Two Years After Quake, Investigative Fund Launches in Haiti

Jan 192012
  • Knight Fellow Kathie Klarreich (seated at desk, right) addresses the first meeting of 13 journalists selected for the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti. (Photo by Jon Bougher)

  • The group engaged in passionate debate about some of the standards and expectations for investigative journalists in Haiti. (Photo by Jon Bougher)

  • Only one of the journalists selected for participation in the program is female, a statistic Klarreich is hoping will change in the future. (Photo by Jon Bougher)

  • The fund offers an opportunity for reporters to focus on one story for an extended period, researching the issue, gathering information and conducting multiple interviews for an in-depth report. (Photo by Jon Bougher)

The Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti officially launched this month – almost two years to the day after the January 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated the small island country. The first meeting brought together 13 journalists – representing seven projects and chosen from a pool of applicants – for the two-month pilot project that will coach and guide them to complete their investigations. To say it was exciting is an understatement, almost like saying the crumbling capital city of Port-au-Prince still has “a few steps to go” in its efforts to recover.

By design, the investigations all center on tracking aid. Several journalists are looking at problems at specific camps where displaced residents have been living; others, at individual aid agencies, some of which have received – and spent – enormous funds with little to show. Two others focus on sanitation and sewage, while another focuses on rubble removal. Only one of the reporters is a woman, a ratio we hope to improve down the road.

The nature of the investigations, as well as the experience of the journalists selected by the panel of three judges, varies greatly. What they have in common is something that is often lacking for Haitian reporters: a vision of the watchdog role they as journalists can play in society, particularly during this reconstruction period.

Of the group, the three full-time journalists are acutely aware of the constraints of mainstream media, where they are frequently under pressure to turn at least one story every day and rarely have more than a few hours to devote to any single piece. Their participation in this pilot project, as well as the support of their bosses, shows a determination to break that mold. The others, some recent college graduates who have never been employed as reporters, are determined to create a movement of journalists who want to set a new standard.

The morning session included presentations by the journalists on their particular projects. Suddenly, the authors of the seven investigations – some of whom had never met before – began exchanging ideas and resources. Then we had a session on ethics – discussing whether journalists have to identify themselves as journalists, how to protect sources and whether sources should be anonymous,. It was the kind of heated debate that happen in newsrooms all over the world.

Throughout the project, the journalists meet weekly with a coach, either me or Jane Regan, who is launching and running this project with me. Jane is also the co-founder of “Haiti Grassroots Watch,” which keeps a close eye on reconstruction issues – so she is already well-acquainted with the issues here. By the end of February, we’re hoping to publish seven reports. If all goes well, The Fund for Investigative Journalism will become a permanent institution. From there, who knows? Perhaps we can expand it to the "Caribbean Investigative Fund,” a step that would show the rest of the region that Haiti has what it takes to be a leader. Meanwhile, it is one step at a time. This first step, however, was a monumental one.

Editor's note: Kathie Klarreich is a Knight International Journalism Fellow working in Haiti to track the flow of aid funds and help Haitian journalists investigate the reasons behind the slow recovery from the earthquake two years ago. This month, with support from individual donors and International Media Support (IMS), a global non-governmental organization (NGO), Klarreich and media consultant Jane Regan launched the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti. The fund covers the training costs and reporting expenses for a select group of journalists. Their in-depth stories on reconstruction and other recovery efforts are scheduled to be published or aired next month.