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BY GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE
In the fall of 2018, as Haiti careened into peyi lok brought on by the latest political upheaval, I began to ponder my future at The Haitian Times. By 2019, I’d convinced myself it was time to step away from this publication I had founded and helped nurture for almost two decades.
A year later, as the world went into its own lockdown, spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the decision was made for me to stay put. There was simply no way I could leave the community at the most momentous time since The Haitian Times founding in 1999.
Almost overnight, we went from a three-person operation to a staff of nearly 20 today. Since that fateful March 2020, I’ve worked the hardest ever in my life. And I’m not a low-energy person, those who know me even faintly would quickly confirm.
Last year, in an effort to understand the contours of digital media and the world of audience engagement, I applied and was accepted as a fellow at Columbia University’s Sulzberger Media Leadership Program. To say it was a professional lodestar for me is an understatement. That program exposed me to media practices that had evaded me during my professional navel gazing of 2018.
The biggest takeaway from The biggest takeaway from that program – and there were many – is that our work is about you, the audience and solving your pain points and problems.
I’m so determined to get this part right – because our existence and sustainability is extrinsically tied to understanding our audience needs. So in 2023, we will embark upon a national listening tour to probe the needs of communities in the diaspora. We will go beyond the traditional enclaves in Florida, New York, Massachusetts to the emerging locales of the Midwest, Southwest and the South.
As some of you know, I’ve decamped to Indiana for personal reasons, and I’ve gotten a more intimate understanding of why Haitians have been moving from New York and Florida to the Midwest and other parts of the country.
It’s a simple calculation: the other parts of the U.S are less expensive and there are many good paying jobs even though those regions have bled manufacturing jobs for decades. However, despite the Rust Belt moniker there are jobs for newer Americans chasing the proverbial American dream.
Haitian in America? We’re coming to a town near you
The Haitian Times wants to take my anecdotal evidence and collect empirical data to guide our decision and the type of stories and products to offer. Underpinning this effort will be strategic alliances with local community and professional organizations throughout the diaspora. We will leverage their deep knowledge of their community and assess their level of local engagement and explore what role we can play in strengthening communities as we cement our Americanness infusing it with a strong dose of Haitianity, to coin a word.
I’m honored and humbled to have had a front row seat in our immigrant journey and acculturation in the U.S., which went from timidity to brazenness in the span of three decades.
Last weekend, the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals (NAAHP) convened in Boston for three days of insightful conversations, networking and just a feel-good ambiance. Much needed since the news out of Haiti has raised our collective blood pressures to stratospheric levels.
There were too many ah-ha moments to mention here, but to me the most contrarian comments came from Fritz Clairvil, a Brooklyn entrepreneur, a friend and devout supporter of The Haitian Times. During the conference’s opening panel, which focused on the state of the Haitian Diaspora in the United States, Clairvil turned on its head the expectation that we must unquestionably aid Haiti at all costs. He made his point clearly when he said he didn’t know the diaspora had signed a contract with Haiti to organize and empower itself only for Haiti’s benefit.
Haitians in Haiti have accused us of being arrogant and dismissing us as not ready for a fruitful alliance. But, Clairvil said, Haitians in Haiti are arguably more conceited than we are, despite them being the ones who dragged the country into the abyss.
Putting data, instincts into community engagement
We intend to continue the conversation around this and other topics.
Since that seminal moment in 2020, we’ve modernized our operations and used new tools to inform our work. The spike in advertising revenue was an outlier because we received nearly $100,000 in advertising from New York City that helped fuel our rapid growth. But we didn’t have enough data to make informed projections through 2021. However, by the midpoint, patterns began to emerge and we could make financial projections based on reality, not just instincts.
We opened 2022 with the singular goal of increasing our presence on the ground in Haiti by organizing a month-long virtual training for eight journalists and we hired three of them. I hope you’ve seen the difference in our coverage.
With the quality of our editorial product unquestionable, we aim to expand our audience reach in the U.S. by implementing insights from our tour and aggressively courting readers, donors, and philanthropic foundations for their support.
In the next year and a half, we’ll be launching an aggressive campaign with the goal of raising $2.5 million and culminating the campaign with a major gala in October 2024 to mark our 25th anniversary. Stay tuned for more on this.
This is my last column for 2022, as we will spend the rest of the year charting out 2023, while keeping a keen eye on the invasion or intervention being planned in Ottawa and Washington.
Happy holidays and happy new year.
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