Media lessons learned in Haiti

From testing out new tools (SMS, crowdsourcing) to relying on older ones, Nieman Journalism Lab shows us what the media should learn from Haiti’s earthquake response, one year later.

Nieman‘s Micheal Morisy, using a new report by the Knight Foundation, offers a list of lessons packed with links — it’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a couple snippets:

Radio still Haiti’s dominant medium: In a country with a literacy rate of just 52 percent, traditional newspapers and Internet access would have been of low value even if the presses and power lines hadn’t been knocked out of commission. Inexpensive, resilient, and nearly universal radio access, however, cut past literacy and economic boundaries, particularly since one station, Signal FM, managed to continue operation throughout the crisis.”

For help, text 4636: Despite erratic cellular service (cell towers would often go live for a few hours, followed by hours of silence), SMS text messaging proved an invaluable tool. Even when coverage was down, messages could be queued and then sent when access returned. The first usage was informal, the Knight report states, with local journalists receiving pleas for help or reports from the ground. But local service provider Digicel, collaborating with non-profit InSTEDD, set up a dedicated, free short code service at the number 4636, which was up and running four days after the quake and allowed Haitians to text in reports and even requests for emergency help — even as the system was used by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to broadcast basic shelter, hygiene and security alerts to roughly 26,000 subscribers.”

Morisy also explains how crowdsourcing and crowdmapping (via Ushahidi) were used effectively to communicate on the ground. The Knight report suggests that the role of media in crisis has evolved as well:

“…journalists often played an important role in not just documenting the damage and recovery, but in connecting local communities with information when traditional lines of communication were severely disrupted. Trusted on-air radio personalities switched from delivering hit music to health bulletins, while reporters passed along reports of danger and distress. Radio personality Cedre Paul, the host of “Radio One Haiti,” sent out “prolific Twitter messages that provided real-time updates to his many followers,” Knight reports.”

It was a reminder that news orgs can be both documentor and aid provider.