Herald Photographer Brings Compassion, History to Haiti Earthquake Coverage

The little country of Haiti has become a place of such massive desolation. What the people of Haiti need, as much as media coverage and prayer, is compassion.

I was not surprised that one of the first U.S. journalists en route to the Caribbean island after Tuesday’s earthquake was Patrick Farrell, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photojournalism for “A People in Despair: Haiti’s Year Without Mercy.”

In the endless stream of digitally distributed camera phone snaps, Twitpics, wire feeds and Flickr posts, what distinguishes Farrell’s photographic images is, in a word, compassion.

For the last 20 or so years, some of the most compelling and disturbing photographs have been documented in Haiti. The striking reportage has spanned political unrest, tribal warfare, disease, migration, voodoo, hurricanes, and now, another natural disaster: the strongest earthquake to strike the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

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Farrell is no stranger when it comes to covering the Haiti of hurricanes. He has covered Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean for The Miami Herald since 1987. He was a member of the Miami Herald team that won the 1993 Pulitzer for Public Service for their coverage of Hurricane Andrew in South Florida.

Yet after all that, Farrell said that the pain he witnessed in the small, western Haitian town of Cabaret, where Hurricane Ike had taken the lives of 12 children, “was like nothing that I had ever seen before.”

“You don’t have enough time to shoot the images that need to be made there.”
-Patrick Farrell
In an interview at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in June, Farrell recounted how he felt as he documented the lifeless body of 5-year old Tamasha Jean as she was loaded onto a pickup truck with other children who died in Hurricane Ike’s floods.

With tears in his eyes, his voice cracking at times, Farrell composed himself like he framed his compositions. Demonstrating great courage, he told how he pressed on, “reporting and bearing witness not just for the world to see but for the victims and their families to remember their loved ones and to get the help that they need and the closure that is needed.”

In pictures, I’d call that compassion.

View Farrell’s photos as he talks about his experience in this video.

Note: If you’re receiving this via e-mail newsletter and have trouble viewing the video, please use the video player embedded in the Poynter Online article.

Special Note: This video was produced by Candace Barbot, who has been a visual journalist for 25 years. After working for more than 20 years at The Miami Herald, she left the paper in April 2009 and founded Pulp2Pixel Media Inc., a company specializing in video training, production of short and long form documentary-style videos, and multimedia consulting for newsrooms.

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