Social Media & the Haiti Disaster: How Journalist Erik Parker Improvised

Erik Parker, a journalist who has mostly covered music and a Columbia Journalism School student, was in Haiti covering a story about child slavery when the earthquake hit, and he told the Social Media & the Haiti Disaster panel at The New York Times Building in New York, part of Social Media Week 2010, about his experiences and how he was able to get some of the first images from the scene to the United States with an iPhone and severely limited Internet access.

When the quake first hit, Parker said, “We thought, just for a quick two seconds, that it only happened to us and it wasn’t as big as it was.” Upon venturing outdoors, he and his interpreter realized the magnitude of the situation.

He continued:

We didn’t know what to do with ourselves after the earthquake. The first thing I could think to do was to see if there was someplace where we could provide help. The second thing I could think to do was to document it. I resorted to using my iPhone to record video.

Parker had a camcorder, but its battery was fading quickly. On the limited Internet access, he said:

I had limited time on the Internet and limited access to upload, so the best way to get the story out was through Twitter. The journalists that did arrive were writing stories and when the power did go out, they weren’t able to file their stories. A lot of journalists who came were equipped, to a degree, but no one was ready and equipped that first day.

It was extremely frustrating not being able to get to a computer, not being able to get images out and videos out.

On some of the more graphic images he collected and his decision on when to begin filtering them, Parker said:

I had more dead body images than anybody could shake a stick at, and I didn’t know how helpful I was being.

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