“Hi... Haiti.” Lessons from a foreign correspondent

Last weekend we attended NASH 72 in Edmonton, a national journalism conference put on by the Canadian University Press. We sent 13 members of the Courier team to learn, network and become inspired about the possibilities of this so-called dying profession. In an attempt to share our experience with you, the reader, I proudly present a guest editorialist for this week’s issue: Krissi Bucholtz.

News is something that connects us all. Whether you are writing it, reading it, broadcasting it, watching it, or ignoring it, the changes that are happening in our world are changes that impact humanity as a whole, regardless of geographical location. No one knows this truth better than Adrienne Arsenault, a journalist who has been reporting global news for the CBC National since 1991, and was awarded the Journalist of the Year award by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association in 2005.

She has reported on stories all over the world, bringing her to places such as Pakistan, Jerusalem, London, and Zimbabwe. “Everywhere you go, there’s something else you need to do,” Arsenault said, as she vividly described her experiences in Pakistan, where she witnessed and experienced many atrocities, such as wiping human flesh off the bottom of her shoes once she had walked through a disaster zone: “I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled blood before ... it smells like iron.”

Arsenault described one of her most harrowing experiences: She had arrived on the scene of a mass school bus murder, and was standing outside listening to the sound of the kids’ cell phones ringing constantly. “It hit me hard when I realized what was happening – their families were all trying to call them, to make sure they were okay,” Arsenault said. “You could tell the desperation behind the constant ringing – each loud tone willed the dead to come back, to pick up their phones.” Arsenault’s speech was sobering and filled with the unspoken horror of all that she has seen and reported on, yet she still made one very crucial point: If journalism is to be accurate, it must go beyond local communities and national borders.

The stories that we hear every day about what is going on in our own city are relevant and important, but if that was all we chose to read about, our global perspectives would diminish to non-existence. Arsenault drove home the fact that in order to report on these stories, you need to be there. It is easy enough to write a story on the disaster in Haiti or the civil wars in Africa, calling for readers to take action and spouting out angry words about those who seem to be at blame for the situation. However, how can a journalist—or a reader—truly understand the depth and the feeling behind the situation? “[We must] fight for the privilege of going to these places,” she explained. A phone call message from her “soft-spoken editor” confirmed that she would not be fighting too hard for her next post: “Hi... Haiti.”

While empathy is a valuable trait to possess, it is much more difficult when you are not in the situation. Arsenault felt that if journalists had truly done their job, tens of thousands of people might not have died. While talking about the role of national news, Arsenault drove home the fact that it needs to expand. “My CBC is not simply from the East coast to the West coast of Canada,” Arsenault said. “My CBC expands beyond borders. It stretches to the depths of Asia, to the heart of Africa, and it goes out to all those suffering in Haiti.”

Her point is valid. What kind of national news station would accurately depict our situation without bringing in a global context? “When you go to a place where something absolutely horrible has happened, you’re amazed by the little lessons you learn about humanity,” Arsenault said. “People who have the least ... boy, are they good at giving the most.” Perhaps our national news needs to look into more of these lessons, so that we can learn something from the perseverance of those who have suffered in our world.

//Krissi Bucholtz

//Sarah Vitet 
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