Immediately after New York City’s lockdown orders went into effect in mid-March, Haitian Times founder and editor Garry Pierre-Pierre held a virtual meeting with his staff: “This is the moment that The Haitian Times was founded for,” he remembers telling them, “because if we don’t tell the story of the Haitian community, nobody will.”
They got to work reporting on how the coronavirus was decimating New York’s Haitian community, which includes many health workers. “We realized that Haitians were dying like flies, and I’m not exaggerating,” Pierre-Pierre said, noting that a high incidence of underlying conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes made the community particularly vulnerable. The English-language news website published stories on how Haitians as Black immigrants are doubly hit, even if data is not yet available to confirm what they were seeing; on Haitian restaurateurs finding ways to adapt their businesses, and Haitian-led immigrant organizations that feared they were being sidelined in relief efforts.
Reporting on a Haitian community in crisis has been a familiar role for Pierre-Pierre since he founded the media outlet 20 years ago, but these days he feels The Haitian Times is better able than ever to offer in-depth community-based coverage. After years of retrenching for financial reasons, the outlet boasts a robust digital presence averaging 150,000 unique views a month and the New York City government is supporting the website with advertising for the first time. In addition, the site secured reporting grants this year through the Pulitzer Center and Report for America, which enabled it to step up coverage.
“The past two years we have had an amazing amount of growth,” said Vania André, Haitian Times board chair who recently joined non-profit newsroom THE CITY as its communications and marketing director. “If you’re such a small niche publication you don’t have access to resources. We have gotten a number of grants to help us support our funding for our reporters. That was refreshing. People do appreciate us, regardless of how small we are.”
The Haitian Times has also used social media to reach unprecedented audiences. By far their most viewed content was a Unity Festival fundraiser, featuring Haitian musicians including Wyclef Jean. For years, Pierre-Pierre hosted a successful Kreyolfest, an annual music festival in Brooklyn, which typically drew 10,000 to 20,000 attendees. More than 350,000 watched the Unity Festival broadcast virtually on May 17 and it has so far raised more than $60,000 for relief efforts. Some of their nearly 20,000 Facebook followers cheered the effort: “Good job Haitian Times,” “This is dope.” And Haitian Times jumped in too: “That’s Right!! L’union Fait La Force!????????”
Pierre-Pierre founded The Haitian Times two decades ago after climbing the rungs at mainstream newspapers, eventually arriving at The New York Times. But he felt frustrated he could not provide more in-depth coverage of his community for Haitian Americans like himself who felt closely connected to both sides of their identities. While many Haitian outlets existed in New York, they targeted his parents’ immigrant generation more than his own. In addition, reflecting diaspora home country politics, outlets were highly polarized. The most popular ones also tended to be radio. “In Haiti the rate of illiteracy was very, very high so people connected more to radio,” said Ricot Dupuy who is the host of Radio Soleil, also based in Brooklyn. “There is that relationship with the receiver that Haitians carry with them overseas.”