Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Quake: Being There for the Big Story Has Its Price

Post-Katrina Pattern of Personal Reporting the Order of the Day. NPR's Jason Beaubien Offers a Textbook Example

No doubt, when a big story breaks most journalists want to be where the action is, even if they never leave the newsroom. Resources, experience, maybe even a little chutzpah, often determine who hits the road.
So, you have your cadre of reporters who show up in war zones and natural disasters. They want to be there, not because they're paid to, but because that's where the story is, where what their work can be a game-changer, misery and reward worked into one.
Yet, it is the Haiti quake that has been a game-changer for some, who have seen some of the worst that fellow man and Mother Nature can dish out. This one is different.
That was evident yesterday in a report on All Things Considered, when NPR's Jason Beaubien was doing a Q&A with anchor Melissa Block outside a hotel, talking about a badly wounded girl bandaged but otherwise lying untended. As he looked at her and described her condition, Beaubien began to cry.

"She keeps lifiting her head and her lips are shaking .... Sorry, Melissa," he said amid tears.
"That's OK," she quietly replied."
"It's heartbreaking, what is happening here," Beaubien continued, quickly regaining composure. "There are people just in the streets everywhere."

This is no journo-tourist. Before becoming Mexico City bureau chief, Beaubien spent four years in Africa for NPR, reporting from 27 countries, where war, famine, and AIDS were a prominent part of his landscape. He's also been to Haiti before, covering the aftermath of hurricanes.
It was interesting that Beaubien was interviewed by Block, who filed report after gripping report from China, following the earthquake that devastated Sichuan province in 2008. She was a human being first, a reporter second. And that's how you get the story right, not to mention a shower of awards that came her away, along with co-anchor Robert Siegel and their team.

Beaubien's the father of two boys. When he gets home, there are bound to be lots of hugs.

It's hard to say who will need them more.

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