Broken Things
You Had Me at Lady GarGar

Broken Things, Part 2

Why does it matter? We all know there was an earthquake. We all know that tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. How will images that are slightly better, or slideshows that are properly edited, make the situation in Haiti any better?

Photographers, and the media in general, are always a little stumped by this question. To be honest, most Haitians won't see any immediate benefit. Like anything else, the positive affects of a strong media presence will come with time.

To be fair, this is always a tough situation. On one hand you have people accusing the media of being vultures and seeking to profit from this horror. While on the other hand you have victims of the tragedy literally begging journalists to tell the world their story.

It is a huge burden, as a journalist you have to get this right.

First, let's be perfectly clear, take a photographer like Ron Haviv, who is quoted as making at least 15 trips to Haiti in the New York Times Lens blog, a few days back. I'll guarantee you that Ron has never cleared a dime in profit from these trips, and never will. Photojournalists always lose money going to Haiti. Publishers don't care, never will. Even as I write this editors are trying to figure out how to pull people out of there.

Three weeks from now, as far as journalism goes, Haiti will be back off the radar screen where it has been for the last twenty years or so.

This is why it's so important to get it right when you can. As photographers we've got a small window to get a little bit of great work published out of Haiti. We have, maybe two weeks to add another chapter to the permanent record of the ongoing human nightmare that is Haiti.

This is also why poor photography, published poorly is so damaging. People are only going to look so many times. Once their quota on the subject is filled, they'll stop looking. This past week has shown me very few memorable images. I'm afraid as photographers we've missed our window to make a lasting impact on our viewers with Haiti.

What, now we have to wait until the next calamity to get people to pay attention to Haiti again?

This is why aid workers get so upset with the media. We ignore things until people start dying, and by then it's too late to make things right.

I was tasked with telling a small story of one man, his child and the community that supports them (this past week). It's a small story to me, but it's their life. In the end it's a story about a man saving a child, who winds up saving himself.

We as journalists, need to tell this same story about Haiti.


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stephen j. edgar

Thankyou for your post, Ken!
I've been focusing on Haiti for 10 years and have been VERY frustrated by the coverage it's recieved in the last few days especially. Example: On the cover of the Globe and Mail (Canada's National Newspaper) was a shot of Haitian police beating on a looter with the caption, "street justice". I was appalled. Maybe I'm just naive but I think this is quite irresponsible (not the photog's fault here but...)Can we not get past the stigma's and stereotypes here? There are some incredible stories coming out of Haiti that could engage and educate but seem to fall "outside" the box of what we've become use to (ie. what sells).
end of rant.
thanks again!

Brian Vawter

I thank you too, Ken. The so-called news weeklies and so-called newspapers have become nothing more than event bulletins. There seems little or no room for real journalism and story telling any more. Newspapers have left their strengths behind as they attempt, poorly, to use the Internet to compete unsuccessfully with television.

Cameron Davidson

I've been shooting in Haiti since 1999 and am a board member of a medical NGO that operates in central Haiti. I think Damien Winter has shot some amazing images for the New York Times. Stellar in every way.


Here's a take on the topic from slightly different angle from The New Republic...

The money quote: "But if we journalists really believe in this mission, we have a Hippocratic-like obligation to at least do no harm."

david alan harvey


Great post...It has been so noted on Burn and is the best thing I have read so far about the press/photographers covering these kinds of disasters..

Cheers, David

professional photo editing

Great article, at the time of the event, photographers are quite often seen as paparazzis preying on people and their misery, and a few years or decades later these photographs are suddenly a national treasure!

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