Putting a new lens on Haiti news coverage

A photo session during the Solidar’IT web-journalism training at RSF Operational Media Centre in Bourdon. By Frederick AlexisA photo session during the Solidar’IT web-journalism training at RSF Operational Media Centre in Bourdon. By Frederick Alexis
Haitian media have an essential role to ensure that Haiti and its reconstruction stay in the news -- now that international attention has faded away while problems remain unresolved. Many media turned to the web to reach a wider audience, especially
towards the diaspora, but challenges persist. A training program specifically designed to form web journalists in Haiti has seen its light in Port-au-Prince.

Solidar’IT is a project that supports Haitian journalism after the earthquake of January 12, 2010. Through the voices of Haitian journalists and the use of web and multimedia tools, it aims to improve awareness about Haiti and its reconstruction.
The web-journalism training program, in partnership with Groupe Medialternatif in Haiti, Solidar’IT is supported by Youphil.com and financed by the Fondation de France, Reporters Without Borders and Unesco.

Among the many effects that goudou goudou has had in Haiti, many media saw their moral role in society strengthened.

“When Port-au-Prince collapsed due to the lack of building rules, we realized that perhaps we journalists had a responsibility too: we had not asked the right questions at the right time,”said Frantz Duval, editor-in-chief of Le Nouvelliste, in an interview last year. “So now we strive to push more those in charge to give the answers the country needs. It’s our role in society.”

However, asking politicians difficult questions is no easy task in Haiti. The new president, Michel Martelly, caused an uproar when he openly held the media responsible for the bad image of Haiti abroad. He urged them to avoid topics like the miseries of post-earthquake Haiti to encourage tourism and investments. In a country where receiving pressure from the State brings memories of severe censorship, this has been taken by some in the media as an attempt to limit their freedom and avoid questioning, (e.g. poor management of reconstruction and aid funds).

In this context, the slow but consistent growth of internet infrastructure and usage provides fertile ground for the amplification of voices and opinions. Since the earthquake, several Haitian media have decided to push more information through the web -- realizing its potential to reach farther out. It is mainly through the web that the diaspora stays connected with the homeland.

From established media whose websites are a way to expand beyond their traditional audience such as Radio Kiskeya, Signal FM, Radio TeleCaribes, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, to newer media outlets specifically designed for the web, such as Haiti Press Network, AlterPresse, Haiti Libre and HaitiNews2000; the internet race is officially launched in Haiti -- albeit access is still clamped down by the low bandwidth and limited infrastructure. Also, a general uncertainty of the future of an online strategy can be felt amongst the media. Building competencies locally and finding a sustainable economic model are the key issues: the web demands additional resources and skills that not all Haitian media have access to. Furthermore, many websites are still created and managed with resources from the US, Canada or France.

Ralph Joseph, reporter at ENDK/Internews, interviews woman at Camp Sainte Anne, Port-au-Prince. Photo by Benoit CassegrainRalph Joseph, reporter at ENDK/Internews, interviews woman at Camp Sainte Anne, Port-au-Prince. Photo by Benoit Cassegrain

The Solidar’IT project was conceived with this context in mind. Last June and July, two training sessions on “Initiation to web journalism” were held at the RSF Operational Media Centre in Bourdon. And since the web is the melting pot of all media, 30 journalists from Haitian radios, newspapers, online media and television participated and shared their experiences. Some of the journalists had already been exposed to the web, some were simply fascinated by the possibilities offered by internet to receive and spread information. They learned how to do research using Google tools and news aggregators, write for the web, edit multimedia reports and use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter for their profession.

“With this seminar, I have adapted myself to this new reality of journalism which fascinates me,” said Walter Cameau, journalist with Le Matin. “News [comes] to you much faster with Twitter!” Walter is now ever-present on the popular micro-blogging site, often the first to spread the news of the day.

The Solidar’IT project has been running for over a year, side-by-side with local journalism. Solidar’IT produced a web-documentary Goudou Goudou: The Ignored Voices of Reconstruction to demonstrate the remarkable work of these journalists in providing a correct view of post-earthquake Haiti, often biased by international NGOs and media. In Goudou Goudou five young reporters explain Haiti to the world, rather than the other way round. They show journalistic passion and the will to contribute to social change in Haiti.

“Before the earthquake, I was not aware that there was so much poverty in my country,” says Ralph Joseph, one of the five journalists featured in the documentary. Ralph is a reporter at Internews/ENDK and passionate student of Sociology. “I can’t promise anything to the people, but I can put my microphone in front of their mouth so that they can express their feelings and frustrations.”

In July, Ralph took part in the web journalism training in Port-au-Prince, which he hopes will be useful to manage his own blog and share his views on his Country’s society and development. One more voice from Haiti that we can now hear thanks to the web.

To find out more about this project, visit goudou-goudou.net or contact giordano.cossu@solidar-it.net

Giordano Cossu is an independent journalist, documentary maker and media consultant. He coordinates the Solidar’IT project.