Reporters on the Job

Haiti or Bust: It's a journalist's plight (or fortune) to be desperate to reach the very places other people are desperately trying to flee. Take Haiti (page 1).

On Friday, staff writer Howard LaFranchi arrived in Miami only to discover American Airlines had canceled all of its Port-au-Prince flights. He switched to Dutch Caribbean Airlines, which also eventually canceled the flight a half-hour before takeoff. At Dutch Caribbean's baggage claim, Howard ran across a group of disappointed journalists, and a collective determination kicked in. "Tell a journalist that he can't get to where his colleagues are already reporting a big story and the problem-solving juices start flowing," Howard says. Reporters worked cellphones, yellow pages, and travel agents. Renting a boat? That was quickly dismissed: From Miami, Haiti is on the other side of Cuba.

A chartered flight looked expensive: $20,000. Repeated calls got the cost of a charter flight down to $7,800 - still pricey, even divided among 10 journalists. Then someone spotted a commercial flight to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Once in the air and then on the ground in Santo Domingo, options were again assessed. "A boat sounded romantic (jokes about a Bay of Pigs sort of landing in Haiti) but hardly more realistic than before. By land? We were told the border was closed, not to mention the risk of being caught on the Haiti side between Aristide supporters and advancing armed rebels," he says.

One reporter located a charter flight to Port-au-Prince for $4,800. Not cheap, but it broke the psychological barrier of $5,000. The deal was done. "About an hour later we landed at the airport, where there was no commercial aircraft and the halls were dark. It felt eerily reminiscent of Baghdad last November. But I guess there are different degrees of failed states. Unlike Haiti, in Baghdad there were no immigration agents to greet my flight," says Howard.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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