Sex! Sin! Sensation!

That's El Nuevo Herald. All the news that's fit to print, as long as it's short, simple, and easy to read.

But unlike the FT, El Nuevo is not particularly well written, comprehensive, or well regarded outside Miami. It's closer to USA Today, with a trashy touch of Rupert Murdoch. In Latin America it's not perceived as a real newspaper, according to Mario Diament, coordinator of the Spanish-language master's degree program in journalism at FIU. "They see it as a propaganda tool more than anything else," says the Argentine, who previously worked as an opinion-page editor at El Nuevo. "If you ask in Latin America, nobody has a good opinion of it."

In El Nuevo stories are given prominence based largely on the quality of pictures that come with them. For example the death of a child in a car accident in Texas received prominent play above the fold in the paper early last September. The short article tried without supporting evidence to pin the tragedy on the Firestone tire recall. It's evident the dramatic picture of a distraught parent next to an overturned car alongside his child's covered corpse is the true reason the piece ran. The grim Associated Press photograph dwarfed the small story underneath it.

Castañeda is far from ashamed at the huge pictures and splashy headlines. He brings up with evident pride an example of what he likes about his paper. On October 8 El Nuevo ran huge front-page stories about a Cuban woman who married the duke of Luxembourg. The entire front page was given to the Cuban duchess. Castañeda boasts about the circulation boost the story gave him. "I sold almost 2000 more papers on that Sunday," he proclaims.

Despite setbacks El Diario publisher Oswaldo Muñoz sees a need for another Spanish-language paper
Steve Satterwhite
Despite setbacks El Diario publisher Oswaldo Muñoz sees a need for another Spanish-language paper

It's interesting to note what major U.S. newspapers were reporting that day on their front pages. The swearing in of a new president of Yugoslavia after an unprecedented peaceful revolution appeared on many of them. Most also offered some form of analysis on the increasingly heated presidential race. El Nuevo had these stories as well -- just small and deep inside the paper.

Owing to Castañeda's imperative for sensationalism, there were periods in the past year when it seemed every day Ricky Martin graced the cover. The reason is simple. "We sold more papers with Ricky Martin," says Castañeda.

Royalty. Screaming headlines. Big gripping visuals. If it bleeds, it leads. Sound familiar? It all falls into place when one realizes Castañeda sees his true competition as television. His long career has included stints at Life magazine and work in television. The experiences convinced him that the great failure of the newspaper industry is to ignore television. "Words are important," he sums up his philosophy, "but images are very important."

Yet Castañeda's approach makes it difficult to produce quality journalism. "Adapting your story to the space instead of the space to the story is bad politics," opines Mario Diament from his perch at FIU. Diament notes Castañeda changed the look of the paper but did not devote equal time to improving its content.

Some El Nuevo reporters who care about their craft are not happy about it either. "There is no way we can do fair jobs," complains one reporter. "How can you do a balanced job in twelve inches?"

To his credit Castañeda has recruited accomplished reporters. For example he snapped up Alejandra Matus, a distinguished Chilean journalist forced to leave her country after exposing corruption in the supreme court. Unfortunately their talents are rarely seen. Quality investigative work like that of past El Nuevo reporter Rosa Townsend, who broke the Church & Tower paving scandal in which a company owned by the Mas Canosa family allegedly overcharged the county for road repair, would be next to impossible in Castañeda's paper. Rather than struggle for space, most of the crew at El Nuevo don't even bother to propose tough stories. He's not using his resources, protests one.

It doesn't help that Castañeda has little interest in reporting local news in his paper. In an effort to grow, he's making a play for new audiences. In particular he covets Colombians and Venezuelans who are fleeing their native lands. These new arrivals generally are educated, have money, and are used to reading newspapers. Castañeda believes these readers are not concerned with local news. They don't plan to stay in Miami and thus are more interested in what goes on in their own nations. One of his first moves as editor was to eliminate the community columns El Nuevo had been running. "[El Nuevo readers] would like to know what is happening here, but not all the little details with Penelas or Carollo and so on," Castañeda insists. "We are dealing with the Latin Americans who have interest in knowing what is happening in Lima ... or Bogotá or in Havana."

To this end Castañeda has been generous in sending his reporters to other nations to report big events. He also has hired a correspondent in Colombia to follow events there. This has left those who would like to report on what is happening in South Florida with nowhere to go.

"The joke around the office is, if we can find a link between this and Colombia, maybe we can get more space," laughs one El Nuevo reporter.

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