Say Hello to the First Creole-Language Journalism Program in the U.S.

Bilingual journalism courses are on the rise, as universities and news outlets in Spanish-speaking communities recognize the need to better report on — and serve — Latino populations. But in a country as linguistically diverse as the U.S., there is a demand for great journalism in other languages, too. 

Enter Florida International University’s new Creole-language journalism program, the first of its kind in the nation. In partnership with local Afro-Caribbean network Island TV, FIU will offer journalism students opportunities to produce content in Haitian Creole on air and online.

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“By producing, not just entertainment or media, but also journalism, in a consumer’s native language, you will see the industry begin to grow,” said Brian Schriner, FIU’s dean of the College of Communication, Architecture and the Arts. “And we should be at the forefront of educating those future Haitian Creole-speaking journalists here in the United States.”

FIU serves a large Haitian population — about 8% to 10% of students speak Haitian Creole  — and the language is the third most-used in the state. Island TV, meanwhile, reaches over a million people on cable and 160,000 people digitally, making the school-outlet partnership “a natural relationship,” Island TV CEO Fred Beliard said.

Equity Lab spoke with Schriner and Beliard about what the program will look like, why this partnership is important to Creole-speaking students, and how other universities and local news outlets can build something similar in their communities. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.

Why is now the time for this program?

Schriner: There’s never a bad time to better serve our communities. Eighty-six percent of our students identify as minorities in our journalism and media program, and we serve a Haitian-speaking community here in South Florida. We want to train the next generation of Haitian Creole speakers in both broadcast and digital media. Since FIU is Miami’s public research university, serving our entire South Florida community, it’s important for us to have such a program. 

Fred, tell me more about Island TV and what kind of work will students be doing with the station?

Beliard: When we jumped in, really five years ago, it was a small mom-and-pop company owned by a couple. Because we wanted to expand, we decided to become digital. So Island TV today, what we say now to people is, “We don’t want to give you choice not to get access, or to tell me, ‘I cannot see Island TV.’” We’re almost everywhere — digital, on the phone, on Apple TV, on Amazon Fire, on Comcast. Island TV is not only Haitian, we are Caribbean, and we are the only one covering the Haitian community specifically where FIU is, in the North Miami area. For me, it’s a natural relationship.

What does this program look like? What are some of the classes? How will the students go from working in the classroom to working at Island TV?

Schriner: The partnership enables Island TV to share our TV broadcast studio, where they’ll be interning and creating content in English and Haitian Creole. Our students learn by doing, so this gives them not just an opportunity to learn, but really produce content that’s being consumed by tens of thousands of people daily on Island TV.

Upon completion, will students have a degree in journalism with a concentration in Haitian Creole bilingual journalism?

Schriner: Exactly. FIU was the first in the country to offer a master’s in Spanish language journalism. Now, we probably have the most prominent Spanish language program, with our students publishing on our South Florida Media Network, the digital platform for our Journalism and Media School. This will follow that pathway, where students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can produce Haitian Creole media and journalism, published on the South Florida Media Network as well as on Island TV. And then students can create a concentration and a portfolio of their work. Many people in South Florida are trilingual, and many of our students will be able to produce content in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

I have spoken with students in Spanish bilingual journalism programs, and the thing that sticks with me is they said how bilingual courses were one of the few spaces where their home and culture were brought into the classroom. Why do you feel that this program is so important to Creole-speaking students?

Beliard: If you look at the website, today we have about 50-50 content in Creole and in English. The type of Creole programs that we have, it’s really community oriented. I believe by getting quality entry-level journalists or students involved in our programming, it will be amazing not only for them to produce content, but also to get involved in the community.

Schriner: And at FIU, we have a long, successful history of partnering with media professionals. We have 15 students embedded every semester in Univision, where they produce content daily, and we also have students working with The Miami Herald and many, many others. And of course, we’re very grateful for the NBCU Academy grant, which enables 10 of our students to produce content out of our Washington, D.C., bureau every day.

As you’ve mentioned, many people in the area are trilingual; Haitian Creole is also the third-most-spoken language in the state. How do you think your program will help these communities get their news in the future? Do you see that this market is only going to continue to expand and that there’ll be more jobs for bilingual or trilingual journalists?

Schriner: Firstly, I think consumers will consume the content in their native language if it’s available. So by producing, not just entertainment or media, but also journalism, in a consumer’s native language, you will see the industry begin to grow, and we should be at the forefront of educating those future Haitian Creole-speaking journalists here in the United States. It’s my understanding here in South Florida, the majority of Spanish-speaking citizens consume their news in Spanish, not in English, and I would assume this will follow the same model with Haitian Creole.

Beliard: We have a show twice a week called “On the Air.” The name is in English, but the contents are in Creole. What the host is doing is to analyze everything that you already see on the English-speaking news, but the second generation or the first generation of Haitians don’t understand exactly what was said. They’re waiting for the most recent “On the Air” because they want to listen to what they were saying in their language. And we also have a show called “Connecting,” where we’ll let people call in and ask questions in Creole about what’s going on. 

What advice would you have for other universities or TV stations looking to do something similar, whether it’s a Creole language program or a bilingual program in another language that serves a given community?

Schriner: My advice would be that there is a desperate need in our country for objective information. And there’s a successful model that health professionals and universities have done for years, where they partner to train professional health-care providers. And I believe that the time is right for journalism students and universities to partner with leading media outlets to follow that same model to provide better objective news and information. 

At the same time, train upcoming professionals in the trade, and it’s a win-win — not just for the industry, because you get more news and information, but it makes the democracy stronger and we have more verifiable objective information available to the citizens to make better decisions. It seems to be siloed in many instances, everybody complaining there’s not enough resources, but if we join forces, there’s plenty of resources and very talented students who can learn their profession.

Beliard: The largest Haitian community is, of course, in South Florida, but we do have a good size of Haitians living in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Georgia. I was thinking, what we are doing in South Florida, how can we do that through FIU, partnering with other universities, in these other areas? They need that, too. It’s not only news they’re looking for. They’re looking for information.

Editor’s note: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal.