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Liberal Arts major finds journalistic success through his passion for social justice

May 22, 2020
by Jayda Barnes, ‘19

Senior Jared Olson, ’20, published an investigative article titled “Honduras's Deadly Water Wars” in “The Nation” magazine, one of his many accomplishments throughout his journey at Flagler College.

Listen to an interview with Olson on Flagler Footnotes WFCF radio show, here.

Olson’s experience in Honduras began in the summer of 2019, when he worked as a freelance journalist interviewing anti-regime politicians and opposition activists. As a result of this trip, he published an article entitled “The Flame of Opposition in Honduras,” which can be accessed here. He also gained several contacts in the country.

During the fall 2019 semester, Olson’s contacts informed him of a surge in violence in the tumultuous Aguán Valley of Honduras. An environmental conflict had broken out when a corporation began building a mine that would poison the region’s rivers, which provide residents with water for agriculture and drinking. Locals attempting to protect their rivers were being imprisoned, harassed and killed.

Olson received an undergraduate research grant to visit Honduras in December, where he met up with an American photojournalist and a local guide. They spent several days interviewing locals who had been impacted by the mine and its resulting conflict, including those whose family members had been imprisoned or assassinated, those affected by military patrols in their villages and those coexisting with the mining infrastructure.

After returning to the U.S., Olson pitched the story to several publications. He eventually sold it to “The Nation” and began writing. The process of synthesizing the story was the most difficult part, according to Olson. He challenged himself to combine the essential details of the story with a poetic narrative voice.

Although Olson had begun writing, the story was not over yet. After refusing a prior interview, the mining corporation contacted Olson to fly him back to Honduras for an interview with the CEO. Given the corporation’s suspected ties to the largest drug trafficking family in the country, Olson was suspicious of their intentions and declined the interview, at which time he began receiving harassing messages.

At the same time, Olson's local contact in Aguán began receiving death threats which he believed were connected to the story he reported on with Olson, forcing him into hiding. For several weeks, Olson worked with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which brought his contact to the U.S. Olson even brought the journalist to Flagler to present about his struggle for justice in Central America for Associate Professor Rachel Cremona’s class.

On March 24, Olson’s 3,700-word piece, titled “Honduras's Deadly Water Wars,” was published in “The Nation” magazine. To read it online, visit here.

“It was an honor to have these people let me into their communities, share their terrifying, intimate, beautiful stories, and then write a long piece that could pull it all together,” said Olson of the process.

This publication is but one of Olson’s accomplishments during his time at Flagler. His involvement in Flagler’s student newspaper, The Gargoyle, has opened many opportunities for him. In 2018, Olson was chosen as a Pulitzer Center Student Fellow, enabling him to travel to Mexico and write a story entitled “The Displaced Campesinos of Nicolas Ruiz.” The story was published in The Gargoyle and won Best Feature Story in the student category of the Society of Professional Journalists Florida 2019 Sunshine State Awards. To read about his story and award, visit here.

Olson is also a finalist in this year’s Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Region 3 Awards in the Online Feature Reporting category. The region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most participating schools are large state universities with established student journalism and media programs. Olson’s story, titled “The Riverkeeper: Saving St. Augustine’s Matanzas Waterways” was also published in The Gargoyle in 2019.
Olson participated in this year’s Honors Day, as both a presenter and an award recipient. He presented his undergraduate research on his coverage in Honduras and received the Distinguished Student Award for liberal arts from the School of Humanities and Sciences.

After graduating this summer, Olson will continue along his professional path. He is currently working on two advanced reader book reviews for two magazines. He intends to continue reporting abroad on social injustices in Central and South America. His goal is to use storytelling as a medium to share the struggles of immigrants and encourage understanding, compassion and empathy among readers.

Of his published article in “The Nation,” Olson said: “I would consider it part of an ongoing intellectual and literary project, in which I'm trying to illuminate the way people struggle for justice in Central America, and how Americans are far more connected to those struggles than we realize.”

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