This interview with Ralph Thomassaint Joseph originally appeared in the Community Corner section of Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. Community Corner leverages the voices of subscribers, immigration professionals, and our in-house reporters to highlight immigration and immigrant affairs and reporting. You can subscribe to receive Early Arrival in your inbox three times per week.
We shine a spotlight on Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, who recently joined the team as a Caribbean Communities Correspondent. Below, he discusses his coverage of the Caribbean people for over 10 years, and what readers can expect as he prepares to develop and launch a Documented vertical focused on engaging with the Caribbean communities here in New York.
Prior to joining Documented, what were you up to?
I was a Residence Fellow at the Hemispheric Institute, covering Haitian migration in Brazil, Chile, Argentina. Recently, you might have heard that there were thousands of Haitians who left South America to come to the U.S., so part of my work at the Hemispheric Institute was to cover some migration stories, and interview organizations and activists based in Latin America, in Haiti and here in the states.
I was also a consultant for a news platform in Haiti, Ayibopost, to reach the diaspora and to produce content in English.
What made you interested in journalism, why did you want to study journalism and practice journalism?
I never dreamed of becoming a journalist in my life, but certain circumstances made me become a journalist. In 2010, there was an earthquake in Haiti, and at the time, I was a student in sociology. I had volunteered with an organization working with displaced people in the camps, and many cities in Haiti. I would call many friends after volunteering because I still wanted to work with people because there were huge needs in Haiti.
And so one day, a friend called me to work on a news program — the biggest news program at that time because all the radio stations had collapsed. There was a need for information about the situation in Haiti and he called me to come work on the news program as a copy editor, but I ended up doing reporting in the field too. So that’s how I became a journalist.
But there’s something that struck me, because I have practiced journalism in a situation where I have witnessed the importance of every second on the radio. We were producing a series of information for the people in the camps, and organizations. The new series had so much importance. If you say an organization is distributing kits somewhere, after some minutes you have thousands of people going to that place because people were in so much need of assistance.
So that’s how I started journalism. I became a reporter of life in the camps, covering the humanitarian situation in Haiti.
What have you enjoyed most about covering different communities, particularly the Caribbean communities?
Practicing journalism makes you discover things that you never thought existed before. It makes you connect with stories. I think that it humanizes you. I have produced many stories that are not just purely storytelling, but to connect people with resources. Journalism has changed my perspective of the world because I must admit before that experience that started in 2010, I had a quite different vision of the world. Despite the fact that I grew up in Haiti, there were so many aspects of the country I didn’t understand. I didn’t really grasp the level of vulnerability of the people in Haiti, and so journalism made me discover that.
Prior to now, what’s that story that you were most proud of in your reporting? What’s one report that you did that really made you happy or fulfilled?
There are many, but in 2020, before coming for my master’s program at New York University, I had done a short film or documentary about a lady selling tea on the streets of Port au Prince. It was a casual morning, I was jogging, and I approached her — I told her ‘I am a journalist and I am interested in knowing your story,’ and she was open to that. From that story, Haitians mobilized online, organized fundraising, collected money and brought goods to her and removed her from the streets because that was what she wanted.
This is your fourth week at Documented— Why did you take the role and how have your first few weeks been? What are you looking forward to, what are you currently working on?
After my master’s degree at NYU, I was questioning what I should do here in New York. I know New York is full of opportunities. But at the same time, I was a bit concerned since I’m a foreigner, a Black person, and I had never worked before in the United States. I was concerned because the job market was not really open for people of my profile.
Since I come from Haiti, and I had helped build a news platform, which was just a young news organization, I wanted to have a similar experience here in New York. I didn’t want to go to a big news organization and be lost into that division of work.
Someone informed me that there was an open position — Caribbean Communities Correspondent at Documented — and when I looked at it, I saw that it fit my profile. Documented is a very specialized news platform with a diverse staff, which is very important. I needed a news organization that reflects diversity, and is open to new ideas because I’m a multimedia producer. I wanted to be in a place where I can produce content in different formats.
My job as a Caribbean Communities correspondent is a kind of liaison officer. I will create a two-way conversation between Documented and the Caribbean Communities of New York. It’s a strategy to make the media closer to its audience, grow interaction, and continue with what Documented has been doing. It’s a media to inform but it’s a media of service too.
My main target is the Caribbean Community, which is composed of many nations. So the first part of my work is to learn about that community in New York, conduct surveys to know what they need in terms of news and to create a product that can bring that news in the most relevant way to that community.
Is there anything you’d like readers to know or look forward to with this vertical, ahead of the launch or survey you’ll be sending to them?
What I’m doing here at Documented, it’s something that I relate to as a Black person, as a person from the Caribbean, as an immigrant here in New York. What I’m doing, what I’m experiencing here, it’s part of my story; it’s part of the story of my family here in the U.S.; it’s part of the story of many friends I had here in the states before I came, and many friends who are still coming to the states.
I will give all my best because I know what I’m doing is valuable, important, and I’m learning through it too because I’m producing content I am interested in and I know many people like me are interested in.
Sign up for the Early Arrival newsletter to follow Ralph Thomassaint Joseph as he covers New York’s Caribbean communities.