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Journalist Jacqueline Charles: Child of Haiti

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Charles was born on Grand Turk Island of the Turks and Caicos. She was raised
an only child of a Haitian mother and a Cuban stepfather and moved to the United States at the age of seven, where they settled in Miami. She began her career in journalism in 1986 as a 14-year-old high school intern at the Miami Herald.Charles has won the NABJ Journalist of the Year for coverage of the devastating Haiti 2010 earthquake, and a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist for that same coverage. She won a Regional[3] Emmy for her role as co-producer on the Herald produced-documentary, "Nou Bouke" (We are fed up) from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The Miami New Times newspaper named her Reporter of the Year. She also won the 2011 Paul Hansell Award, named in honor of a longtime Florida bureau chief for The Associated Press.
Mrs. Charles shares her experience with HB: 
 
What’s your background?
I was born in the Turks and Caicos to a Haitian mother and raised by a Cuban-American stepfather. Before moving to the U.S., I lived in Turks and Caicos, and also in Haiti for a brief period. I have a degree in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
 
Did you have any journalists you looked up to, as you went about studying in journalism school and otherwise worked towards becoming a journalist?
I've been blessed in that I've had many wonderful mentors as journalists, too numerous to name. But this week, I lost the champion of them all, UNC Chapel Hill Journalism Professor Charles “Chuck” Stone. He was a trailblazer; not to mention a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Chuck had a stellar career and I credit him with saving mine as a college junior considering giving up journalism for pre-med (which was my dream, by the way, before journalism found and hooked me).
 
What is a typical day for you, as a journalist with the Miami Herald?
There is no such thing as a typical day as a foreign correspondent for The Miami Herald. When I am on the road, whether it’s in Haiti or the English-speaking Caribbean, I am up at 5:30 a.m., trying to get through horrible traffic to make it to an interview and get the story. If news breaks while I am out, you will find me writing a story on my blackberry – especially in Haiti.  When I am back in Miami, I am usually juggling several stories as well as monitoring and feeding Twitter to keep my 22,000-plus followers informed, most often about the latest happenings in Haiti.
 
Is it hard to come up with story ideas?
Not at all; the hardest part is elevating the story that it’s not so much inside baseball or fascinating to those of us, who for instance, track every development in Haiti. But the most beautiful thing about what I do is that I can feed my creativity, my need to know how and why, and then go out and find the answer. I often say, journalism is simply a license to be nosy; and that I've always been.
 
You are the Caribbean correspondent for the Miami Herald, how much time do you spend overseas?
I spend a lot of time overseas; I don’t calculate it exactly but the job that has an extensive amount of travel. It just depends on what’s happening. After the Haiti earthquake, I was there for more than a year-and-a-half consistently.
 
What surprised you most about covering Haitian politicians? 
Nothing surprises me about covering Haitian politics. Haiti is a place where the impossible is possible. What is your opinion of the Haitian media in Haiti? Haiti’s media are young and still developing. The medium has its challenges. But with training, development and growth, I believe it can become a stronger watchdog. There are several media personalities who I spend my week listening to because of the quality of their interviews, the news and the information they provide.
 
Many of Haitians media personalities are sometimes labeled as being bought or bribed by the government in place, do you agree to some extent with that accusation?
I am not a news source, I am a reporter.
 
What is your relationship to the current government of Haiti, do you have easy access to information?
As a journalist you don’t have relationships with the government. You are there to report and do a job, this includes analyzing the information you receive from several different angles and with the assistance of several different sources, which can be individuals or reports.
All good journalists have insiders, do you have insiders inside the Haitian Government? Not all journalists have insiders, and a good journalist never reveals his or her sources.
 
How would you rate the Jovnel government in terms of transparency on how the media gets its information?
I am not a news source, I am a reporter.
 
When you were honored by receiving the top recognition by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) as Journalist of the Year, how did you feel when accepting this honor?
I felt very honored to be recognized by my peers for the work I had done. I don’t do this for awards, but when your peers recognize it, you have to be moved by that.
What has been one of the highlights so far, in your career? I've had many career highlights. I've reported stories from Liberia, Kenya, Italy and the Caribbean. I've covered international news, local Florida politics and education; I've broken news and I've survived disaster.  There is not one highlight that stands out, other than I am very blessed to have been this great opportunity and at a great newspaper that still believes in covering foreign affairs.
 
What has been one of the not so good moments for you, in your career so far?
Covering death and disaster is always difficult.
 
What are the skills young journalists need today?
Young journalists today should first and foremost know how to write, and tell a story. It doesn't matter if your focus is online. Then they should become savvy with a video and still camera; next social media is very important. As a reporter today, I just don’t write but I also take photos, do video and use social media to promote my story, find and develop sources.
 
With the rise of the internet, what's the future for newspapers -- will they always be around?
Newspapers will remain, they will evolve like all things, but nothing can replace the feeling of seeing one’s story laid out with the photos and design.
 
If newspapers switch their revenue model to put more emphasis on online revenues, will that be enough to sustain them?
I am not a business person, I am a reporter. That’s for the experts who get paid the big bucks to figure out.
 
Do newspapers carry as much clout in their communities as they did 20-30 years ago?
Again, this depends on what community and where you are. I visited Kenya last summer on a fellowship, and newspapers are still king there.
Any advice to aspiring journalists? Remain focus on your goal; don’t shy away from challenges and become an expert in something – whether it’s a language, a hobby, anything that adds to your uniqueness. And always, read, read, read. This is a profession that the more you do it, the better you get.
 
Any final word? Thanks again for the opportunity.
Thank you so much for your time…it was an honor having the opportunity to interview you.
 
Thank you Jacqueline for your time.
 

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