Caribbean Journalist Relief
This crowdfunding initiative was launched together with the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) to bring aid to journalists and other media workers in Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Irma.
The ACM is focusing on Anguilla, Barbuda, BVI, Turks and Caicos and St Martin/Sint Maarten,
There are journalists on these islands who have lost everything during Irma. Their homes, cars, cameras, computers and so on are gone, but these people are out there already bringing updates and news to their communities. They’re doing what journalists do best in these situation, placing the story first. But of course, as we often also do, without thinking of themselves,
This initiative aims to deliver relief to those in need.
Help does not have to be monetary. ACM wants to help the affected journalists resume their work; in many cases these are freelancers who depend for their income on the equipment that they lost. To anyone who wants to donate equipment: it is welcome.
Often media houses only serve to tell the stories of their communities, as observers rarely becoming the subject themselves. For St. Maarten’s The Daily Herald, Hurricane Irma offered an opportunity to go beyond the call of duty; and they clutched it. The paper escaped Irma’s wrath fairly unscathed and has accommodated its employees who have lost their houses. The paper also shared its good fortune by allowing competing news organizations to use its offices and by giving residents access to use the WIFI or charge their phones.
Gordon Snow, the paper’s Managing Editor laughs off the hint at social heroism. “It was not a planned policy to open our doors for everybody. It just happened spontaneously,” he said.
Several staff members whose houses had been demolished, had taken refuge in the office after the storm, as well as members of a CNN team that was on island. Then, Snow said, he ran into fotojournalist Gromyko Wilson of breaking-news website 721news.com. Wilson was out snapping pictures of the trail of destruction the hurricane left in Philipsburg, the island’s capital. “He told me that his car had been destroyed and that his WIFI was down, so I made an on-the-spot offer to him to come use our offices,” said Snow.
Shortly after, the Saint Martin Today Newspaper -the competition- came knocking. The storm had blown the roofs off their office building in Philipsburg and in Cole Bay -on the other side of the island- looters had plundered the building that houses their press.
Snow called it an extraordinary situation that called for extraordinary measures. The island is ravaged, with at least 12 having died on either the French or Dutch sides. The Daily Herald, the largest paper on the island, hasn't printed since the storm. A curfew is in effect, making it difficult for late-night printing personnel to come to work. Most of the 15-person editorial staff had other priorities, such as destroyed homes and families who needed them at home.
“In times like this all information that can go out to the public is crucial. For us, the most important thing was that the community was well informed. Competition does not matter now,” Snow said.
The activity at the newspaper’s yellow and white office building in Philipsburg, then started drawing island residents who came to ask if they could use the WIFI. “People wanted to communicate with the outside world. So we decided to open it, for people to be able to send WhatsApp messages to concerned friends and families abroad. Before you knew it there were up to 40 people at a time outside our building, using our internet. It got so crowded that our bandwidth got clogged at times and we ourselves could not send WhatsApp’s,” he laughed. “But we did keep it open in the interest of the community.”
The newspaper eventually went so far as to place extension cords outside for people who needed to charge their phones. Electricity had not been restored yet all over the island, but with its back-up generator and diesel storage the office had some current that it was willing to share. “We were really lucky to have electricity while others didn’t. Allowing people to charge their phones so they could use the internet to let their families know they were okay, was the least we could do.”
Snow said the intention was for The Daily Herald to publish its first paper since Irma on Thursday. “I know the community is waiting for it; being able to buy a daily newspaper is also important in this time when people are trying to bring some normalcy back into their lives.”
Vraag een willekeurig iemand op Sint-Maarten hoe aan informatie te komen na orkaan Irma en hij of zij zal antwoorden: via radiozender Laser 101. Mobiele telefoons en internet werken anderhalve week na de orkaan nog altijd slechts mondjesmaat, maar de zender van Francis Carty - ome Francis zoals hij op het eiland genoemd wordt - bleef zelfs tijdens de orkaan vrijwel de hele tijd in de lucht.
De radiozender zendt continu informatie en updates uit voor de eilandbewoners. ,,De eerste dagen waren het vooral oproepen van mensen die op zoek waren naar familie en vrienden waar ze nog geen contact mee hadden gekregen. Nu zijn het vooral updates over de locaties waar water en voedsel wordt uitgedeeld", vertelt Carty vanuit de radiostudio, waar hij momenteel min of meer woont.
,,Ik ben wel thuis geweest, ik weet dat mijn huis er nog staat." Dat geldt niet voor al zijn medewerkers, sommigen wonen nu echt in de studio.
In het pand is het een komen en gaan van mensen. ,,Sommigen willen hun verhaal kwijt of zoeken informatie. Anderen horen onze dj's zeggen dat ze honger hebben en komen bijvoorbeeld een pizza brengen."
Overigens blijft de toon positief en luchtig op de radio, benadrukt Carty. ,,Dat is nadrukkelijk het plan. We maken een grapje, we lachen samen." Dat er af en toe een kritische noot gemaakt wordt richting de lokale overheid, hoort daar volgens hem bij. ,,Wij melden wat speelt onder de bevolking, niets meer en niets minder."
