Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles wins Maria Moors Cabot Prize

Jacqueline Charles, the Miami Herald's Caribbean correspondent, has won a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize.
Jacqueline Charles, the Miami Herald's Caribbean correspondent, has won a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize. emichot@MiamiHerald.com

Jacqueline Charles, who has reported on the Caribbean for the Miami Herald since 2006, has been awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.

Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism announced Wednesday that Charles was among the four recipients of this year’s Cabot Prizes, the oldest awards in international journalism.

While Charles covers various Caribbean nations, Haiti is her specialty. The Cabot judges highlighted that in their citation:

“Charles’ great contribution has been as a narrator of the agonies of Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, crippled by misgovernment and battered time and again by nature.”

She was the first foreign reporter to arrive in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, (she had the president’s cellphone number and got the OK for a plane from the U.S. to land) and remained in Haiti for many months after the quake to document the troubled recovery and life in the camps for the thousands displaced by the tragedy.

Charles also was the co-producer of the Miami Herald’s first documentary, “Nou Bouke (We’re Tired): Haiti’s Past, Present and Future,” which was honored with a regional Emmy Award and broadcast nationally. Her work out of Haiti also was a 2011 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

“Over more than two decades, Jacquie’s tenacious and courageous reporting has made her the most authoritative voice on Haiti,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, Miami Herald executive editor. “We are delighted with this hard-earned and well-deserved honor.”

In her coverage, Charles exposes universal problems — hunger, exodus, poverty, inadequate healthcare — but she also reports on politics, popular culture and the Caribbean diaspora.

Her recent focus has been on migration. With entry to the United States increasingly difficult and the Haitian economy still in shambles, many from Haiti have turned to other countries, including Canada, Mexico and Chile, to seek refuge. Charles traveled to all three to report on the Haitian exodus.

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For Charles, Haiti is not just a beat: “It is her obsession. It is her commitment. It is her life’s work,” said Susan King, dean of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Charles’ alma mater.

Although Charles has reported on the Caribbean for the Miami Herald for the past dozen years, her association with the paper goes back much further. She was a high school intern at the Herald. When she joined the newsroom as a staff writer in 1994, she soon was frequently tapped to help with Caribbean coverage.

“Winning the Cabot isn’t just a testament about my coverage of the region but the Miami Herald’s commitment to the Caribbean, notably Haiti,” said Charles. “For us, Haiti isn’t a foreign story. It’s a local one and it’s great to continue the long tradition of Miami Herald journalists honored for their coverage of Latin America.

“It is such a great honor to join the ranks of great journalists whom I grew up admiring, former Miami Herald Latin America Editor Don Bohning and Time Magazine’s Bernard Diederich among them,” she said.

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Jacqueline Charles, center, the winner of a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot award, is shown with the late Don Bohning, left, and Bernard Diederich. Bohning, who served as Latin America editor for the Miami Herald, was a 1974 Cabot award winner, and Diederich, a long-time Caribbean correspondent, won the award in 1976. Miami Herald

Charles is the 15th Herald journalist to win the coveted lifetime achievement prize, and this is the second year in a row that a Herald reporter has been honored.

Former colleagues and competitors have long admired Charles’ persistence in pursuing stories, especially in an environment as challenging as Haiti’s.

“I covered the same region for years as a network correspondent for CBS News based in Miami. I know how hard it can be to report the news accurately in that part of the world, especially in Haiti,” said Juan Vasquez, a retired editorial writer and former foreign editor of the Miami Herald. He is also a 1989 Cabot winner.

“No American reporter knows Haiti and its people and politics as well as Jacquie. No one has the sources or the ability to read and understand the culture like she does. No one is as prolific as Jacquie,” he said. “I always learn something reading Jacquie’s stories.”

Established in 1938 by Godfrey Lowell Cabot as a memorial to his wife, the Cabot award recognizes excellence in coverage of the Western Hemisphere and career contributions to inter-American understanding. Cabot Prizes also were awarded to:

Graciela Mochkofsky. An Argentine writer and journalist, she is now director of the Spanish-language program at the Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York.

Fernando Rodrigues. A veteran investigative journalist from Brazil, he founded the digital news platform Poder360.

Hugo Alconada Mon. A reporter for Argentina’s La Nación, Alconada was a founding partner in a network of Latin American investigative reporters, known as REPI, which exposed the widespread corrupt practices of the Brazilian company Odebrecht.

Meridith Kohut, an American photojournalist who lives in Caracas, will receive a special citation for her photos of Venezuela’s spiraling humanitarian crisis during the October awards ceremony in New York. She led an investigation into the starvation deaths of hundreds of children in Venezuelan government hospitals. The resulting photos were published in a special section in The New York Times titled, “As Venezuela Collapses, Children are Dying of Hunger.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi