Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal discusses the need to help media in Haiti. He wrote this column for the paper’s commentary page.
For weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, the world’s news media provided extensive coverage in dozens of languages and in enormous detail about how the country was dealing with the disaster.
The one place on earth left out was Haiti itself. The local media was crippled by the earthquake, which took the lives of 31 journalists, knocked radio and television stations off the air, and shut down the nation’s two daily newspapers for a time.
It’s not a story you heard much about in the earthquake’s immediate aftermath. But now as the rebuilding gets under way, the condition of Haiti’s media will play a pivotal role as the nation tries to find its way back to health.
Yves Colon, a University of Miami lecturer who just returned from two months in Port-au-Prince working to help media groups, says radio and newspapers are still struggling simply to find basic equipment and rebuild their businesses.
“What Haiti needs is a watchdog for all that money that is coming in,” said Yves, a veteran journalist and a former Miami Herald reporter who has worked in Haiti on and off for years. “I think it’s going to be really, really difficult.”
With that in mind, a group of press organizations has started a campaign to try to help, by raising money, collecting equipment from computers to cameras, and creating a training program for the kinds of intricate financial reporting that reconstruction will demand. A second phase will work to set up an investigative reporting project in Haiti.
As a paper that has followed Haiti more closely than any foreign press, The Herald helped to launch what’s being called the Haiti News Project. If you’re concerned about Haiti’s future, it’s a topic you’ll want to know about and perhaps become a part of.
A long list of groups have joined the effort, include the American Society of News Editors, the Inter American Press Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Poynter Institute, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Unity: Journalists of Color, Poder magazine and The Herald.
The challenge for this consortium will be finding ways to support Haitian media without in any way supplanting it. For all the attention by the foreign press, the reporting that will shape events within the country will need to come from local coverage.
The Haiti media have never been strong. In a country where illiteracy is common, radio is the chief means of communication. The two daily papers, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, while influential, reach only a portion of the people. Much of the nation’s press corps of some 300 journalists is made up of freelancers who hold other jobs to get by.
And yet when you talk with Haitian journalists, you hear a clear commitment to the work ahead.
“We’re picking up, little by little,” said Jean-Max Chauvet, whose family operates Le Nouvelliste, which resumed publication even though its building is still being repaired. “We’re going to do the best we can with what we have.”
Joe Oglesby, the former Miami Herald editorial page editor who is the coordinator of the Haiti News Project, has been thoroughly impressed by what he’s seen.
` `Some of the Haitian journalists don’t even have a place to live, but they’re back at work,” he said. “It’s really pretty heroic.”
As the U.S. prepares to donate billions of dollars in aid, we should consider the importance our own Constitution places on a strong press. If Haiti is to become a stable country, a healthy and independent media capable of holding authorities accountable will be a critical part of this story.
For more about the Haiti News Project, Haiti News Project on Facebook. You can reach Joe Oglesby, the project’s coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 305-608-2333.