More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism

As we get a little further away from the initial shock of Haiti I’m finding more perspectives on the tragedy and the media’s role in reporting on it. Here are a few links I can recommend that have kept us thinking.

First, a few days ago our friend Scott Strazzante published a beautifully honest post on his blog about his feelings of being a newspaper photographer in Chicago looking out on a world of “big stories”. It reflects the inner thoughts almost all photographers have about their place in the industry, the world and the importance of the work they’re producing.

This was echoed by another talented and thoughtful friend on his blog: Chip Litherland lays out his view on the situation and the importance of the photography emerging from this and other events to his relationship to the world. He has one passage that speaks to his optimism on the importance of the still photographs being produced in Haiti right now:

Soon, headlines will start creeping back to normal type and smaller fonts. Photos will run smaller. Media agencies will pull out of the country. One thing I haven’t felt in a while, though, is a renewed sense of the importance of photojournalism and what we do. I had that thought this morning when I realized I never wanted to watch a television news broadcast again. It’s so watered down, so filtered, so crafted and manufactured it makes me sick. I seek refuge in the glowing screen of my computer and photo galleries, newspapers, magazines and blogs which are putting these photos everywhere. The photos are what people are sharing. Twitter posts about journalists’ posts from the ground. Facebook postings with links to photo galleries. Photos. Not video. Not multimedia. Not a talking head in front of rubble waxing poetic about what a producer saw earlier in the day. Not showing up to the airport, setting up a live shot, saying you’re there covering the story and leaving. Photos. Photos that need no text. Just space to breathe and be seen.

This segues to my rant about American television media and a Washington Post article about the rise of reporter-doctors. Many of us have grown increasingly frustrated with the tactics and presentation of the broadcast media and a situation like this brings out the worst in that institution, insofar as them featuring these acts (performances?) in their broadcasts. I’ve been glancing at CNN’s website a few times since the disaster began and I’m almost certain that there has always been at least one self-congratulatory article or link about the good work (“Anderson Cooper saves injured boy”, “CNN vehicle drafted in rescue”) the broadcast team is doing down there. Are they trying to justify their presence? Are they (subconsciously?) covering their backs from criticism of their presence? Or does their viewership hunger for stories of their pretty reporters helping out, thus feeding ratings… and is this then entertainment (are they actors?)? Of course TV News is in the ratings/entertainment business but are they really playing this out with peoples’ lives in such a crisis? I guess so.

Of course, as with the article above, I am quite happy to see journalists helping out whenever they can (see for instance Christopher Anderson in Lebanon), just keep it the hell out of your ledes and headlines. You are not the story. But it seems this exactly is what the broadcast media is aiming for and it is not a good thing. Especially when so many people get their “news” from these sources, perhaps exclusively.

There are also harder questions to ask, for starters whether or not it is appropriate to arrange a workshop on crisis photography in Haiti. 100eyes founder Andy Levin posted on Sunday his plans to arrange a February workshop in Haiti that will in part “transport food and medicine” and “also offer our services to NGOs who are in need of photographs”. duckrabbit beat us to print with a smart and fair post expressing their outrage and bewilderment at the timing and tact of this proposal. Levin responded to the post with some clarifications, but I am with the majority of commentators on duckrabbit that think this is a bad idea presented even more poorly. They also picked up a metafilter post about burden of enthusiastic but untrained volunteers in Sarajevo that Scott linked to in our first commentary on Haiti (“Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti”). It is an important and informed counter-point (along with many others brought up by duckrabbits’ commentators) to the idea of sending even more photographers, especially untrained and potentially vulnerable ones, to Haiti’s disaster zone.

Our friend Pete Brook at Prison Photography takes up this issue with Levin and many many more topics in the exhaustive post “Staring at Death: Photographing Haiti”. Catch up on the humanitarian and media situation in Haiti, the galleries of images being assembled and the section titled “How many photographers does it take to photograph a humanitarian disaster?” (which runs down the known photographers working there now).

Seriously, visit Brook’s site for the best up-to-date set of links around. We’re indebted.

10 Responses to “More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism”

  1. M. Scott Brauer

    Well done, Matt. Great post.

  2. Pete Brook

    Robert Gumpert ( brought this to my attention:

    BBC Reporters take mother in labour to hospital:

    That’s really getting involved.

    Still, it’s all about how the act was framed …

  3. Cooper Strange

    I have been thinking about these exact topics since it first happened. Most of the news is simply sensationalism, but I really wonder how photography can help. How can photographs move us who are not there to do something? Can they prick our conscience? Can they inspire us to put together medical kits or give to a charity working there?

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  5. Anonymous

    Here’s an idea for somebody who is interested. Its about the ‘rescue’ teams at least in part related to the idea of sensationalism. I was contacted by a nursing agency to go to haiti and make forty and hour to help the poor people of the earthquake. I assure you these agencies make at least twice that although in this case i am not sure who is paying them-uncle sam i guess. These cutthroat nursing agencies are paying the same rate to a nurse in california. My point is is that the agency is not willing to pay any more to a nurse who is going to put themselves at risk to go do humanitarian work while the agency gets the good p.r. while taking no risk and offering no more pay in this crisis to those who do take the risk. Of course one could argue why do this for pay and to that i ask cnn, cbs , nbc, and all the others there why not donate your checks while you are over there to the haiti relief! Steve Jaubert

  6. Haiti: discussions and pictures « Light Documents

    […] dvaphoto offers a thoughtful round-up of various blogs and op-ed pieces. (Both of the above via Joerg Coelberg at Conscientious.) […]

  7. >Re: PHOTO » Blog Archive » More on Haiti

    […] Colberg at Conscientious has posted a couple of very  useful links, to More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism by Matt Lutton on dvafoto and Staring at Death: Photographing Haition Pete Brook’s […]

  8. sgts

    has anyone seen the “roadblocks of bodies” photos of haiti that time photographer joel schwarz reported seeing and photographing ? I’m amazed people can get upset about a model wolf in a shot and not even call schwarz out on this.

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  10. Haiti in the Time of Self-Absorbed Journalism | dvafoto

    […] a post Scott and I wrote in the aftermath of the original Haitian earthquake on January 20, 2010: “More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism”. The central idea that seems to overlap between our warnings and pain about reporters reporting on […]

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