Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Marshall Project, an early model for single-subject nonprofit news sites, turns five today (and got a shoutout on Jeopardy last night)
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 12, 2011, 11:30 a.m.

Haiti, before/after/now: Google images tell the tale

It’s been a year since Haiti’s devastating earthquake, and news organizations have been finding creative and commendable ways to mark the sad anniversary. Some are going local, finding stories within their communities that bring the tragedy home; some are going meta, examining big-picture issues like technology and foreign aid as they relate to the crisis. And others are going back — to Haiti itself, to the scene of the quake, to paint a picture of how far the country’s come and how far it still needs to go.

Of this last group, The New York Times’s coverage stands out: The paper’s interactive team put together a fantastic interactive map of the devastation, allowing users to experiment with satellite images of Haiti before the quake, immediately after, and now.

The feature’s general awesomeness isn’t a surprise: Fairly or not, excellence from the team is pretty much an expectation at this point. What’s more remarkable than the graphic’s quality is its source: The interactive uses images from Google Earth and the earth imagery outfit GeoEye. And those images were offered by Google itself.

In advance of today’s anniversary, a rep from Google Maps and Earth reached out to news organizations, offering a downloadable, high-res photo album; before-and-after stills, hosted by a third party, of tent villages; and videos of before-and-after scenes, including Port-au-Prince’s Pétionville Golf Course-turned-tent camp (on both Quicktime HD and YouTube) and Haiti’s National Palace (Quicktime HD, YouTube). It also provided raw footage — of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (July ’09, January ’10, November ’10), Haiti’s airport (July ’09, January ’10), its National Palace (August ’09, November ’10), and Pétionville (August ’09, November ’10) — and contextual info in the form of a collection of Lat Long blog posts describing the mapping efforts the outfit undertook throughout 2010.

On its own, none of that — Google’s provision of images and video, a news organization’s use of it — is a huge deal: News outlets regularly make good use of Google’s trove of information, for stories big and small. But, as an experiment in collaboration, the Times’s Google-fied cross-pollination is a small reminder of the benefit that can come when news organizations take advantage of resources that lay beyond the walls of their own newsrooms — finding ways of getting there without actually going there. As Sean Carlson, Google’s manager of news industry relations, explained to me: “We’ve heard that Google Earth and Google Maps can be like helicopters in the hands of any news organization.”

The images, videos, and background info are all still available for any news outfit that wants to use them. A good thing, because, today’s 365-day news peg notwithstanding, the story of Haiti’s devastation isn’t over. The quake created 20 million cubic feet of debris. A year later, only 5 percent of that has been cleared.

POSTED     Jan. 12, 2011, 11:30 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
 
Join the 50,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Marshall Project, an early model for single-subject nonprofit news sites, turns five today (and got a shoutout on Jeopardy last night)
“As a former journalist, I was mindful of the power of honest storytelling. As an idealist, I felt that if only Americans knew the truth, changes would soon follow.”
News portals like Yahoo still bring Democrats and Republicans together for political news, but they’re fading fast
Plus: Hello “lifestyle misinformation,” hundreds of dead newspapers “revived” online to support Indian interests, and all of the fact-checking discussion you could possibly want.
Doing more with less: Seven practical tips for local newsrooms to strrrrretch their resources
Content doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable; share resources within a city, not just a company; and other ideas.