Haiti quake offers lessons about role of digital, traditional media, says new Knight Foundation report

One year ago today, on Jan. 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake rocked the nation of Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people and leaving millions more homeless. Today, less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, and about a million residents remain without homes, according to GlobalPost.

In the aftermath of the quake, the news media played an important part in helping locate survivors, and in some cases, even raising questions about the role of journalists in a disaster as they became part of the stories they were covering.

Now, one year later, as Haiti struggles to rebuild, a new report offers insights into the media's lessons learned from one of the largest ever humanitarian responses to a natural disaster.

"Lessons from Haiti," the report produced by Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC), with support from Internews and funding from the Knight Foundation, critically examines the role of communications during the crisis, and offers recommendations for better utilizing the media in future disaster recovery efforts. New media and technologies, in particular, were used in unprecedented ways, the report said.

"In the weeks after the crisis, Haiti quickly became a real world laboratory for several new applications, such as interactive maps and SMS texting platforms," wrote Anne Nelson and Mayur Patel in a KnightBlog post about the report. "In the aftermath of the quake, these tools were used for the first time on a large scale to create dialogue between citizens and relief workers, help guide search-and-rescue teams and find people in need of critical supplies."

Still, the report cautions that the use of new media technologies -- which sometimes were unsuccessful -- did not replace traditional media, as radio remained the most effective communications tool during the disaster.

The report, which offers first-hand accounts from Haitian journalists, media workers, humanitarian organizations and others involved in the relief efforts, is available in English, French and Creole.

Other Related Headlines:
» NPR (Images of Haiti, days after the earthquake and now)
» Reporters Without Borders (Revival of journalism lags behind media reconstruction)

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.