Jonathan Katz : The first international reporter on the ground for Haiti earthquake disaster

When disaster struck Haiti in January 2010, journalists from across the world flooded into the country. Very few, though, were able to report on the immediate impact of the earthquake.

Associated Press (AP) reporter Jonathan Katz is a rare exception. He had been based in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for three years before the earthquake struck.

Gauging the number of journalists that descended on Haiti two years ago is “like estimating the number of grains of sand on a beach”, Katz tells Press Gazette.

AP alone flew 50 reporters in to Port-au-Prince in two aircraft, though few arrived until 48 hours after crisis struck.

Katz’s new book, The Big Truck That Went By – How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, offers a unique perspective on the earthquake and on Haiti’s history.

Haiti was the focus of the world’s media for a few weeks but they soon moved on, with an earthquake in Chile in February tempting the few remaining journalists away.

Now, as far as Katz is aware, AP is the only foreign news agency to have a permanent correspondent based there.

One thing his book aims to do is help fellow journalists cover the country in the future (he moved back to the United States in February 2012 after five years in Haiti).

“The problem is, and this has continued on since after the earthquake, is that people – good journalists who I have a lot of respect for – come to Haiti and don’t write about what’s really going on,” he says.

“People don’t speak the language, don’t know the history of the place and recycle the same news stories over and over again. That is what I hope my book will help with.”

Did his extensive knowledge of Haiti give him an advantage as the world’s press rolled in to Port-au-Prince in January 2010? “In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake I had an advantage because I was there and others weren’t,” he says.

“But in the weeks after the quake there was so much going on that there was a story for everyone. Where the advantage really displayed itself was later in the year when everybody left and there were still a couple of places around and people were coming in trying to do six-month updates – and that is where staying there and knowing it really did have an advantage.l

COMPETITION. The Big Truck That Went By, released on 15 January, is published by Palgrave Macmillan. Press Gazette has one hardback copy to give away - for your chance to win email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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