The US first imposed an economic embargo in Haiti in the aftermath of the 1991 military coup d’etat that forced Jean-Bertand Aristide into exile. As is often the case with these things, the embargo never managed to dislodge the intended target — the military at the time — from power. It would take 20,000 US soldiers to do that later on.
What the embargo managed to do was to make the life of ordinary Haitians extraordinarily difficult. One consequence was periodic shortages of gasoline, which created long lines of people waiting for the few buses able to operate and pedestrians often left to hitchhike.
I was in Haiti during one such shortage, driving from an interview downtown en route to my hotel up in the hills in Petion-Ville, when I saw a throng of students hitching a ride. I stopped and five hopped aboard my rental SUV.
They looked at me curiously, trying to figure out who I was. Finally, one girl posed the question: “What do you do?” “I’m a journalist,” I answered. “But what else do you do,” she shot back. The second question puzzled me. “Nothing else,” I said.
Soon enough, I would come to understand her puzzlement clearly. In Haiti, journalism does not allow you to drive expensive cars and make a decent living. Most of the reporters moonlight as public relations consultants for politicians, businesspeople and entertainers, often creating conflicts of interest.
Recently, The Haitian Times has been interviewing young journalists to bolster our presence in Haiti. We asked the candidates about their intended future in journalism. One woman responded that she didn’t have any future in it, that journalism is a waystation to something better. She couldn’t fathom the notion of being a journalist as a profession that could take her beyond improving her communication skills.
The interview was yet again another sobering reality for me that the profession that I have loved so dearly and am so passionate about is an afterthought in my beloved homeland. In the U.S., where journalists — despite often joking that we don’t do it for the money since our salary is paltry compared to what doctors, lawyers, and other professionals make — are able to make a living. Some of the lucky ones can become millionaires. Not in Haiti.
Changing the Haiti narrative: media edition
At the Haitian Times, we are committed to changing that dynamic because we strongly believe that if Haiti is serious about joining the democratic community, it needs a robust and functioning media ecosystem. One that doesn’t rely on the mis-, dis- or false information echo chambers on WhatsApp groups these days that pass for journalism.
In a few months, we will launch a rigorous month-long training program to teach aspiring Haitian journalists the tools they need to practice the craft of journalism. In this multimedia program, we will explore the core elements of a story, writing, reporting and the ethics of journalism. We will train participants to use their smartphones to create articles, videos and photos.
At the end of each cohort, we will hire the best among them. Beyond meeting our immediate needs, this program will ultimately ensure that there is a pool of qualified talent for the Associated Press, The New York Times, Le Monde and a slew of international media outlets to rely on so that they can cover Haiti adequately.
Why Haiti needs a strong media
Back in the 1990s, a foreign correspondent could count on the local media in Haiti to help tell the story accurately. But over the years, the journalism landscape has been a casualty of Haiti’s turmoil as decent journalists joined the hundreds of thousands who left the country seeking a better life.
The effect of that migration has been laid bare during these recent moments when the world’s attention has turned toward Haiti. The foreign journalists don’t have anyone to turn to. But they are expected to submit their work for publication. And so they do, albeit not fully completely.
In 2021, we fielded emails daily from people bitterly complaining about the mainstream media’s coverage of Haiti. But understand: Few journalists are experts in a subject. We rely on actual experts or sources on the ground for information, and we focus on making complex issues simple so that a broad audience can understand.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get it right. In my experience in Haiti, those who are knowledgeable and insightful prefer to keep their silence, to the detriment of the information needs of the country.
We know that this is a tough challenge and our attempt at solving this nagging issue doesn’t rest solely on our back. We need every one of you to help get the story of Haiti right and change the narrative.
I’m fortunate to be a Sulzberger Media Leadership Fellow at Columbia University, where I’m sharpening my managerial skills and collaborating with some of the best minds in media. Although only a week in, the program has already opened a new universe and I’m exploring ways to better serve you.
After all, The Haitian Times is about YOU. “Se mem nou mem nan,” as we say in Creole. This is my commitment to righting this ship called Haiti, which has been adrift in the indigo blue Caribbean Sea for far too long.
Doing your part for Haiti
We need you to walk this path. So how can you help? Glad you ask:
- If you run a corporation, foundation, or government entity, consider funding this effort. We have a compelling argument and a solid team to execute our mission.
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- You have no money because you’re just scraping by? I understand, we’ve all been there. Follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletters, which don’t cost a centime.
At about this time last year, we organized a community conversation about the relevance of 1804 in our era. The key takeaway then was: We should all focus on taking both individual and communal steps to begin laying the foundation that will connect Haiti and the diaspora in meaningful and fruitful ways. Having gone through the past year’s events, this advice rings truer now.
The arrogant notion that “I, alone can fix things” is Trumpism at its best dystopian self. Let’s eschew that mindset for what it is and focus on real potential solutions — together.
Last year, the Kellogg Foundation commissioned a study that will ostensibly result in a roadmap on how to do just that. I’m eagerly awaiting its results and recommendations.
As we enter 2022 and celebrate Haiti’s 218 years of independence, I’m optimistic that the dreams of our forefathers can become a reality by ensuring a foreign power can never again impose crippling embargoes and policies that crush, rather than elevate, our beloved, mountainous homeland.