NY Times slide show:
"Richard Rouget, center, a Frenchman and a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is now a military adviser with Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company. The State Department has indirectly financed the company to train African troops now fighting a pitched urban war against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda."

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