DR and Haiti stories: Where’s the context?

One of the most important things good journalists can provide to any story is context.

  • Helping readers/viewers/listeners understand WHY something happened.
  • Explaining the connections of different actions that lead to the results in the story.
  • Providing background and history to an event

There has been a lot of ink and electrons spent talking about the Baptist missionaries who were arrested in Haiti and the subsequent release of 10 of those held.

Amarillo.com is doing a two-part series on one of the released missionaries. (‘Next thing you know, they put us all in jail’: Allen tells of Haiti trip)

At first I was happy that a local paper picked up a local angle to a much larger story. But as I read the piece — more of just a Q&A instead of a real article — I was disappointed.)

Nothing in the introduction talks about the local and international laws involved in the case.

Nothing in the introduction talks about the hostility that exists between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (Despite it being mentioned by the subject of the article.)

And then there is the constant use of “the Dominican” by the subject. Only those who know nothing about the country or the island use that phrase to talk about the Dominican Republic. We use “DomRep” or “the DR” or the full name. Would it have hurt the integrity of the article for the editors to correct this? Or did the editors not know a problem existed? (I am betting on the latter, especially because the questions include the phrase “the Dominican.”)

I am willing to bet that the subject had loads of “er’s” and “um’s” while being interviewed. The editors took those out.

Now back to context.

The subject of the article says: “I didn’t know the animosity between the two countries. But they were going to at least allow that.” Yet no where in the article is that animosity explained.

Just as the subject of the article was clueless to this issue before going to the island, the readers of the story remain just as clueless. Would it have hurt the series to explain a few things about this historic animosity?

Another interesting thing is that no one seems to be looking at WHY evangelical groups has such quick access to Haiti.

If it were not for charity work by evangelical Christians from the United States, easily a quarter of the population of the Dominican Republic would not have housing, medical or dental care or schools or school equipment. I can only assume that the numbers would have to be higher in Haiti.

Evangelicals are a growing force in the Caribbean and South and Central America. They come in doing charity work while preaching their particular brand of Christianity.

The traditional forces in the area — the rich, the military and the Catholic Church — are nervous about these populist Christians. There is no one place to go to cut a deal — such as going to a priest or bishop.

Some oligarchs are so concerned with the “uncontrollable” nature of the evangelicals that at one point about five years ago, some legislators in the Dominican Republic talked about legislation to regulate or ban these groups. (It never went anywhere.)

And now let’s look at the Dominican “lawyer” who served as an advisor to the Baptist group.

I am willing to bet that this guy took advantage of some very naive people wanting to do good work. There have been a number of stories about how the guy is a con artist and accused trafficker of young women and children.

Based on U.S. media reports, this guy seems to be the only one doing this nasty work.

Hardly.

There are hundreds of traffickers working the Haiti-DR border on a regular basis.

Some move Haitians in the dead of night in sealed trucks and buses across the border — after a few dollars are distributed to local border patrols on both sides. These Haitian workers are sent to the sugar fields of Haiti. (To see what happens to the Haitians sent to the sugar fields, see the 2007 documentary “The Price of Sugar.”)

Others are used as cheap illegal labor in construction projects. And oddly enough on each pay day there is a raid by the immigration office, causing the laborers to scatter without pay. When the workers ask for their pay the next day, the boss says people only get paid on the legal pay day.

And some traffickers specialize in procuring children for slavery or prostitution. (A couple of towns in the DR are becoming as famous as Bangkok for child sex.)

International law is also at play here.

There are international conventions covering the transportation of children. It was the Hague Convention that was the legal basis for the return of Sean Goldman from Brazil to his father in the United States.

The Hague Convention and other international treaties and obligations are in place to protect children and others affected by traffickers.

Where is the reporting on how these international agreements affect — if they do — the case of the Baptists and others trying to help the children of Haiti?

So I ask again, “Where is the context?”

  • Where are the explanatory paragraphs in a story that talk about the animosity between Haiti and the DR?
  • Where are the grafs that explain how work by evangelicals in the area has been helping the residents of Hispaniola AND changing the social and political dynamics of the island?
  • Where is the discussion of the trafficking that has regularly taken place between the DR and Haiti?
  • Where are explanations about trafficking or mistreatment of children on an international level?

Cross-posted at SPJ Journalism and the World

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