Yoani Sanchez on 14ymedio: “Nothing Is More Attractive Than What Is Prohibited"

Always wanted to know what it’s really like to live in Cuba? Well, Miami, you’re in luck. On Thursday evening at Ball & Chain, Cuba’s first independent digital news platform, 14ymedio, in collaboration with the New Tropic presents an evening with the founder and acclaimed Cuban journalist Yoani Sánchez. Far from a rookie, Sánchez began her foray into journalism with a personal blog, Generation Y, which she started in 2007 after Fidel Castro retired from the political scene.

“I thought that, finally, Cubans were going to be able to have an opportunity to demand change in their political system,” says Sánchez via an email interview with the New Times. “There was always a desire to make the blog something bigger, to make it a daily news platform. After building such an important following online and through social media, I knew that it was time to transition my work from personal narratives about daily life in Cuba into something much bigger, led by a collective effort and with the vision of become a leading news organization in Cuba. That’s when 14ymedio was born.”

During Thursday's event, Sánchez will discuss the changes occurring in daily life and how relations between Cuba and Miami are expected to shift in the coming years. At the moment, 14ymedio is comprised of a team of reporters in Havana and five other provinces in Cuba. “Most of our reporters are in their 20s or 30s, so it is a young and dynamic team,” Sánchez says. “We have literature majors but also engineers and hairstylists. The most important thing is that they are driven and willing to learn.” 

Although 14ymedio is still in its infancy (it was founded in 2014), much has been tracked about its progress and audience. “In Cuba, our readers include the artistic and intellectual community, small business owners, and civil society leaders, among others. Most of our readers are located in urban centers but we've been making strides lately to reach rural communities as well,” explains Sánchez. “Outside of Cuba we have big communities of readers in Miami, as well as in Spain and Venezuela. In due time, we hope to be able to attract a younger demographic both inside and outside of Cuba.”

Issues such as censorship, access, and limited connectivity are an ongoing challenge for Sánchez and her team. The website is blocked inside of Cuba and users on the island can only content through proxies and offline versions of the site through USBs. To combat those issues, 14ymedio also established an online newsletter and a weekly PDF version of the site. “Nothing is more attractive than what is prohibited, so Cubans find a way to read us,” Sánchez comments. “We get dozens of emails every week from readers in Cuba who share their thoughts about our work and ask for information about current events and our articles.”

As the site progresses, 14ymedio plans to invest and develop their English edition in order to reach a larger audience. When it comes to future plans, however, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Our big goal for 2016 is to transform 14ymedio into a multi-platform media organization,” says Sánchez.

“Our team is planning to launch thought-provoking and engaging video content, develop a mobile app with offline sharing capabilities and increase our distribution network in Cuba. We won't be able to do all of this alone, so over next few months we will be launching a crowd funding campaign so that our supporters can help us take 14ymedio to the next level! We are transforming media in Cuba and we want our community of readers in Miami, and throughout the world, to feel a part of that transformation.”

Havana Real: An Evening with Yoani Sanchez
Thursday, November 5, at Ball & Chain, 1513 SW Eighth St., Miami. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the program beginning promptly at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $30;

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Dana De Greff