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Gripping coverage from Haiti, but at what cost to the victims?

If you are like me, you have been spending some portion of your day consuming news about Haiti and its residents. The coverage has been gripping. As mentioned in a previous post, the tweets and Twitter lists concerning the earthquake’s aftermath have been excellent sources of information. My wife and I also have been watching the news channels in the evening. Some of the reports about survivors and the family members sitting watch while rescue efforts struggle against the clock have been heartrending.

This coverage chronicles for history the human tragedy and, yes, a few against-all-odds victories. Breaking news coverage reminds us what those first moments and days were like after an event. Want to recall what you really felt and knew immediately after 9/11? Review the media coverage from that day, and it will come flooding back. (I have weeks of front pages from that period in my basement.)

Without the huge number of journalists in Haiti, the world’s outpouring of support would be less impressive. Without those photos, stories, videos and other coverage, millions may not have been moved to action, and the extraordinary efforts taking place today would have occurred outside the view of a grateful public. Without the media, this disaster would fade quickly, as the world’s attention turned to other matters.

Yet, for all the good the coverage does for Haiti, it comes at a cost. Hundreds of journalists and their support staff have flooded into Haiti, stretching its diminished resources, and consuming the food and water the Haitians desperately need.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute offered a fascinating blog post on this point. He goes so far as to urge journalists not to go to Haiti, to pass on the chance to cover what is likely the breaking news story of 2010.

“The country is clogged with people who cannot find enough to eat or drink,” he wrote. “If you go, you must be self-sufficient. Everything is expensive. I have a friend who paid more than $200 for 10 gallons of gas—either that or wait in line for two days, he said.”

Anderson Cooper is doing a phenomenal job for CNN, but he has the help of as much as 50 co-workers, all of whom need a place to sleep, as well as food and water.

Tompkins also quotes reports from Slate and The New Republic, raising similar points.

In a disaster such as this, journalists labor to chronicle the human suffering, and to do some good. They do it for the victims, as well as the rest of the globe. But the cost of this coverage can sometimes be high.

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