Depressed by the Prensa

by José Simián



Oh, what a week last one was for the Hispanic press of New York City. NY al Día, a new daily, appeared on the streets, and fellow blogger Juan Manuel Benítez put out the best (and only?) series analyzing Spanish newspapers I have seen on New York television.

That last praise comes from a friend, which may raise doubts among some of you. (Faithful readers of this blog, though, know that we aren’t afraid to fight.) But it’s not like anybody else will praise or say anything about those stories: we don’t exactly have an overflow of commentators on Latino media, not even on blogs (correct me if I’m wrong); not even after the Mayor decided it was essential to use his Spanish almost every time he has a presser. So here goes nothing, some reflections on the events of last week for those few freaks like me that actually care about (and/or make a living out of) Spanish media.

Of course, the existence of NY al Día is a positive development, as is its desire to create a healthy competition with El Diario. The problems arise from the General Manager, Juan Carlos Sánchez’s recent interviews with Benítez.  And taking into account the statements of his former boss, the ex Editor of the disappeared Hoy, Javier Castaño, the chances of having modern and promising newspapermen in Spanish-speaking New York seem terribly slim. (Most of NY al Día‘s team comes from Hoy.)

For starters, appearing in a recap of Benitez’s series, at NY1 Noticias’ Pura Política, Sánchez didn’t seem to have a clear business model. And, yes, I am aware that the newspaper crisis shutting down newsrooms accross the country is precisely about the death of the old business model. Yet, it was stunning that Sánchez’s best answer for the reasoning behind charging $0.40 for his product instead of giving it away for free was “because quality needs to have a price.” (Consumers would disagree: “Show me the quality and I’ll show you the money,” they’d probably say.)

Sánchez went even further with this price-as-value theory, claiming that the dissapearance of Hoy was caused in part because of it becoming a freebie, not because of the scandal of its inflated circulation numbers. Which takes us to the next worrisome issue: Sánchez could not account for 6,000 newspapers that seemed to be missing from the “official” 14,000 copies on the streets. Could history repeat itself so quickly?

But enough with worrying about paper and ink. After all, some of those problems will correct themselves soon (saving some trees along the way) thanks to the Internet. The most vexing problem: Sánchez and his former boss seem to be completely unaware of the current state of affairs between the newspaper industry and that online thing. I would even take things a step further and infer that they are convinced Latino newspapers share none of the concerns of, say, The New York Times.

A week after its release, NY al Día‘s only presence online is a banner announcing its imminent launch. “We don’t believe that the Internet is the first priority of the Hispanic community,” said Sánchez.

Here is the apparent strategy, then: to put this $0.40 piece of paper in the hands of Latinos so they can read, for instance, the results of yesterday’s sports games!

I understand that it’s easy to assume Latinos to which these publications aim at may be old school. They may prefer to buy the newspaper to read it on the bus on their way to work; maybe not all of them are crazy about reading news online as of now. But do they seriously believe that those “old school” Latinos are the only market out there? Do they really see NY al Día as a media outlet free from the 24-hour news cycle? Are these people thinking that in a few years, when Blackberries, iPhones or other devices become cheaper, relevant readers will not want to read their news digitally?

Statements made by Castaño in his appearance on the reporting series and Pura Política were clear in this Internet-denial direction. According to him, “the Internet is not the solution to the problems of the Hispanic press in this country.”

This phobia —or lack of understanding— of the online world seems to run even deeper than love for the printed page. In other statements, Castaño suggested that publishing news online somehow goes against the “old school” style of journalism he claims to be a part of. Furthermore, this high-quality journalism would return “soon,” when “people realize they have to pay for the [news on the] Internet…. [Then] they will go back to paying $0.50 for their [printed] newspaper.”

This confusion between the medium and the content is troublesome, akin to Sánchez’s suggestion that charging for a print copy amounts to quality in its pages.

I don’t expect every Hispanic journalist to follow and try to decipher Jay Rosen’s feed on the future of the media via Twitter. (It’s free, anyway, folks…) What I do expect of serious journalists is an impartial and objective look at the world changing around them. But something in Sánchez and Castaño’s statements makes me think of the movie Sixth Sense when, at the end of the film, the main character suddenly realizes he has been dead all along.