Jan. 12, 2010 will be remembered as the day tragedy struck the Caribbean island of Haiti. As news of this 7.0 magnitude earthquake tore through the country, the rest of the world watched and waited for details of this catastrophe. News of this occurrence rippled through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook like waves of a tumultuous current of information. One local newspaper made a quick decision to participate in this crisis in hopes of disseminating information from Haiti to the large population of Haitian-Americans in Massachusetts seeking answers about the whereabouts of their family and state of their native land.
The Boston Haitian Reporter saw the chaos surrounding the Greater Boston area as people searched for news of their relatives and immediately encouraged people in Haiti that had access to any form of communication, to relay that information onto their website. They instantly implemented a more convenient and consumer-friendly blog that helped alleviate the stress, confirmed family members that were alive and be the premier source of news for most Haitians residing in New England and other areas of the country.
Started in 2001, the Boston Haitian Reporter is a monthly newspaper that serves as a publication for and by the Haitian-American communities in New England. The editorial aims at bridging the gap between Haitian-born immigrants and the younger generations of the Haitian youth.
“There was a need for a publication that addressed issues in Boston and it was not happening in print but on radio and TV, that was not accessible to everyone,” Bill Forry said.
Forry comes from a line of family-owned publications that circulate throughout New England. The Dorchester Reporter and Mattapan Reporter, both community based newspapers, were launched in 1983 by Forry’s parents, Ed and Mary Forry, and are both owned by the Boston Neighborhood News, Inc. In 1990, the Boston Irish Reporter was another addition by the Forrys and is an Irish-American monthly newspaper that focuses on issues in the Irish community.
Another reason for the commencement of this publication was to cater to the political interests of Haitians and address U.S. government policies that directly affected the Caribbean country.
Forry said that most people in power at the federal level are not Haitian and there was a big disconnect between the US government and Haitians. The use of the ethnic newspaper served as a “vehicle to address” the needs of the people.
The Reporter is distributed freely throughout highly populated areas of Haitian residents throughout Boston such as Mattapan and Dorchester and written in English. Steve Desrosiers, who works as a contributing editor for the Reporter in the Arts section, explained that “all the previous Haitian newspapers have been written in Creole and didn’t cater to young kids or to Americans who might have an interest about learning about Haitian culture… This particular newspaper gets advertisers who are non-Haitian to be invited into the conversation.”
In addition, the paper employs professionals in the Haitian Diaspora to write about the history, struggles, challenges and events of the Haitian experience in Boston.
Online news sites like the Reporter and CNN.com provided a general account of the suffering, deaths and displacement of the Haitian citizens to the nation and many Haitian-immigrants and those of Haitian descent could only pray and await more information. Back home in Boston, Haitian-Americans and immigrants account for over “55,000 of the general population according to the 2006-2008 US Census surveys” and they have become one of the largest minority groups in Massachusetts.
Forry went into full action and encouraged people in Haiti and others traveling to Haiti to share their experience. He contacted Richard Innocent, a former advertising salesman for the Reporter who was in Haiti working on a project to build a rice mill, when the earthquake struck. Innocent said that Forry constantly called him to get news on the situation in Haiti “on ground.”
“It felt like a bomb being dropped… homes down, people in disarray. Fear was the biggest thing there,” Innocent said. He would call Forry and give instant updates about Haiti and Forry would put the information on the website.
Several days later after the quake, Forry also came into contact with Jimmy Lebon, a Haitian-American from Boston who had to travel to Haiti to confirm the death of his brother. He flew to Haiti on Jan.15 and returned to Boston on Jan.25. Throughout his time there, he managed to get email access on his phone and sent a daily account of his time in Haiti to his contact list. He agreed to share his account and his video posting with the newspaper and it was submitted on the website. Hundreds of people came to the website to get an eyewitness account.
“We were the outside that had an inside look,” Lebon said.
Other people like Sophia Pierre, a Haitian-American and Northeastern alumni, searched for answers for the whereabouts of her grandmother and relied heavily on the Reporter’s website for more information on the status of her country.
“The website gave me a great deal of insight on what was going on in Haiti and it felt more personal than other sites.”
The Phoenix published an article that praised the effective blogging of the tragic earthquake on the Reporter’s website. The Phoenix said the Reporter offered “oral accounts of life on the ground post-quake, that Forry turns into heady glimpses of the current realities in Port-au-Prince.”
The Reporter’s website was a recent addition to the publication and was running for about a year. With sections like, the news, opinion, editorial, arts, history, people, politics and Ruth’s recipes and widgets like Haiti rewired, the live updates, Twitter feed and blogs was a great addition to the site.
Seven months prior to the catastrophe, Forry and his staff redeveloped the site to give it a better platform. The site was not used as a sole source of distributing the paper until the advent of the earthquake.
“There wasn’t a lot of planning– it almost happened organically,” Forry said.
Forry felt it was also important to contact people and organizations in Boston that helped in the relief efforts.
Nancy Rachel Rousseau, who works for the Urban College of Boston and event planner, submitted her experience online. She wrote “Reflections on the ‘Hibernian Miracle’ and its follow-up” that showed the efforts made by Bostonians to aid in the crisis. Rousseau was impressed by the general help Haiti received through donations.
“It was overwhelmingly emotional to see 2,500 people attend a Haitian benefit event,” she said.
Currently, the Boston Haitian Reporter continues to circulate throughout the state and with their impressive coverage of Haiti, they will remain a premier source for Haitians and those interested in the culture for New England. The newspaper continues to provide post-quake updates and has implemented a person locator to help loved ones find missing relatives. Readership and viewership is higher but according to Forry, it’s not about being a big revenue producer but about being a “voice for the community.”
For slideshow on the minority perspective, views from minority students on the effectiveness of ethnic-based newspapers, click here.