Last night, as he raced down the Van Wyck Expressway toward Kennedy Airport, en route to Haiti with a team of six journalists, CJR caught up via telephone with Garry Pierre-Pierre, editor and publisher of the Haitian Times, a Brooklyn-based weekly which serves the Haitian immigrant community in New York City.
Pierre-Pierre said the phone has been ringing off the hook at the Flatbush offices of the Haitian Times, which has become a kind of switchboard for anxious Haitian Americans eager to hear word from relatives in Haiti.
“People have been asking me all kinds of questions, asking about their families,” Pierre-Pierre said. “They’re calling me, I’m calling them. They haven’t been able to tell me anything and I haven’t been able to tell them anything.”
So he decided to go to Port-au-Prince himself.
Though his paper is a relatively small one, Pierre-Pierre has grand ambitions for its role in covering the earthquake, and says the Internet levels the playing field between big legacy news agencies and the immigrant press. A former reporter for The New York Times, Pierre-Pierre plans to publish short vignettes about as many earthquake victims as possible, similar to his old paper’s “Portraits of Grief” series that profiled the 9/11 casualties.
“We are going to go neighborhood by neighborhood, just trying to tell as many human stories as possible,” Pierre-Pierre said. “We don’t have as much manpower or space, but on the Web we have space, and that is where the Internet is going to help us play the same role the big guys are playing.”
Pierre-Pierre says that news reports’ constant mention of Haiti as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere can be cliched at times.
“Even if it was the richest country in the Western Hemisphere, it would be devastated. Look at Louisiana,” he said, referring to the destruction that the failed levee system wrought in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Pierre-Pierre gave an interview to WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer yesterday, explaining more about Haiti’s history, ecosystem, and infrastructure.
With less than twenty-four hours to plan his team’s arrival in Haiti, and little information coming in from the ground there, Pierre-Pierre said the trip will start out as a fact-finding mission. He and his team planned to fly to the neighboring Dominican Republic and gather supplies there before entering Haiti. Unsure of the condition of the apartment he owns in Port-au-Prince, he doesn’t know where they will set up their newsroom, or how long he will stay.
Once there, Pierre-Pierre will try to contact his paper’s newly hired Port-au-Prince correspondent, from whom he has not yet heard, and will attempt to find survivors with family in New York, posting dispatches online as often as possible.
And he has a few family and friends to check on himself. “My uncle, my cousin, my niece my nephew and my friends — I have a lot of dear friends there.”Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.