By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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There is a major flaw in Castañeda's marketing plan. Many of these elites who are coming to Miami have access to the Internet. They can read about their own nations in as much depth as they want. "You don't need a newspaper to tell you about your home country, because you can access your hometown paper on your desktop," reasons Diament.
What is left in El Nuevo are short stories and big pictures.
It seems certain that the Miami Herald's readership would not stand for the news lite El Nuevo often dishes out. Still, Castañeda is unbowed. "That is why they are losing circulation," he says bluntly.
Castañeda delights in telling the story of his role in the birth of El Herald, later to become El Nuevo Herald. "The called me in 1975 and offered it to me on a silver plate," he recalls "I told them it was a mistake."
Executives from the Miami Herald persuaded him to take time from his successful job re-creating El Nuevo Día in Puerto Rico to travel to Miami. Their goal was to convince him to midwife a Spanish-language supplement here. In his story the executives wine and dine Castañeda, who keeps insisting he doesn't need a job. When he tells them that a Hispanic newspaper could have a circulation of 60,000, their tepid reaction reveals the true nature of their plans. They aren't interested in eventually creating a true Spanish-language newspaper. What they really want is a supplement to boost circulation for the English paper.
Most of the Anglos he spoke with over two days of meetings couldn't see the demographic future before them, he explains. "According [to them], in nine years, everybody was going to be speaking English here," Castañeda recalls. "In those days the paper was fighting against bilingualism."
A perceived anti-immigrant bias from that time continues to bedevil the Herald, and by association El Nuevo, to this day. Thus the paper gets slammed by both the right and the left. The relationship between the daily, its supplement, and the community hit its lowest point when Jorge Mas Canosa declared a successful jihad against both papers in 1992. Many still criticize El Nuevo as a product of Anglos, noting its origins as a simple translation. But the assertion that El Nuevo is entirely an Anglo creation is false. Although Castañeda did not take the job, he eventually agreed to work as a consultant during its first three months, putting his imprint on the new venture.
Castañeda began his trade as a newsman in his native Cuba at age seventeen. His dream is to run a newspaper there in the post-Castro era. In Miami in the Seventies, he helped the Herald select the staff for its supplement, as well as lay out a format. Castañeda says he even came up with the name El Herald. "I went out to Calle Ocho and that was the way the people referred to the [Miami Herald] already," he remembers.
In 1987 Knight Ridder revamped the paper, changed its name to El Nuevo Herald, and added staff and local coverage in a tentative step toward independence. Still, it depended for much of its news on stories lifted from the Herald and remained an insert within the English-language paper. In 1994 Castañeda returned to the paper once again. He had worked actively at El Nuevo Día from 1970 to 1990, helping to take a paper of 16,000 circulation to 224,000. Reluctant to retire, he served as a consultant for papers throughout Latin America. Knight Ridder invited him in that capacity to look at El Nuevo. He found intrigue, politics, and lots of problems, concluding there was little he could do to help. "I said, “Listen, this paper is the Bulgarian Communist Party,'" he divulges.
He wrote his observations in a memo, which fell into the hands of Alberto Ibargüen shortly after Ibargüen assumed command of El Nuevo in 1995. Ibargüen, who came from the business side of newspapering, concurred with Castañeda's assessment. Ibargüen had inherited a newspaper in disarray and set out to give the paper focus. He launched a weekly business supplement similar to the Miami Herald's "Business Monday." Latin-American coverage intensified. Cuba news mostly moved off the front page and into a special section inside the paper. Blaring headlines began lending a tabloid tone to lead stories.
The Ibargüen era also brought with it dramatic turnover. Staff discontent grew and the new chief was widely seen as a distant leader. He would pace around his glass-enclosed office, talking on the phone, his door usually shut. El Nuevo cultivated an unwillingness to take on influential public and private figures in Miami-Dade County. Allegations surfaced that he demanded reporters write favorably about his business friends.
Still, this odd insert began to develop a voice of sorts.
Ibargüen's greatest achievement came on January 5, 1998, when El Nuevo hit the racks as a separate newspaper. Five months later he introduced home delivery. The changes came after years of debate that pitted Ibargüen against Herald publisher David Lawrence, who had argued that a separate paper would divide the community. Lawrence, whose tenure at the Herald attracted more than its share of critics, soon found himself replaced by Ibargüen, who took the helm of both papers. Ibargüen set out to woo Castañeda from his semiretirement for a full-time return to El Nuevo. He finally agreed, and on January 10, 1999, Castañeda accepted a two-year contract to pilot El Nuevo. "It was probably the mistake of an old man," he jokes today.