SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



For reporters, covering natural disasters can be a unique challenge

By Billy O'Keefe

By Samantha Delgado
As a Haitian man waited in a long line, he hoped to reach the front before the scarce water disappeared. With parched lips, he spoke calmly to NPR reporter Carrie Kahn of his hardships and the constant fear of not getting enough food or water for his family.

haitinewsproject.wordpress.com

haitinewsproject.wordpress.com

This man was an electrical engineer who put himself through school and was self-taught in English and Spanish. He showed no signs of emotion until he told Kahn that since he graduated two years ago, he had been unable to find a job.
“It was the lack of hope he had in his country that brought him to tears,” Kahn said.
On Tuesday, Kahn and Jacqueline Charles, a Caribbean/Haiti correspondent for The Miami Herald, will speak at the Society of Professional Journalists’ convention about ongoing coverage of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January.
In the midst of a tragedy such as an earthquake, reporters face challenges they normally wouldn’t come across in day-to-day coverage, Kahn said.
“We had to prepare because we didn’t know if there was going to be food or water there,” she said.
Haiti provides little infrastructure so reporting there is a challenge, Kahn said.
“Everything is really expensive too, which is counterintuitive, considering how poor of a country it is,” she said.
In addition to high prices, traffic and communication are other obstacles reporters must overcome in Haiti. According to Kahn, it takes about three hours to get from one side of Port-Au-Prince, the capital city, to the other. Also, since the earthquake, satellite phones are imperative because there is no central communication.
Choosing the right equipment is essential when covering post-natural disasters, said Kahn. Take the best equipment, but make sure it is the lightest, because walking is inevitable.
Preparing yourself emotionally is equally important, according to Kahn.
“Everywhere you went there were horrible stories,” said Kahn. But since she was facing very tight deadlines, she added, there was not much time to allow herself to be affected by the tragedy.
Kahn is also concerned with the diminishing interest in Haiti’s welfare as more and more time passes.
“The biggest way to keep the story going is to follow the money,” Kahn said.
Reporters focusing on a local angle should keep in mind that American charities continue to reach out to Haiti, she said.
To hear more about Kahn and Charles’ coverage of the Haiti earthquake and useful tips on how to cover other natural disasters, attend the SPJ session “Haiti Earthquake: Covering the Tragedy With No End in Sight,” which will be held Tuesday at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Wilshire A, 9-10 a.m.




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