Incisive and ethical reporting is the end goal. But to reach that goal, media development organizations can’t ignore the financial realities, according to Silvio Waisbord, a professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. Waisbord taught health journalism workshops around Latin America for a decade, covering the basics of health policy, the importance of using multiple sources, and doing more than simply reprinting press releases from the local ministry of health. Reporters left the workshops with a better grasp of the ideal, he said, but no clearer idea about how to achieve it. “At the end of the day, you go back to doing the job you’re expected to do with the resources you have,” Waisbord said. He worried that all he had produced was more frustrated journalists.
“In many countries, the issue is really business management,” he said. “How do you run a successful media organization? How do you handle advertising? Incorporate new online platforms? Structure your business efficiently? Once upon a time, we probably had a better sense of how to get it done in this country.” Many developing-world press freedom enthusiasts, he said, tend to overlook the business side of the media, promoting a lofty conception of journalism without regard for its effects. For decades, Western donors have poured money into media development assistance abroad—most notably in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union—without measuring its impact.
But a 2009 report from a team led by Anya Schiffrin, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, tried to do just that, and could prove instructive as such efforts unfold in Haiti. Her research team interviewed dozens of African editors and reporters and found that after journalism training reporters used less jargon and exhibited more independent analysis, balance, appropriate sourcing, and improved story structure. In the long run, Schiffrin concludes that educational and legal reforms would be critical, but that there could also be more immediate benefits to supporting journalism networks with a common goal.*
To teach such lessons in Haiti, Shaw helped build a coalition of independent journalists, including partnerships with a reporters’ association (AJH), the news agency Groupe Medialternatif, the watchdog-journalism collaborative Haiti Grassroots Watch, and others. An AJH consortium ran trainings to prepare for last year’s elections, and set up two press centers in the provinces, allowing local journalists to work together away from the government and UN facilities on which many rely. There are plans to open another two press centers and to partner with universities to support journalism education and investigative skills training. Through IMS’s side company, Media Frontiers, they are also experimenting with an advertising network called Protore, which sells geo-targeted advertising—ads aimed at wealthier diaspora communities identified by their foreign IP addresses—to boost revenues for media outlets in developing countries.*
Besides IMS, Shaw said there aren’t many long term media development organizations in Haiti right now. But feeling alone isn’t unusual now that most of the international media is long gone. Shaw pointed to a litany of challenges Haitian journalists have faced out of the world’s spotlight: political turmoil in the countryside, the arson attack on a community radio stations, and a threatening remark that President Michel Martelly leveled at a journalist during a televised press conference in March, before he took office. “I think it guarantees the media sector will come under fire. At the same time,” he said, “there are opportunities, as people have been saying, to try and do something new. And I think the media needs to be positively critical, rather than easily cynical.”
Of course, that would be easier with more for Haitians and Haitian journalists to be positive about. “If we had more actual reconstruction, we would have more things to cover,” said Georges Michel of Le Nouvelliste. “We are workers in the kitchen . . . the ovens are burning, but we are still waiting for the ingredients.”