Hoe het verder gaat met het eiland na de allesverwoestende orkaan Irma, nu ruim anderhalve week geleden, durft de 70-jarige zenderbaas niet te voorspellen. Hij heeft ook de zware orkaan Luis in 1995 meegemaakt. ,,Voor mijn gevoel gaat de opbouw nu sneller. Banken en winkels zijn alweer open en het gevoel overheerst dat we er beter uitkomen. Het is nu vooral belangrijk dat het geld voor de wederopbouw op de juiste plekken terechtkomt."
With many islands suddenly unrecognizable, Caribbean journalists find themselves acting as foreign correspondents in their own backyards.
(A version of this column originally appeared on Poynter.org.)
BY JAMES WARREN, CHIEF MEDIA WRITER, POYNTER.ORG
SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 12:45 PM
Media watch in the background as Dutch king Willem-Alexander visits St. Maarten on September 12, 2017 after hurricane Irma destroyed the island.
By VINCENT JANNINK/AFP/Getty Images.
No matter the wind and water, journalists covering Harvey and Irma tend to have reassuring safety nets. Their employers pay for the best equipment, rent SUVs, pony up for helicopters, take care of plane fares and book multiple hotel rooms. Some sport designer outerwear with company logos
It’s why newspapers are usually able to operate and publish, perhaps executing emergency business plans and moving to a safer location, frequently winning plaudits from colleagues elsewhere for keeping the faith.
And then there’s Gordon Snow, managing editor of his family-owned Daily Herald on St. Martin in the Caribbean. No bagels, donuts, pizza or booze have arrived in his newsroom with plaudits from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington or Boston. But he deserves them.
An island of 74,000-people is ravaged. At least 12 have died on either the French- or Dutch sides of the “smallest landmass in the world shared by two independent states,” as it’s put in (typically good) country profiles cranked out by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The tourism based economy will be in the toilet for a long time. All the key hotels face serious reconstruction challenges. My family and a group of friends stayed in a really nice one a couple of years ago. If you’re the newspaper, there’s no revenue coming in and little hope of much in future months. Your advertisers don’t have anything to advertise.
The 10,000-circulation daily hasn’t printed since the storms. Because of security issues (looting and others), there’s a 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew that’s made it impossible to gather the needed late-night printing personnel at his 100-person organization (including freelance street vendors who sell on commission, as well as staffers on other islands).
Most of his 15-person editorial staff can’t work. They’ve got other priorities, such as destroyed homes and needy families. There’s virtually no gas, so they can’t drive around and report, take a bus, even hitchhike. Use email and cell phones to call sources? Nope. There’s virtually no telecommunications service unless you’re with the Dutch or French military that’ve arrived on the scene (as did the Dutch King Willem-Alexander on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron due Tuesday).
There’s no running water. Indeed, several employees sought shelter in the newsroom, sleeping there and without showers for days. One reporter on the French side of the island had a bicycle accident and got a bad infection. Antibiotics are running low. He’s out of commission.
The good news is that Snow’s building is basically intact. “We are fortunate to have survived.” There are air conditioning problems “that we can live with.” And he’s got electricity via its own generators. “It’s a miracle.”
Still, a core group of about four have toiled hard and done a rather heroic job updating the website (special media passes let reporters get out during the curfew). Take a look. Realize what they’re enduring. Writers overseas, notably in the Netherlands, supplement them.
It’s not easy, says Snow. Consider just the lack of gasoline and decent communications, and then throw in inefficient local government. It’s been tough to get basic information from important personnel. While Americans couldn’t avoid Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn heralding the importance of competent government (every half hour it seemed), there’s no such institutional savvy and responsiveness on St. Martin.
The island was badly damaged by Hurricane Louis in 1995. What’s happened now is exponentially worse, says Snow. If the damage back then was around $1.5 billion, double or triple that today. “This time most of our hotels have sustained serious damage. Back then, we at least could get tourists to come back. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”
“We will have serious unemployment. The restructuring will take time. Tourism is our main industry. There’s nothing else. All the small businesses are dependent on tourism.”
We wound up talking about the effort of those on the paper who have persevered and done what they can, some sleeping in his building just because they feel safer there.
Those are the people getting out and trying to find out what’s up, dealing with the not particularly helpful government, finding human interest stories, trying to assemble the daily repercussions of tragedy. It’s shoe leather reporting, literally.
Nobody picked up for several days when I called the paper. Then, a call Monday from Chicago was picked up by Snow. He put me on hold to take another call. Once, the line went dead after a few minutes. I got him back. It’s easier to call him than vice versa.
And through it all, he exhibits the predictable pride of an editor overseeing a hard working staff on a big story. What they’re enduring is perhaps less akin to what journalists covering Harvey and Irma know than to foreign correspondents riskily covering mayhem in faraway lands.
“These people are working their butts off,” says Snow. “I will have to find a way to thank them when we return to a semblance of normalcy.”
Before then, and when the airport re-opens to commercial traffic, maybe some American newspaper can continue a recent collegial tradition: sending pizzas to an embattled newsroom. And throw in some bottles of drinking water, too.