John Yearwood

Miami Herald World Editor shares insights on media and coverage of immigration, integration

May 15, 2013

John Yearwood, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, is world editor of The Miami Herald, a position he has held since 2003.

His department has won multiple awards under his leadership, including two McClatchy Company President’s Awards and the Arthur Ross Award for best coverage of Latin America. Yearwood’s management of the paper’s Haiti earthquake coverage led to the Herald’s nomination as a finalist for a 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He was also named one of the 40 most influential African-Americans under 40 in South Florida and one of the 100 most accomplished Caribbean Americans in South Florida.

In addition, Yearwood serves as North American Committee chairman for the Vienna-based International Press Institute. He also sits on IPI’s international board of directors. Previously, Yearwood served as national/international editor and assistant city editor for Government and Politics with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Before joining the Star-Telegram in 1999, Yearwood spent two years in the Caribbean as founding publisher/editor of IBIS, a general lifestyle magazine. While in Trinidad as publisher of IBIS, he was elected to an at-large seat on the Executive Committee of the San Juan Business Owners Association. A year later, he was elected president of the association.

Prior to IBIS, he spent 10 years at The Dallas Morning News, where he reported from Europe, Africa, Asia, and theCaribbean. Yearwood was also a newsman for the Associated Press in Connecticut and Oklahoma, a national correspondent for Focus magazine, and the news/public affairs director for WHUS Radio in Connecticut.

Yearwood has served on the boards of the National Association of Black Journalists and UNITY: Journalists of Color. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Connecticut.

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Mr. Yearwood, we are absolutely honored to have you as a member of our international jury for this year’s Immigration Journalism Fellowship and Award program. As you know, the Foundation launched this program in 2011 to support independent and responsible reportage on immigration and integration issues, as well as to promote excellence in journalism. It is the first program of its kind to focus on immigration and integration worldwide and to accept applicants of all nationalities. How do you think this program helps encourage superior reporting on issues of immigration? Why do you think this type of initiative is necessary?
I think initiatives like this one are absolutely necessary. There are so many stories in this space that newspapers and broadcast entities will probably never get to without programs such as this. And reading the entries was thrill for me. I kept saying after reading each story that I would like to see it on the pages of The Miami Herald. The entries were that strong. 

Immigration remains a question that is widely and often hotly debated as it evokes complex questions of national identity, human rights, and demographic shifts. In this debate, the media play a major role in informing the public and influencing the course and content of legislation. What do you think of the way the media covers questions of immigration? How do you think this coverage should be improved?
The media get a mixed review in its coverage of immigration issues, like so many others. It’s a subject that’s rich with coverage possibilities. And there are so many twists and turns in the debate. Over the years, I’ve dispatched reporters to Mexico, Central America, and even aboard an aircraft taking illegal immigrants back home to cover the immigration debate. So I know this is a great subject to cover. What I liked about the entries I read was that they came at the debate from myriad angles, some I didn’t even think about. When reporters and editors approach the subject in a way that’s not narrow, it leads to amazing stories. I would like to see more of that approach. 

As world editor of the Miami Herald, you work at the crossroads of different kinds of reporting on different topics from all over the world. What main issues do you focus on? What kinds of issues interest you, personally, the most? 
At The Miami Herald, our main focus internationally is coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean. In the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time and resources covering Haiti – particularly in the aftermath of the earthquake – and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. A few years ago, we were recognized by the American Academy of Diplomacy for having the best coverage of Latin America. The fact that I was born in the region makes leading our coverage something that’s very important to me. And being from the region helps me tremendously in better understanding such a diverse region and in steering clear of journalism that’s patronizing. 

In recent history, the Arab Spring had a direct impact on migration dynamics in Europe. On the other side of the Atlantic, Americans are still debating immigration reforms and the appropriate role of states and communities in immigration enforcement. In your career, you have worked with media in Europe, the United States, and the Caribbean. Have you seen a considerable difference in the media treatment of immigration and integration in these regions?
In Europe, questions of immigration and integration are extremely real. It’s certainly not just a concept. I’ve seen excellent coverage and coverage that was wanting. Above all, the issues that can be explored are huge – whether it’s about fallout from the dissolution of the Soviet Union or African entry into Spain, Italy, or France. Again, I saw some great proposals from journalists who applied for the Immigration Journalism fellowships. I’m looking forward to reading or listening to many of those stories. 

2012 Immigration Journalism Award recipient Maria Hinojosa, of The Futuro Media Group, commented, “This award means everything because it means that there are organizations like the French-American Foundation and its supporters who believe that you have to have a journalism that is always asking questions.” What kinds of questions need to be asked? What questions are not being asked that should be?
I think that Maria is absolutely right. We, as journalists, must never stop asking questions. That’s how we get to the bottom of issues. The questions I don’t hear asked enough, however, center around the meaning of an issue being covered and what comes next. Journalists, by our nature, often concentrate on the here and now and don’t look ahead as much. Maybe the publication of the fellows’ work will help lead the way into more consistent stories that have deeper meaning.

You are originally from Trinidad and Tobago and now live and work in the United States. Have your foreign origins, and thus a personal connection to multiple cultures, enriched your ability to report on global issues and questions pertaining to immigration?
Absolutely. I could not do my job as effectively if I didn’t have a personal connection to the many cultures we cover. For example, I coordinated coverage of a breakthrough series several years ago about Afro-Latin Americans. Although it’s been four years, we still get requests to republish it or for me to speak about the series. In fact, the Library of Congress called last fall to ask if I would make a presentation to them about the series. A lesson plan was even developed from it for high school students. Our goal was to increase the visibility of Africans in Latin America. In the end, the series ended up being more complex that even I envisioned. It added tons of knowledge to what we knew about blacks in the Americas. It was a huge undertaking but, again, it’s something that we probably would not have done had I not had that regional cultural sensitivity. You can find the series here.