I’ve been living here for nearly seven months now. This blog is called Mediahacker. Time to reflect on my media work in Haiti, the context in which it’s taking place, and try something new.
- Haiti has fallen off the radar.
When I was in the States last month I asked my friends if they saw Haiti in the news very much. The answer was no every time.
Before the earthquake, I had some difficulty convincing editors – in the alternative media, mind you – that stories about mass protests on the streets of Port-au-Prince were newsworthy, relevant to their audiences. For now, that resistance is gone. Haiti still has a much higher profile now than it did last year.
But how long will that interest and visibility last? Will it take another natural disaster (a “hyperactive” hurricane season starts in a few days) to keep Haiti in the headlines? The hundreds of journalists who descended on Haiti in January to capture images of people crawling out of the rubble, then mostly went home the following month – will they repeat the ritual once more? Does anyone else find that repulsive? How can they live with themselves? At what point do these media lose whatever credibility with the public they have left?
- The reason I’m here is to help keep Haiti on the radar. But at times I feel invisible.
To their credit, the The Associated Press, National Public Radio, the New York Times, and CNN still have correspondents or stringers on the ground here – maybe a few others. Just CNN covered Monday’s demonstrations while they were happening, managing only a short article saying little more than, “CNN crews heard gunshots and saw tear gas seen in the downtown area.”
The UN published a terse apology the following day for its peacekeeping troops’ intrusion on university grounds. The official statement was reported by CNN, AP, and numerous other outlets.
Hours later Inter-Press Service published my story based on eye-witness accounts, going into detail on the university incident and heavy use of tear gas and rubber bullets around displaced families. After their initial denials, UN officials confirmed the accuracy of much of my story on Thursday. No other media picked up the information or followed up with their own stories.
That goes for other alternative media too. John Nichols, an editor for The Nation magazine and a fierce critic of the corporate media, is like many others unaware of my existence. Pointing to the decline in international news, he lamented in a recent speech how the Associated Press Haiti correspondent was the only American journalist based in-country at the time of the earthquake. Totally valid argument, but it’s based on a falsehood that’s been repeated on radio and in print. Pooja Bhatia is a journalist who’s been here for several years. There’s me. Maybe even a few others I don’t know about.
To the readers of this blog, if you don’t mind, consider sharing your interest or involvement in Haiti in the comment section. Connect with each other. If Haiti is missing from your local news or favorite media outlet, contact the editors and request it. Tell them there’s a freelance multimedia journalist who’s interested in working with them, who can do interviews or file reports. I don’t like being invisible.
- There are so many important stories here going unreported by the foreign press.
I just want to make that clear. There are reports in the Haitian press every week of protests in cities throughout the rest of Haiti. There are stories around privatization, (un)accountability of NGOs, police and prisons, positive stories of community organizing and culture – in fact, almost every conceivable subject – that are ripe for documentation and dissemination. I have several stories in progress that I’m trying to finish, plus hours of video footage to edit and share.
I’m glad the New York Times exposed the prison massacre in Les Cayes, but they’ve missed a lot of stories over the past six years and that continues. The paper’s story yesterday focuses on dissatisfaction with the government but doesn’t even discuss the ongoing opposition protests. It does mention anti-Preval graffiti several times. Fail.
If you’re a (citizen) journalist, have the skills or want to learn, and you don’t want to follow the herd, you should be here.
- Twitter is an indispensable part of my toolset.
On March 4, a user-submitted report about an IDP camp that was dismantled in a single night was posted to the crisis-mapping website Ushahidi. It was tweeted by @BaybeDoll. @RAMHaiti re-tweeted it. I follow him, along with a few dozen others. I saw the Ushahidi report and left a comment asking the author to contact me. Within days I found the camp and published what I believe was the first report since the earthquake of a forcible eviction of displaced persons from private land. This is now a huge issue all over Port-au-Prince and I’ll be reporting on it more soon.
I communicated with the Inter-Agency Shelter Cluster over Twitter this week and helped them coordinate the delivery of tents to a destitute camp of at least 60 families in Pernier.
And it was Twitter that alerted me to Monday’s chaos in the downtown area. @DokteCoffee, an American doctor at the General Hospital, tweeted that she was hearing booms and seeing gas and that reached me through word-of-mouth via one of her followers.
My Kreyol comprehension is still not good enough to follow Haitian radio well. Twitter is the next best way, if not a better one, to track breaking and other news in near real-time. It’s a decent social network too. I follow some of my friends from the States and favorite musicians. There’s been a lot of understandable concern over Facebook’s privacy policies lately (really, y’all just noticed this?). Unlike Facebook, Twitter is not a closed environment populated with tons of advertisements. If you’re not twittering, consider starting now. Stick with it and you might find it really useful.
- There’s an overwhelming amount of data flowing from the authorities and NGOs in Haiti. People engaged on this issue should share skills, resources, and make sure nothing important slips unnoticed into the netherzones of cyberspace. Let’s open/crowd-source this up.
When I meet Haitian government, UN, and NGO staff in the field, they tend to be absurdly tight-lipped about their work. They say they don’t want to make a politically incorrect remark, get in trouble with their bosses, or step on someone else’s turf. On Friday one aid worker told me I couldn’t mention his organization (one of the largest here) by name in my reporting, even though it’s public knowledge among everyone in the camp that the group is involved in the resettlement process. No dice, I told him.
On the other hand, there’s a wealth of meeting notes, reports, assessments, and other documents constantly being posted to Oneresponse.info, ReliefWeb and Google Groups where anyone can view them. In almost every document there are nuggets of information that make me say, “Whoa, really?” I highlight those passages, save the documents to my hard drive, and make a mental note. But I can’t follow up on them all.
So here’s the cool part. I’ve collected a bunch of these documents online using a website called crocodoc. When you view the document you can skip to the sections I’ve highlighted using the sidebar. Not only that, but you can add your own comments and annotations – without even registering for an account.
That’s a screenshot of the May 24 JOTC security report (thanks to Alister Macintyre for referring me to it), a passage where it confirms MINUSTAH troops took the laptops and bags of university students on Monday. I’ll be following up with the students soon to see if they got their stuff back. The report also mentions that MINUSTAH peacekeepers conducted over 1,000 security operations in the prior 24 hours and only 5 humanitarian missions. Interesting, right? Another document reveals that the Canadian Red Cross pulled out of building transitional shelters for people at the last moment because its legal basis for construction on those lands was “less than watertight.”
View the list of documents here. I plan to continue uploading and annotating documents as I find them and I’d encourage others to do the same – let me know so I can update the index. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!