Program Overview

Patricia Nazario, a "mobile journalist" from KPCC Radio in Los Angeles, reports from the back of a pick up truck

Stories of disasters, natural and manmade, are a staple of journalism in the United States and Latin America, indeed everywhere. Mexico, Central America and the Andean nations are eternally plagued with earthquakes, many with great loss life. Hurricanes annually can strike eastern and western Mexico and any of the countries of the Caribbean basin as well as the U.S. East Coast. Yearly torrential rains can bring flooding, misery and death to many Central and South American countries. Other examples of these human tragedies are of human origin. In this age of the continuing “war on terror,” the United States and its potential vulnerability to terror attacks, its ability to prevent them and its preparedness to deal with them are in the news daily. Similarly, although their countries have not been the scene of attacks on the scale of that of September 11, 2001, many Latin Americans know from bitter experience that terror is a weapon at the disposal of narcotics traffickers and other organized criminal gangs.

People who are threatened by these potential disasters need information to better understand the origins of these events, how to prepare for them when they do occur, and what they can expect – or cannot expect – from authorities and emergency services in their communities and countries when disaster strikes.

To do their job of informing the public, journalists need to be prepared not only in terms of their journalistic and ethical skills, but also emotionally to deal with trauma and its aftermath.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005, even journalists from mainstream U.S. media faced the challenge of their careers to cover this storm and its horrific aftermath.

How well prepared are journalists from the U.S. Hispanic media and the media organizations of Latin America, which typically have far fewer resources, to provide such coverage? This question leads to still others: How much less prepared are the people whom these journalists serve when they confront disaster? How well prepared are the journalists themselves, who are after all among the ranks of “first responders” at the scene of any disaster?

To provide answers to these questions, ICFJ developed an 8-day training program for 14 U.S. Hispanic and Latin American journalists on “Emergency Preparedness: Reporting on Disasters” to improve their skills in reporting and responding to emergency events. The program ran from May 11 to May 18. As a program model, ICFJ drew from its ongoing and successful program “Covering Immigration” – sponsored by the McCormick Tribune Foundation. As such, “Reporting on Disasters” will blend seminar and discussion sessions with access to a broad range of experts and official sources who deal with the effects of disasters, then interweave these program components with the opportunity for the participating journalists to report on disaster-related issues. Like the immigration program, “Reporting on Disasters” will offer the participants the opportunity to forge lasting professional and personal relationships among themselves, their program faculty and ICFJ staff.

The program, in two phases, began in Washington, DC on May 12– the nerve center of the U.S. federal response to disasters of all kinds. The second phase took place on May 14 in Baton Rouge and New Orleans starting, a city still dazed by the effects of Katrina. There, journalists studied continuing hurricane recovery efforts, visit emergency relief agencies and programs stationed in the Gulf Coast region since the storm. In reporting on what they find in both cities, they drew lessons they can apply while covering future disasters for their own media organizations.

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