Covering a tragedy

How does a small local paper cover the world's biggest story?
By ADAM REILLY  |  January 20, 2010

1001_forry_main
GETTING IT DONE: Boston Haitian Reporter Managing Editor Bill Forry and his wife, State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, normally keep their marriage and business separate, but have teamed up to help bring attention to the Haitian earthquake.

Haiti earthquake resource guide.

Aftershock: More than 1500 miles from the epicenter of the Haitian quake, its effects rippled through Boston's teeming Haitian community. By Chris Faraone.

Disaster, then détente: Politically speaking, Hurricane Katrina this was not. By David S. Bernstein.

Quake response: Boston organization fighting good fight in Haiti. By Jeff Inglis.

The earthquake that ravaged Haiti on January 12 posed a major challenge for the Boston Haitian Reporter, the lone English-language outlet focused on Boston's sizable Haitian community. The quake and its aftermath were of vital interest to the Reporter's core audience, but local, national, and international media were already tackling the story with resources that the Reporter simply didn't have. (The Boston Globe, for example, sent four staffers to Haiti to report, take photos, and shoot video footage.) How, then, could the Reporter which publishes not daily but monthly, has a circulation of just 6000, and relies on a handful of dedicated news contributors — compete?

At first, says Managing Editor Bill Forry during a recent interview at his Dorchester offices, "We didn't know how to do it — we just started doing it." (Forry, it's worth nothing, is Irish-American; his Haitian-American brother-in-law Will Dorcena used to be the Reporter's publisher, but left the paper in 2003.) "We couldn't reach relatives in Haiti, and we couldn't reach friends. So in lieu of that, we started monitoring the situation on Facebook and Twitter — we have extensive sources online who are Haitian-American. Once people began getting through to Haiti, we were able to verify what they were hearing and put it up. And the site [bostonhaitian.com] quickly became a place where people were able to share information."

Case in point: the dispatches of Richardson Innocent, a Dorchester High alum and former Aftershock: More than 1500 miles from the epicenter of the Haitian quake, its effects rippled through Boston's teeming Haitian community. By Chris Faraone.sales rep for the Reporter (the parent company of which, Boston Neighborhood News, Inc., also owns the Dorchester Reporter, the Mattapan Reporter, and the Boston Irish Reporter). Forry and Innocent have been friends since high school; last month, Innocent moved back to Haiti to help his cousin build a rice mill. Now, in the aftermath of the quake, he's become both a first responder and a de facto foreign correspondent, offering oral accounts of life on the ground, post-quake, that Forry turns into heady glimpses of the current realities in Port-au-Prince:

For the third consecutive night, Richardson Innocent will rest his head tonight underneath a tree in Delmas, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. There's a machete and a chisel close by his side. Clustered around him [are] his cousin, Norton, and a frightened family he has known for only a few weeks. . . .

"Every morning, all the young guys in the neighborhood get up and hit the streets right away, we go through the rubble and we try to get people out. . . . The bodies are decaying and there's no real aid from anyone yet. We're doing everything by hand ourselves. . . . "

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