By Henna Choudhary
As a first-generation Haitian-American media publishing executive and the recently appointed publisher of The Haitian Times, a long-standing news publication in the Haitian community, Vania Andre believes that generating non-biased journalistic content paves the way to inciting conversations and actionable movements within immigrant communities even beyond the Haitian diaspora. While she focuses on casting a spotlight on social, political and economic issues faced by the Haitian population along with sharing the accomplishments of prominent Haitian individuals, Andre also advocates for the unity of immigrant communities through their shared experiences. And when she’s not serving as a voice for the voiceless, she’s scouring the Internet for YouTube videos on conspiracy theories!
Henna Choudhary: What inspired you to pursue media publishing, which eventually led to you earning the title as Editor-in-Chief of The Haitian Times?
Vania Andre: Writing and journalism was always a passion of mine when I was younger, some of my favorite shows were Ghostwriter and Wishbone, but it was never something that I thought I could make a career out of. So, when it was time for me to go to college, I majored in public relations because I felt my parents could understand that more and feel more confident that I would get a job after college. But after I graduated, I found myself getting opportunities in media instead of public relations, so I started going down the path that was provided to me. After I went back to school to get my Master’s in journalism I found myself having a quarter life crisis: I had just finished school and I felt like I was no longer a student and that if someone asked me what I do or who I am, I didn’t have the answer. I then started searching for a way to become active and find an identity for myself since I no longer had that umbrella.
Henna Choudhary: How were you able to transfer your skills as the past Communications Director of Council Member Jumaane D. Williams to your current position as the Editor-in-Chief and publisher of The Haitian Times?
Vania Andre: A lot of what I did for the council member involved messaging, strategizing and launching. In my current role for a small publication, I have to wear a lot of different hats so I’m not always thinking of journalistic story ideas and sources but also thinking about what it takes to run a publication. In the Editor-in-Chief role, your primary responsibility is thinking about the editorial direction of the publication and it wasn’t until I stepped into the publisher role that I started to notice that the skills I picked up in city council transferred here: relationship building, forming partnerships, marketing tactics and figuring out how to engage an audience with talking points. I am able to view the editorial realm in a business sense and differentiate our publication from other publications.
Henna Choudhary: Why is it of utmost importance to highlight immigrant communities in the news, which you do in The Haitian Times?
Vania Andre: First and foremost, I think about our current administration and how our President has launched an attack against black and brown communities. Realizing that black and brown immigrant communities are now under attack in America, it is important to highlight their stories, tap people into their issues with a critical mindset, and notice how energy can unite immigrant communities regardless of their background. Immigrant stories resonate with everyone because historically this country is based off immigration. What makes you American is coming together in one place where everyone has an opportunity to shine. It’s common sense to me because of where we’re located, and the country that we’re in, the issues in the Haitian community are not very different from the issues in other immigrant communities; they are transferable, and we have a lot more in common than what divides us.
Immigrant stories resonate with everyone because historically this country is based off immigration. What makes you American is coming together in one place where everyone has an opportunity to shine.
Henna Choudhary: Do you ever face backlash for controversial articles, and if so, how do you handle it?
Vania Andre: About five years ago, the Dominican Republic said they would retroactively take away citizenship from Dominicans born of Haitian parents. I wrote an editorial saying the law was disingenuous and I got some backlash. The only way I could cope with it is to be respectful of people’s opinions by telling them that I see them but this a place to provoke thought and start conversations. I also sometimes get backlash from people within the Haitian community but at the end of the day we are a news outlet and have journalistic ethics that we stand by and we don’t do the country a service by not pointing out systematic issues. This is what’s happening, we have to cover the news and focus on what needs to be addressed so that actionable steps can be taken to push the country forward.
Henna Choudhary: How do you use your social media platforms to shed a light on issues within immigrant communities, specifically the Haitian community?
Vania Andre: I use social media primarily to monitor conversations that are happening, see how people are responding and try to find issues that may not be widely covered that people should know about. It’s about finding conversations that are happening under the radar and highlighting these issues for a bigger audience.
Henna Choudhary: How do you wish to impact your readers and those that follow you on social media?
Vania Andre: My goal is for people to think critically about issues that they may not have thought about before and to inspire conversation and actions to be a beacon of change. I think about non-Haitian people in terms of what they’re reading and what their perspective is. I want them to understand that Haiti is more than that country that was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 and more than just the country that is plagued by political problems. That is applied in our writing, especially profiles, so outsiders can see the community is so much richer and more accomplished than they thought.
My goal is for people to think critically about issues that they may not have thought about before and to inspire conversation and actions to be a beacon of change.
Henna Choudhary: Noticing that you focus on the Haitian communities in Haiti, New York, Boston, and South Florida, do you hope to add any more geographic tabs to The Haitian Times?
Vania Andre: Yes, I always want coverage anywhere that there’s significant Haitian populations. New York and Florida are our largest right now, but we have a correspondent in France and there are growing populations in Atlanta and San Diego. Our plan is to always go where there are Haitian stories to capture and that is one of my primary missions as publisher.
Henna Choudhary: What are some ways in which you hope to see The Haitian Times grow and flourish?
Vania Andre: I want us to have more coverage of the Haitian community, which means more stories out of Montreal, France, etc. That’s one of my biggest missions because although we’re all of Haitian descent, our issues differ based on where we are.
Henna Choudhary: How does your work with The Haitian Times fulfill your own personal mission, values, and morals?
Vania Andre: I think that I have always gravitated to storytelling and presenting things, and the most fulfilling thing is that I am helping document the history of my community. I love communications and packaging things for people to dissect and I believe it is important for communities to own their narrative; no one will fairly report and tell your story better than you can.
Henna Choudhary: What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of your career?
Vania Andre: I like watching YouTube videos of aliens and conspiracy theories, anything that has to deal with existential questions and figuring out why we are here on this planet.