Covering a tragedy

By ADAM REILLY  |  January 20, 2010

The group is increasingly worried about being accosted. . . . Richardson is aware that many convicts are roaming through the streets after the collapse of the city's prison. He met one of them today, a man laboring alongside him in an effort to free buried victims.

"He was joking about it," says Rich. "He said, 'The government's fallen and my record is clean. I'm born all over again.' "

But the Boston Haitian Reporter isn't solely relaying reports from Innocent and others now at the scene of the disaster. The Reporter's post-quake blog is also keeping tabs on important national developments of interest to local Haitian-Americans, such as President Barack Obama's decision to grant temporary protected status to Haitians who are currently in the United States illegally, which will prevent them being deported back to a nation that is, for the moment, severely crippled. And it's suggesting ways readers can help alleviate suffering on the ground — for example, by offering their translating skills for a new, Twitter-driven service (created partly by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media) that connects earthquake victims with emergency assistance.

The Reporter's site also features a Twitter feed, links to various Haitian blogs, and Google's post-quake person locator — all possible thanks to a recent revamp of the site's architecture that was executed by Adam Gaffin, the creator of the civic-journalism site Universal Hub (universalhub.com). Finally, this month's Reporter will amalgamate material from the Web with new content, including post-quake recaps from roughly 20 local Haitian-American leaders.

If the Reporter's handling of the quake is a case study in how small local news organizations can tackle major international stories, it also has a personal resonance for Forry and his wife, State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry. Before Dorcena Forry, who is Haitian-American, was elected to the Massachusetts House in 2005, Forry and his father, Reporter publisher Ed Forry, recused themselves from shaping coverage of the race and hired an outside ombudsman for good measure. But Bill Forry's dual role as editor and political spouse will always be slightly uncomfortable.

Still, this past week, Forry and Dorcena Forry discussed the Haitian situation together on New England Cable News's Broadside and WGBH-FM's Emily Rooney Show (disclosure: I'm a paid WGBH contributor), and helped local news organizations with background info and sources. "Obviously, it's not ideal," says Forry of his joint appearances with his wife. "But it was such a unique confluence of what we both do that we didn't feel awkward about it. We had to get this done."

And despite the quake's grim toll, the events of the past week have Forry feeling newly optimistic about the future of the Boston Haitian Reporter, which was founded in 2001 and has seen its circulation drop precipitously — from 10,000 to nearly half that — in recent years.

"It's been a labor of love," says Forry. "Sales haven't been good the last couple of years, and the other papers definitely subsidize [the Haitian Reporter]. But we've seen, in the last couple days, people calling us to see how they can support the paper. If we want to keep doing this, we're going to need that."

To read the "Don't Quote Me" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/dontquoteme. Adam Reilly can be reached at areilly@phx.com.

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