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#1572: Reporting on Haiti: Chamberlain comments (fwd)


Guy makes a good point about the excessive repeating of background in US
media foreign stories.  OK, so most of us here know that background, so
need it less, but even so...

As a European journalist, I'm sometimes appalled at how little new or
original reporting there is on Haiti in the major US written press these
days.  It's more difficult to get away with that in the "quality" press in
Europe.  "Tell us what it's like over there," is the frequent plea of
editors to reporters, indicating they want more than just the surface
political grind.  Several pieces posted here recently from the US press
(not by Garry, who reminds us in his post of the real function of
background) have been astonishing -- almost 100% easily-copiable
"background."  A disgrace.  The news agency (AP, Reuter) stuff is rather
different in that it serves as "raw material" for newspapers and there are
not such great demands of investigative or descriptive journalism on it --
it simply records the events, while the newspaper reporter is expected to
come up with something more revealing and in-depth.  As a European
newspaper editor would say if his reporter served up little or nothing
original: "Look, we can get that off the agencies -- you weren't sent down
there to write that sort of stuff."  (Though there are bad or ill-informed
editors who wouldn't know the difference in a hurry).

However this doesn't mean writing the kind of pretentious, long-winded,
narcissistic rubbish that the big US glossies often print under the
pretence that the author is a "big-name writer" (or wannabe).  All that's
required is good, solid, thoughtful, new, even amusing reporting about life
in "the most interesting country in the Western hemisphere."  BTW, you
could hadly call writing in the European press "provincial and esoteric." 
An odd idea.

All that said, let's be careful with our press-bashing, which is usually
marked by a wilful refusal to learn or understand the simple mechanics and
psychology of the journalist's trade and by a refusal to believe there's
any other country except Haiti to report on (and therefore that unlimited
space is available).

But indeed, where's the story on how cocaine has transformed the quality of
life in the Rep. of Port-au-Prince (and elsewhere) ?  It's not an easy
story, partly because there are more rumours and hard-to-establish facts
about the subject than any other, for reasons of simple human imagination,
of necessary secrecy because it's illegal, because such huge sums of money
are involved, and of course because of threats of violence to those who
talk.  But there are ways round some of this which can still produce a
perfectly interesting story (though not the "complete" one).

As for The Phrase, it's deduced from the annual statistics the usual
international organisations produce for all countries.  These can be flawed
and are sometimes contadictory (partly through different accounting methods
and time periods).  In recent years, as informal (non-budgetable or
recorded) economic activity increases everywhere, the figures can be even
further skewed.  But other stabs at assessment do include such activity as
far as possible.

However, to those who know the western hemisphere, there isn't much doubt
about Haiti's ecocomic status.  You can find as bad or worse slums in other
countries, but the combination of those and the lack of overall economic
development, lack of non-human natural resources or lopsided income
distribution is almost certainly unmatched.

        Greg Chamberlain