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On earthquake's anniversary, Haiti's media recovering

A woman prays in the rubble of the national cemetery in Port-au-Prince today, one year after a devastating eartthquake. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

One year after the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and crippled Haiti's media infrastructure, the country's media have made significant strides toward recovery even as they face enormous ongoing challenges. 

While most news outlets are back in operation, and many journalists are back at work, finances are the top challenge. Advertisers have not fully returned and journalists are earning significantly reduced salaries. "Many radio stations lost a lot of their advertisers after the quake because the businesses couldn't afford to pay for advertising," said Trenton Daniel, a staff writer for The Miami Herald who has reported regularly from Haiti.

Yet radio stations have fared better than print media. Le Nouveliste, Haiti's largest paper, has rebounded and a majority of its staff is back at work. But Le Matin, once Haiti's second daily, has cut staff and scaled back publication.

To fill in the funding and infrastructure gaps left by the quake, a number of international media organizations have come forward. One of these groups is the Haiti News Project, a coalition of media organizations that raised $56,000 to provide equipment and training to journalists while linking them to reporting assignments with the news outlets and NGOs they represent.

Joe Oglesby, the project's coordinator and former editorial page editor of The Miami Herald, believes that without the concerted efforts of international news organizations, Haiti's media landscape would be much worse off today. "We moved from a situation where the future was in serious jeopardy to a situation in which most [outlets] will survive, though in a weakened state."

The biggest challenge for the Haiti News Project has been the country's administrative chaos, which has cost the organization lengthy delays in getting donated equipment to journalists. Nevertheless, the payoff for assisting these journalists is huge, Oglesby said, citing the case of Simon Wendy, a journalist who had watched his girlfriend die after she survived for days trapped under rubble. "The day after he received the computer, he e-mailed me with five or six stories he planned to write. The computer was a lifeline, giving him something to focus on and to live for."

Despite help from abroad, lower salaries and reduced work schedules have pushed journalists such as Claudel Victor to leave the profession. Victor, a 20-year veteran who worked for Le Nouveliste's weekly magazine, Ticket, took a job as the communications coordinator for an organization that helps the elderly. "That's what allows me to live," he told me in a telephone interview.

Still, several journalists said the media have made a quicker recovery than some other Haitian sectors. Now, they said, the ills that plagued the industry before the quake are once again in the forefront: insufficient training, security, and wages.

Clarens Renois, AFP correspondent in Haiti and director of the Haiti Press Network, said the economy is at the heart of the challenges facing Haiti's media. "If the economic situation doesn't improve, the conditions for journalists won't improve," he observed. When I asked him if he thought Haiti's press corps was equipped to cover major stories such as November's presidential elections, he said, "Unfortunately no. There is a problem of training and resources. If a journalist lacks the means to travel 50 kilometers to report on a story, this is a problem."

Despite the shortage of resources, journalists were quick to point out the tenacity and commitment of Haitian journalists who, having lost a great deal in the earthquake, have continued to aggressively report the news. Mario Viau, director of Signal FM, told me that just as before the earthquake, journalism in Haiti is "a very difficult profession. ... There aren't high salaries, and it requires a deep sense of public service." Yet he's optimistic about the future: "We have good hope that things will change and we are working towards this change."

UPDATED: We updated the last paragraph to correct the spelling of Mario Viau's last name.

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