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The Long View: Media Perspectives Post-Maria


As the saying goes: A veces, los árboles no nos dejan ver el bosque. Perspective, however, was not a priority in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, having been overtaken by the dearth of news coming out of the island. As a result, many in the diaspora were resigned to search for information wherever they could: Facebook, Zello, television---even ham radio operators emerged as a valuable resource. Eventually, we learned of the devastation; images of torn roofs, flooded streets, downed power lines, and so on.

And by the end of the year, after 100 days had passed, perspective quickly returned to the fore. How much progress has been made? How have things changed? When will the power be restored? What happens next? Coincidentally, it was around this same time (though some reports came earlier) that the media began to take a look at the bigger picture, whether it be through audio, video, text, etc. Below we have compiled a list of reports that provide an overview of the post-Maria reality in Puerto Rico, often through a narrative lens.

After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, NPR’s Latino USA sent producer Andrés Caballero on a reporting trip to Puerto Rico. Exactly one month later, NPR’s Latino USA released an episode entitled “Surviving the Storm.” The three segments, including one produced in partnership with the Marshall Project, focus on stories such as prison conditions after the storm, a mother trying to reach her son, and the precarious situation of a 23-year-old man in desperate need of electricity to power his ventilator. Host Maria Hinojosa then interviews CBS reporter David Begnaud, whose on-the-ground coverage in Puerto Rico has made him a household name among the Puerto Rican community. Since the storm hit, Latino USA has also collaborated with the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico (another important souce for news and reporting, the work of Omaya Sosa Pascual in particular) to produce investigative stories, including stories related to the death toll, which has been contested by additional media outlets such as the New York Times. Their most recent episode, “The Death Toll,” further expands upon this reporting.

Radio Ambulante, another podcast distributed by NPR, also produced an episode on Puerto Rico entitled “A oscuras / In the Dark.” It was released in just before Christmas, the last episode of the season. To start, producer Luis Trelles narrates a firsthand account of his experience with his family during the hurricane, along with that of several others on the island. The story was adapted from a live show/fundraiser that took place in Brooklyn in October. It was then expanded to include a monologue by comedian and creative director of Teatro Breve, Mike Oliveros. The result is a one-hour episode that brings the listener to tears before inviting them to laugh in the midst of tragedy.

On the Media, a podcast produced by WNYC, dedicated a one-hour episode of four segments simply titled, “After the Storm.” Among other things, the show explores how the media narrative of what has been happening in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria compares to the on-the-ground reality. Guests include Sandra Rodriguez Cotto, host at WAPA radio; investigative journalist Omaya Sosa Pascual of the Center for Investigative Journalism; and Yarimar Bonilla, an anthropologist at Rutgers University; among several others. Lucienne Hernandez of Teatro Breve also discusses the role of laughter after a tragedy. On the Media producer Alana Casanova-Burgess, who went to the island, then speculates on what’s ahead.

Mental health on the island has been a growing concern in the days, weeks, and months after Hurricane Maria. According to a New York Times report, many Puerto Ricans are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The slow recovery and the fact that about half of the population still does not have power are just some of the contributing factors. As a result, the NYT produced a short documentary, “Inside a Suicide Prevention Center in Puerto Rico.” The 11-minute film highlights the work being done by counselors at Línea PAS, the only suicide prevention center on the island.

Sin Luz: Life Without Power,” a report by the Washington Post, provides an immersive multimedia experience that aims to give readers some perspective on what it has been like for the 1.5 million Puerto Ricans still without power three months after the storm. As you scroll down the page, photos, video clips, and text show the extent of damage and hardship left behind by Hurricane Maria. Several scenes of the devastation wrought by the hurricane were recreated using 3-D models. There is also a Spanish version of the report available.

PR On The Map: Report, Reimagine, Revive Puerto Rico  is a grassroots reporting project launched by activist and journalist Rosa Clemente. After a crowdfunding campaign, Clemente and a team of Puerto Rican and Latinx media professionals traveled to Puerto Rico to document the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as well as highlight the resilience of island residents. Thus far, the project has produced everything from interviews with elected officials to portraits of those involved in the recovery efforts. PR On The Map also released a 16-minute film last month entitled, “Puerto Rican Rising,” which was later followed by a short film focused solely on the town of Loíza.

Since spending a week in Puerto Rico in November, writer and artist Molly Crabapple has shared excerpts of her sketchbook in the Paris Review for a series called “Puerto Rico Sketchbook.” The drawings are accompanied by stories of grassroots community rebuilding efforts taking place around the island. Among those profiled are community elders, an anarchist biker gang, a comic book artist, and members of the multimedia collective Defend PR (which in turn have been documenting their rebuilding initiative alongside Coco de Oro in Comerío).

In late December, New York Magazine published a nearly-9,000 word story by Matthew Schwartz on its website. “Maria’s Bodies” would later appear in print days later, along with an array of black and white photos from Matt Black. The story is a comprehensive look at the way in which inaction and other human factors have exacerbated the number of deaths in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Hero image: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using data courtesy of Miguel Román, NASA GSFC, and Andrew Molthan, NASA MSFC.

© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices 09 January 2018.