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#721: Journalists launch voice for U.S. Haitians (fwd)


Published Monday, October 11, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
 Journalists launch voice for U.S. Haitians by CURTIS MORGAN

 Their numbers are substantial and growing -- some 300,000 in South
Florida and twice that in New York City. Yet Haitian-Americans
 remain an often overlooked ethnic group, registering only faintly on
mainstream media radar. Two journalists, both Haitian-born veterans of
 big city American newsrooms, hope to change that with a small but
ambitious weekly newspaper, The Haitian Times, scheduled to hit stands
in Miami-Dade County, New York City and Port-au-Prince on Oct. 20.

 While there are already two well-established stateside papers covering
Haiti, this one is designed with significant differences, said
 Yves Colon, a Herald reporter and editor taking leave to serve as
editor. For one, its voice will be in English not French or Creole.

 The target audience, said publisher Garry Pierre-Pierre, a former New
York Times and Sun-Sentinel reporter, are people not unlike himself and
Colon: Of Haitian heritage, educated or raised in the States, fluent in
all things American. ``It is the quintessential Haitian-American, a
person who really wants to be Haitian but is also very much part of the
other world,'' Pierre said. Thus, the message in the masthead,
``Bridging The Gap.'' While potential readers are reserving judgment
until they see the product, some believe the paper, if it succeeds,
could be a social milestone. ``I think this is going to fill a vacuum,''
said Jan Mapou, director of Sosyete Koukouy, a Miami-Dade organization
that mounts cultural and arts shows. The two major existing papers
stateside -- Haiti En Marche, published in Miami, and New York-based
Haiti Observateur -- are both mostly French, with limited English
 and Creole. Mapou writes Haiti En Marche's lone Creole page, a column
about cultural events. ``Having a newspaper for the Haitian community in
English, that will cover the whole community,'' he said. ``We have so
many kids that are disconnected with what's going on in Haiti and the
community.'' Ossmann Desir, the lone Haitian-American on the North Miami
council, a city with a large Haitian population, echoed Mapou. ``We have
a Haitian-American community that is increasing every day, and they're
becoming more and more aware of English.'' Author Bernard Diederich, who
published the English language Haiti Sun on the island from 1950 to
1963, also was enthusiastic. While he said major papers like
 The New York Times and The Herald do solid coverage, the country has
many critical and stubborn issues that go unexamined or are reported
with clear political bias by the Haitian press. ``There is a crying need
for this, a real balanced newspaper that has no agenda,'' he said.
 Mike McQueen, chairman of Florida International University's journalism
and broadcasting department, said the paper could become ``a pretty
important voice'' and provide a sense of validation for a community.
 ``Even though Haitians have been in Miami-Dade County for about 20
years, they're still sort of forgotten exiles,'' McQueen said. ``They're
black, but they're not African-American, they're Caribbean refugees but
they're not Cuban or Dominican, and a lot of them aren't refugees.''
 McQueen had a mixed reaction to the English-only decision, saying it
could shut out recent arrivals. But Pierre-Pierre and Colon, who both
immigrated as children, called the choice key to the paper's philosophy
and identity. In Haiti, language is loaded. The upper-class minority
favors French. Creole is the language of the vast poor majority, most of
whom can't read it. Most Haitian immigrants succeed by speaking English.
 ``For us,'' Colon said, ``English is the great equalizer.'' With
Hispanics, language isn't divisive but unifying, he said.
Spanish-speakers also have the benefit of larger populations in cities
like Miami, which often allows new immigrants to thrive, even without
mastering the new language. Scope and approach are the things Colon
hopes will really separate the paper -- an approximately 40-page tabloid
with an Internet site also under development (www.haitiantimes.com) --
from its counterparts. The staple of both French papers is politics, dry
``insider baseball,'' he said. While the paper already has a bureau in
Port-au-Prince, Colon intends to emphasize issues and personalities
stateside, eventually expanding from the New York-Haiti-Miami triangle
into other cities. ``I'm interested in holding up the mirror to the
Haitian community, our successes and our failures to say, `This is who
we are,' '' Colon said. Colon, who has covered Haiti for The Herald and
The Associated Press, said he will strive for objectivity. At the same
time, he hopes to stir passions, a task he admits is difficult, given
the collective cultural experience. ``The perfect word for it is that
Haitians are inured. Haitians have seen so much -- poverty, corruption,
the brutality of their own brothers and sisters -- but there is
 very little reaction to it.'' The bigger challenge will be luring
buyers and advertisers. John Morton, a media analyst and president of
Morton Research in Maryland, said that to last, the paper will have to
leap hurdles. For one, while some ethnic newspapers -- particularly
Spanish-language papers in major cities -- have succeeded, many others
are only ``marginally profitable.'' ``Starting up a new publication is
always fraught with a lot of heavy lifting and usually loses a lot of
money initially,'' he said. ``That's often the problem that keeps these
things from succeeding -- they're undercapitalized.'' Because the
readership is spread across the map, it also may be more difficult to
 attract advertisers, he said. The critical key may be expanding from
Haitian businesses to mainstream advertisers. Both Colon and
Pierre-Pierre agree the venture is a risk but one they say is worth
 it. Investors are committed, Pierre-Pierre said, reaction stateside has
been strong and there's also a large audience in Haiti, a country of
eight million. The paper plans a first run of 40,000 and will ``probably
level off to around 25,000 and work its way up,'' he said. ``This is an
idea whose time has come.''

 The Haitian Times can be reached in Miami at 305-867-1952 and in New
York at 718-852-3900. A special pre-publication subscription offer is
$40 per year. After Oct. 20, that will rise to a still-to-be-determined