Haiti, Up Close From a Distance
February/March 2010

by Beverly Spicer

photo by Eli Reed

The aftermath of Haiti's January 12 earthquake has a déjà vu quality, reminiscent of desperate days after Hurricane Katrina. Once again, the world was transfixed on suffering, hope and despair, so much so that electronic broadcast of such coverage has now been dubbed "disaster porn."

Information hounds searched participating media sources that had been available during Katrina plus news ones (like Twitter) that, utilized together, form a perception of events. Focus on Haiti—in our living rooms.

Whether images of such an event qualify as disaster pornography or a way to join hearts and minds in compassion depends on who is watching, but all who were inclined to follow unfolding events knew where to look when tragedy struck.

Compared to the Internet, choices on TV were mainstream and limited. CNN provided a raw and somewhat resonant coverage in the first few chaotic days, especially late at night, but I found by day 5 or so, coverage suddenly was repetitive and slick, more sanitized and controlled. C-Span was a good source for press conferences, and I looked to NewsHour, BBC-TV for less sensationalism and star power in their coverage. I surfed back and forth between the other cable news channels to fill in the picture.

Regarding TV coverage, Harper's published an item on January 26 in its Weekly Review that's worth repeating:

"CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta was left the only doctor at a Haitian field hospital after the U.N. forced a Belgian medical team to evacuate; Anderson Cooper was filmed carrying a bleeding boy away from a crowd of looters after the boy was struck in the head by a concrete block; and the media questioned whether it was appropriate for journalists in Haiti to be wearing tight T-shirts on air."

We all witnessed those things.

Electronically, I read online newspapers and opinion digests both national and international, searched image galleries and photo blogs, used Google News, Google Images, and YouTube. I signed up for a daily alert from Google results on "Haiti" and followed #Haiti on Twitter.

Amid the coverage of the tragedy there were many scenes of hope, and once again the media inspired charitable donations. As of January 31, the telethon "Hope for Haiti" alone raised more than $66 million for relief efforts.

I have not looked at one traditional newspaper or print magazine.

By coincidence in the days before the earthquake in Haiti, I had been in touch with the family of Ansel Herz, an independent, multimedia journalist who self-assigned to Port-au-Prince in September. For 24 hours after the quake, there was no communication from him. It was hard not to fear the worst, but after that first day he surfaced in interviews on CNN, then BBC, twice for PBS NewsHour, and later DemocracyNow, Parts 1, 2, and 3, Sky News, FSRN, NYT Lede Blog and others.

International news media working together with local independent journalists allowed the reportage to develop cogently and comprehensively. I was gratified to see a cooperative effort between mainstream and independents, for instance, as evidenced by widespread broadcast of reports from 21-year-old Herz. This contrasted favorably against the restriction and exclusiveness we see asked of embedded journalists in war zones.

Here is a sampling of images that strike me as the best from the aftermath in Haiti. In them you can see the way events have evolved from a stunned people in the initial confusion and makeshift rescue efforts with few tools or supplies, to the spontaneous self-organization of survivors and caregivers, the relatively hasty collection and burial of the dead, and finally to the arrival of international response teams offering sophisticated relief.

The New York Times: "A Photo Gallery" (Jan. 12-22)

CNN: "Haiti earthquake: Photos"

Take your pick from daily entries on the NYT LENS blog, containing reporting, firsthand accounts, photos and video:

The Times Online: Images by photojournalist Chris Harris

FRANCE 24: "Haiti: The Long Road to Recovery":

An inflatable hospital was opened by Médicins Sans Frontières on January 25, reported the next day in the Times Online, "Haiti: Inflatable Hospital Arrives." A photo gallery of its assembly:

DemocracyNow offers an archive of almost 70 audio/visual reports and blog posts between January 13 and February 1:

Finally, Mediahacker is the Web site of independent journalist Ansel Herz. In Port-au-Prince during the earthquake, he has followed the situation in Haiti from day 1, often with little electricity and damaged equipment. Click on the logo to enter.

Even with the field of journalism in great distress and massive upheaval in the newspaper industry, still—maybe even more than ever—we are getting the news. The conclusions we draw are not set in stone. And as long as there are images, we can still see for ourselves, up close and from a distance.

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.

blog comments powered by Disqus

E-Bits was conceived to display and discuss digital phenomena proliferated and popularized on the Internet. These phenomena consist of links and images found on the World Wide Web. We make every effort to discover and attribute specific credit where the creator is known. In many cases it is difficult if not impossible to determine identification, so we ask our readers for help in that process. Our intent under Fair Use is to discuss, inform and celebrate the digital medium as the outlet for creativity that it is. If we display any material with which the source is uncomfortable, we will remove it immediately upon notification. The Digital Journalist and the author claim no copyright ownership of any video or photographic materials appearing herein.