Friday, February 10, 2012

A Sad Adiós to the Colombian Miami Herald

A past edition of the Miami Herald's international edition.
Last year, a familiar and surprising publication appeared on Bogotá newspaper stands: the international edition of the Miami Herald.

It lasted about one year, and I always wondered how it could survive in a nation in which few people read the news in English, and those who do do it mostly on the Internet. This year, I haven't seen the Herald on newsstands.

In reality, it was mostly New York Times stories below the Herald's masthead. I occasionally purchased the paper, in part because it brought back memories of sitting down with the morning paper back home in the States. And, for all of the speed and convenience of the Internet, I still find reading on paper more satisfying. And, in fact, studies have found that people recall better what they read on paper than what they read on a computer screen. I also have a personal attachment to the Herald, since I contributed a few stories to them years ago, when they and other papers still had freelance budgets.

(Finally, I also have a guilty reason for preferring reading on paper: When you click on some sleazy, superficial headline about Michael Jackson or Britney Spears on the Internet, you know that some computer someplace is taking note and planning more such stories. But, when you read trash like that on paper, nobody else knows.)

Yesterday, Feb. 9, was the Day of the Journalist in Bogotá, designated by the Circle of Journalists of Bogotá.

Selling an international daily paper in English here had to be a challenge from the start when expatriates and tourists can instantly read the New York Times over the Internet. English-language newspapers in Latin America have also declined in recent decades because of changes in corporate hiring policies, as U.S.- and U.K-based companies have tended to hire more locals, who usually receive lower salaries.

The few English dailies remaining in the region include the Buenos Aires Herald, the Tico Times and The News in Mexico City. Of course, online publications have flourished. But most of those mostly copy or rewrite stories from other publications. For about three years around 2000 I wrote for the Bolivian Times. The Times did some bad, even irresponsible journalism, but also contributed a different opinion and informed. It's since folded, and despite my bad memories of being exploited by the paper's owner, the Times' disappearance was probably a loss for Bolivia.

Across the globe, newspapers are having hard times because of the Internet and other forces, as I, an ex-journalist, know well. In Colombia and much of Latin America, in contrast, newspapers are still going strong - thanks in part to a strong regional economy, to the limited Internet penetration and to wealth families who enjoy the status of running newspapers. But as Internet use spreads, Latin American newspapers will inevitably face the same challenges which U.S. and European are now.

Journalist Jineth Bedoya,
attacked for her work.
In recent weeks, Latin papers and other media have also faced threats from governments and illegal organizations. Ecuador's leftist government passed a law prohibiting journalists from reporting on elections - an obvious move to protect the government from press criticisms. An Ecuadorean court also fined two journalists $2 million for "humilliating" Pres. Rafael Correa with their investigative book about alleged corruption by the president's brother. Journalists' organizations have criticized the Ecuadorean government for these and other moves to muzzle the free press.

Meanwhile, Argentina has passed a law regulating paper sales - an obvious move by the government to intimidate the critical El Clarin media group.

In Colombia, meanwhile, the FARC guerrillas reportedly planned to murder a reporter who they believed to be an informant for the U.S. government and another who had written a book about the late FARC leader Mono Jojoy.

Also, Bogotá police prevented journalists from entering a court hearing on the killing by police of a young graffiti painter. Also, the year 2000 kidnapping and gang rape of Jineth Bedoya, a reporter with the El Espectador newspaper, remains unsolved.

In honor of Journalists' Day, the Circle of Journalists of Bogotá gave awards for outstanding journalists and journalism work in print, radio, TV and other 'net. Semana magazine won an award for 'The DAS's Secret Papers,' about the secret police agency's selling of classified documents.  Olga Beher also won an award for her book 'The Clan of the 12 Apostles,' about allegations of connections between paramilitary groups and powerful Colombians.

Those are a few of the reasons why print journalism continues to be so important and relevant.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Anonymous said...

Sorry Mike, but Jineth Bedoya is alive and fighting against their captors and abusers. Watch out!

Miguel said...

Thanks a lot for the correction. Change is made. Fortunately, blogs are correctable - unlike newspapers.

And glad to hear that Jineth's still alive and fighting.