Wednesday’s panel discussion here in Washington DC about Haiti and Disaster Communications was stupendous. Here’s the follow-up email I sent participants, which summarizes some main points discussed and has lots of relevant links throughout.
Thank you again so much for attending Wednesday’s panel discussion about Haiti and Disaster Communications. What a stimulating and wonderful discussion. I’ve heard from many of you and am delighted that others, too, found the substance of the conversation so interesting. This follow-up email includes just a few links and attachments, some of which were sent to me by different participants.
I would like again to take this opportunity to thank the three panelists — Sandra Bunch of ACDI/VOCA, Mat Morgan of American Red Cross, and Kate Conradt of Save the Children — for serving as panelists and sharing such interesting observations and insights into their Haiti experience so far this year. And I appreciate how involved attendees were in the discussions. Thanks for chiming in with such thoughtful questions and new angles/perspectives.
Here are some highlights of themes touched upon at the panel:
• Haiti earthquake generated an unexpected and relatively sustained level of media interest, compared to past disasters there (e.g., hurricanes, etc.). NYT still has an editorial writer devoted to Haiti: Most recent post was June 18, Basics for Haiti. NPR’s still sending reporters down (hear a June 3 story here by Jason Beaubien) and is working on a big six-month report asking for NGO’s financials now.
• NGOs had to strive for a balance in how they spent their resources – meeting basic needs and delivering services to those in need vs. spending money or resources to generate and handle media interest. Save the Children chose to send a comms professional, ACDI/VOCA for a number of reasons chose not to (focus of mission & positioning is about longer term development rather than humanitarian relief).
• Level of media scrutiny and skepticism of how NGO resources are being spent waxes and wanes in any disaster and this one was no exception. Many journalists – particularly American ones — who covered the quake have tended toward advocacy journalism as the disaster seems to have touched them very deeply. Perhaps due to Haiti’s proximity to USA. Many journalists, US ones in particular, were very willing to give a “pass” early on. And were willing to listen to explanations of why aid was not reaching an NGO’s target group as quickly as we all would have liked (e.g., CNN Anderson Cooper’s producer sat with to Save the Children’s Kate for over an hour, which shifted the story line). European journalists tend to be more hard core on this front than American, less protective of NGOs & aid groups.
• Disaster-affected communities experience “media fatigue” and many show resistance or even backlash to reporters and NGO communications staff recording the problems rather than helping solve them.
• Media is so hungry for visuals early on that almost any photo or footage provided will get used and will highlight your org (e.g., American Red Cross photos early on).
• Social media and blogosphere offers opportunities but also major potential PR challenges as bloggers openly criticize aid efforts and much traffic can result.
Some relevant links based on Wednesday’s discussion:
• Blog — Good Intentions Are Not Enough: An honest conversation about the impact of aid, by Saundra Schimmelpfennig
As a leading expert in the post-2004 tsunami recovery efforts in Thailand, I have seen the impact of aid from all perspectives: villagers, government officials, religious leaders, aid agency staff and directors, the United Nations, and various donors. Through these interactions I found that donors are key to improving the delivery of aid, yet they lack the knowledge necessary to make funding decisions that positively impact that delivery.
• Haiti’s botched reconstruction by the numbers: Over $5 billion of aid pledged, but only 2 percent delivered. Five months after the earthquake, Haiti’s reconstruction appears stalled, The Week magazine, 24 June 2010.
• NPR’s This American Life stories from Planet Money, 21 May 2010. Unprecedented amounts of money have been pledged to Haitian relief in the last few months. American households have given over $1 billion and in March, 120 countries pledged over $9 billion(!) to rebuild. The only problem is that – historically – blanketing a country in aid and money has never really worked so well. Is there a chance this time things could be different? Prologue: Four months after the earthquake in Haiti, Ira Glass talks to Haitian reporter Joseph-Romuald Felix while Romuald tours a tent camp in the Petionville suburb of Port au Prince. Romuald talks to four children — two of them have eaten this day, two have not. Nan Buzard, who heads the American Red Cross effort in Haiti, tells Ira that relief agencies have to walk a thin line between helping too little and helping too much.
• Lockheed Martin launches Twitter research project: Will focus on social media’s role in disasters and crises, OhMyGov.com, 25 June 2010
• American Red Cross’s You Tube video posted 11 pm EST on Tuesday, Jan. 12, just five hours after the quake. 1.2 million views within 24 hours, according to Mat Morgan. Tracy Reines, Director of Response Operations for the American Red Cross, discusses the latest for the disaster response to Haiti as of 11 PM EST on Tuesday night.
Thanks again to all who came and contributed to this great conversation. With great enthusiasm to keep the conversation going or have another panel, a smaller subset of us will be getting together to start plans. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile, have a great weekend and a very happy 4th. I hope to see some or all of you soon!