Granted the news was significant: After more than five years at the editorial helm, Verdecia would be leaving El Nuevo. But why take this particular moment to make the dramatic announcement? It was the evening of Tuesday, November 9. Election day. And people were busy. "This was just laid down on us at 6:00 p.m. on an election night," says one employee who was present at the meeting. "If they wanted to prevent any questioning or reflection by the staff, they couldn't have picked a better time. We could only listen and then go right back to work."
The next day El Nuevo and the Herald published identical notices of Verdecia's departure: He was leaving immediately on "sabbatical" through the end of the year. Then he would seek "new career opportunities."
After the crush of the elections, when editors and reporters had a chance to mull over that explanation, at least some of them decided it was lame at best. As everyone knew, Verdecia's grip on El Nuevo had weakened substantially in late September, when the results of an internal survey showed that a substantial majority of the editorial staff did not approve of his job performance. Following that embarrassing revelation, staffers say they began to hear rumors of Verdecia's impending demise. (Reached by telephone, Verdecia declined to discuss his departure from El Nuevo. His replacement has yet to be named.)
Besides, the sabbatical explanation already was suspect. Just three months earlier El Nuevo's managing editor, Fabiola Santiago, left the paper on a sabbatical in order to teach the fall semester at University of Florida in Gainesville. Santiago, a close Verdecia ally who reportedly encouraged the cliquish favoritism plaguing El Nuevo, will not return to her management job. (She has been replaced by Barbara Gutierrez.) The Miami Herald has hired Santiago as a writer on the paper's enterprise team. "At El Nuevo Herald people don't get fired," quips one employee. "They just go on leave forever."
Most of us think of the Miami Herald Publishing Company as the folks who produce our chock-full-of-news daily paper. But like any large corporation whose primary product suffers an anemic growth curve, MHPC is quickly learning to diversify. Or as the suits like to put it, to generate new revenue centers.
The most intriguing of these new money magnets is a twelve-page monthly newsletter devoted exclusively to Cuba. Advance rumors of the publication provoked a few snickers, especially from the Herald's avowed enemies at the Cuban American National Foundation, who predicted it would be nothing more than a shrewdly marketed Herald rehash. No such luck.
Launched in September, the innovatively titled CubaNews is actually a compendium of info-snippets so arcane they'd never make it into the Herald's news sections: hotel management agreements, specialized economic indicators, demographic profiles. In fact, CubaNews operates independent of the Herald, with its own stable of freelance writers and its own offices, says editor Mark Seibel.
At a subscription rate of $350 per year the newsletter is being marketed to the corporate elite. "It's intended for CEOs and strategic planners who do business with Cuba," notes Seibel. He says subscribers already number "in the hundreds," most outside Miami, with an eventual goal of a thousand.
Formerly the Herald's respected foreign editor, Seibel says the newsletter concept had been kicking around for years. But only recently, as Castro's teetering regime flails about for capitalist supports, has the idea come to fruition. Though CubaNews reads, quite unabashedly, like a primer for would-be imperialists (general manager Guillermo Cueto is a former CIA intelligence officer), Seibel says the publication will eschew political coverage.
That may sound odd coming from Seibel, who just a few years ago helped the Herald win a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the politically charged Iran-contra affair. But since returning from a Harvard Neiman Fellowship in July 1992, he has been kicked upstairs. Aside from editing CubaNews, Seibel now serves as MHPC's director of international operations.
Thus, while he once led the charge to expose Ronald Reagan's foreign adventures, Seibel now spends his days overseeing MHPC's own expansionist visions. In recent months, he has revamped the Herald's international edition, adding staff and expanding its circulation. He has also helped in the start-up of an El Nuevo Herald fax edition, which is transmitted to cruise ships and upper-crust hotels, and a shopping flyer called Florida Marketplace, which is distributed to Miami-bound consumers in Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil.
Seibel admits he misses working in the trenches, but he says he is also enjoying the prospect of building the Herald's international presence. "If someone had told me five years ago that I was going to be worrying about revenue, I would have thought they were crazy," he muses. "But revenue is not a bad thing to worry about. It's important to have people who worry about those things, but who also worry about the journalism."