Jacqueline Charles has been covering the Caribbean for the Miami Herald since 2006, and she's never stopped performing at the top of her game. This past year was no exception — Charles, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, returned to the island nation after another horrific quake hit in August 2021, telling the stories of displaced Haitians once again faced with mass destruction of their homeland. She also continued to tirelessly report on years two and three of the coronavirus pandemic, picking up a National Headliner Award with her colleagues for a story on vaccine inequity in the Americas. As other U.S. newspapers scale back their international operations, Charles plays a vital, almost singular, role in covering political instability, natural disasters, healthcare inequities and systemic breakdowns of governments in the region. "When most people think about the Caribbean, they're thinking about travel and tourism and beaches," she told the Longform podcast. "...For citizens, the diaspora of these countries, what's happening at home is very important to them, so that's something I'm looking at."

The old adage goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words," and no one understands that more deeply than a photojournalist. Whether it's a protest, a sporting event, a parade, or anything in between, Miami Herald photographer Daniel A. Varela is on the job. His photos are as compelling as they are beautiful to look at. Not only does he capture the moment, but he captures the right moment — like the smile of a bystander at a Pride parade who doesn't know anyone's watching, or the concentration of tennis superstar Naomi Osaka at the Miami Open. Varela started his career with the Herald as an intern, moved on to a role as a freelance photographer and eventually, in 2019, a full-time staff photographer. No one said it was easy — though Varela often makes it look that way.

Calvin Hughes was a TV anchor in Philadelphia when he got the call that WPLG was looking to replace legendary local broadcaster Dwight Lauderdale. He accepted the job, envisioning his time in Miami as a two- or three-year stint. Instead, he's been telling the stories of South Floridians for more than 16 trips around the sun. During that tenure, the five-time Emmy Award winner has become a fixture in the community, reporting on the biggest news events to affect the Miami area and beyond. Last year, Hughes scored an exclusive interview with Martine Moïse, the widow of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated when a group of gunmen raided the couple's home in July 2021. Martine, who was shot multiple times during the attack, told Hughes that, in her state of grief and shock, she went a week without sleeping or eating while in the hospital recovering. Those are the kinds of intimate revelations Hughes, an empathetic listener and skilled interviewer, is deftly able to capture for the viewers back home, week after week after week.

If you've spent any amount of time in Miami during hurricane season, chances are you've heard or seen the name Brian McNoldy. A senior research associate at the University of Miami who studies hurricanes, climatology, and sea-level rise, McNoldy is Miami's de facto hurricane expert, long relied upon by the press and public for insight in the face of oncoming tropical storms. His fascination with weather began at age 7 with the Megapolitan Blizzard of 1983 and since the late '90s he has maintained a Blogspot site, Tropical Atlantic Update, where he provides context-rich updates in a digestible and engaging way. He's perhaps best known for regularly sharing interesting climatology facts and keeping Miamians updated on the weather via Twitter @BMcNoldy.

Remember 2015? It was a strange year for local music thanks to one massive void. WZTA – the area's only alternative station – disappeared in February of that year and, for six long months, rock lovers had nowhere to tune. Then an angel arrived, in the form of 104.3 FM "The Shark." Seven years in, the Shark has become a Miami rock mainstay, with weekly shindigs like Emo Nite and Alternalido (Latin jams) on Sundays and loveable weekday deejays like Ashley O and Dallas making miserable South Florida traffic (almost) bearable. Now under the Audacy umbrella, its annual festival on Fort Lauderdale Beach (known as Audacy Beach Festival) has been taken to the max, with Twenty One Pilots, the Lumineers, Lil Nas X, and more gracing its main stage in the December 2021 edition. In oh so many ways, the Shark rocks — and it had better not even think of leaving us.

What do you say about the man that has seen, done, and talked about it all throughout his illustrious radio broadcasting career? You point out how his public love affair with the McDonald's McRib — without pickles, by the way — is a horrific food take, but he is loved anyway. Hochman is like the LeBron James of sports radio: He makes everyone around him better. His current domination of the afternoon drive simulcast on both WQAM and 790 The Ticket (WAXY) is akin to LeBron playing for the Lakers and Clippers simultaneously. Could he do it? Probably. Does Hochman do this daily? Yes. Advantage, Hochman. The trifecta of Hochman, Channing Crowder, and Alex Solana on the airwaves every day makes South Florida that much better of a sports town. And it makes us incredibly thankful.

Journalists get a lot of emails. Like...a lot. When publicists send their generic pitch letters with that standard copy-and-paste language where they just change the name up top (and sometimes forget to do even that), they're almost surely bound for the trash bin, unread. The mark of a good flack is one who does the research. And it shows. Abbie Lipton of Durée & Company will never, not ever, send you a generic pitch. She tailors her emails to the reporter and pitches stories the writer would likely take an interest in. The account director represents a range of clients, from art to food, including the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) and the Eat Me Guilt Free brand. She also knows that building individual rapport with a reporter goes a long way. When a writer receives a pitch from Abbie, both parties are aware that it may well turn out to be a good story.

According to U.S. News & World Report's exhaustive study of 24,000 public high schools in the nation, the School for Advanced Studies isn't just the best school in Miami, it's the best in the state of Florida, and fourth-best in the entire country. Spread out over Miami Dade College's five campuses (Homestead, Kendall, North, West, and Wolfson), SAS allows high school juniors and seniors to use their last two years to a head start in college by simultaneously earning their associate's degree. A public institution, SAS is open to any Miami-Dade resident who meets the grade and testing requirements with an impartial lottery deciding who gets in in the event there's an excess of qualified candidates. Merit mixed with luck — it's an admission policy that makes for a student body that matches Miami's diversity.

An up-and-coming director must possess authenticity, tenacity, and above all, curiosity. Chris Molina possesses all these traits, making him an exciting, emerging filmmaker. Over the past few years, he's been a behind-the-scenes fixture with various film productions, festivals, and collectives, absorbing the film culture of South Florida. He's channeled that energy into his own films, like the confessional and insightful, Is That All There Is? (2020), and, most recently, The Truth of a Thousand Nights (2021), which won "Best Film" at this year's Miami Film Festival. Molina has also supported his fellow filmmakers through the creation of the Sun Pass Film Festival and its new offshoot, Anita's Film Festival. That kind of involvement is essential to Molina's own art. Already a two-time Sundance Ignite finalist and recent artist-in-residence at Oolite Arts, Molina is becoming a marquee name in South Florida's film scene.

Best Miami Documentary
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, founders of the production company Rakontur, have been friends and filmmaking partners since their high school days in the 1990s. In fact, they snagged this honor last year for 537 Votes, an incisive look back at Miami-Dade's pivotal role in the 2000 presidential election. But their 2021 documentary Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, just might be the most #BecauseMiami tale of them all. The six-part docuseries opens with a catchy theme song by local boy Pitbull and chronicles the story of how local childhood pals Augusto "Willy" Falcon and Salvador "Sal" Magluta (AKA Willy and Sal) went from dealing dime bags to controlling America's most robust cocaine empire during the 1970s and '80s. Through archival videos and interviews with former prosecutors, drug smugglers, and journalists, the series illustrates how the duo trafficked millions of dollars' worth of cocaine from Colombia into the United States, all while somehow staying one step ahead of the law. The series, available for streaming on Netflix, is the third in Rakontur's Cocaine Cowboys series and draws heavily on former New Times staff writer Jim DeFede's dogged coverage of the rise and fall of Willy and Sal. Slow claps for local journalism!

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®