Karina Marrón: “The Change in Cuban Journalism is Within Ourselves”
By Karina Marrón, Chief of National Information, Granma daily
October 5, 2015, 8:58 PM
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
These are comments by Karina Marrón, who heads the paper’s national editorial staff.
At barely 30 years of age, leading the national news staff of the country´s highest-circulation newspaper is no easy task. Karina Marrón, who is head of the national news staff of Granma newspaper, can tell us about it because every day she faces the enormous challenge of trying to bring a balanced Cuba to its pages.
“It is not easy to fit into just eight pages our nuances plus characters, events, news from all provinces, recognition and criticism,” she assures me. But Karina does not give up her desire to transform Cuban journalism for the better from her daily space.
On the occasion of Granma’s 50th anniversary, we spoke with Karina regarding changes necessary for Cuban press and the challenges, challenges and opportunities for Granma in present-day Cuba.
Q: When you came to lead Granma´s national news staff you already had a record in the newspaper Ahora! Now, how much change and continuity was there between what you were doing –thinking mainly of Holguin– and what you began to conceive for the national audience?
“I started with Granma in October 2013 and although work on Ahora! was certainly a great school –due to the quality of the professionals with whom I worked and the concepts of journalism that have become a tradition in that newspaper– Granma was quite different.”
“If we talk about continuity, I think I can mention two fundamental things: being the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party –each medium adjusted to its aim– and the need to address issues that matter to the population. The challenge of reconciling both, of delving into the issues that people care about and doing so with the social responsibility that comes from being the official voice of the Party, that’s something I saw as continuity, even though, as I said, the scope is different.”
“When I think about change, I must necessarily refer to daily editing. It is not even remotely similar to work in a weekly. This is because, in a daily journal, even when you strive to have a good online edition of your newspaper, in our minds the printed paper is still the main media. So, I had to adapt to a different pace of work, different conceptions of space; to think about a country and not just one province, different relationships with information sources, and new styles of work.”
“In essence the job remains the same, because the work of any news media, even the smallest, implies preparing yourself to inform correctly, implies sacrificing to investigate and to finding the best way to say things. The big difference is the impact and what can be achieved through a media like Granma.“
Q: What was your relationship with the daily Granma before you joined it? The Granma that you used to read and the one which you are now part of; how much has the image of that paper changed in your mind?
“Honestly, I think I was pretty severe. As a reader and as a journalist I was full of dissatisfaction with what I read, and had many ideas about how it should be. I think I’m not alone in that. I think every person who reads Granma is like I used to be. This is because for those who read us –whether in print, in Granma International or on the Web– the battles fought internally every day to get the newspaper out are invisible and all that matters is the result.”
“People expect more and more of this newspaper; and that’s fine, because it means that people are still confident that we can meet their expectations. The issue, the challenge, is not to leave them wanting, not to fall too short of what people are expecting.”
“Now that I’m part of the newspaper team and specifically of its editorial board, I understand many things: the professional limitations, the mediations in the process of preparing the paper and even the material problems. But as I said, none of that can justify us before those who follow our publication in any of their presentations; and that’s what we can not lose sight of.”
“I think the Granma that I used to “see from the sidelines” and this one which I am part of right now are different. The Web version of the newspaper is perhaps the most notable example, not only because of its new image and the possibility of interacting with users through their comments, but also because of the way of understanding the news coverage of certain events. In the printed version, there are also differences, especially in the still hesitant approach to research, and the diversity of journalistic genres. They are different, but they’re still not the Granma I’d like to read. “
Q: In your opinion, how is the Cuba that Granma presents? What is the challenge of putting together each day a national newspaper? What are you proud of? What would you change?
I think the Cuba shown in Granma still lacks many nuances. Characters are missing and sometimes facts are missing. It is very difficult at times to reconcile all interests so that Cuba is shown in its entirety every day in those 8 pages. This is because the newspaper is not only the place where people look for information as an instrument in the ideological struggle waged by our country. It’s also a document that remains in history. But it is also seen by many people as a place of recognition. So everyone wants to see themselves there, but not in criticism.”
“And it is very complex because, on the one hand, people question why Granma mostly publishes articles on positive experiences in different sectors: agriculture, construction, health, education … when there are so many problems to solve. On the other hand they do not want us to stop recognizing their work.”
“I think that’s the hardest part to fill every day in a national newspaper: balance. To have the different provinces represented, to include criticism and recognition, so we can fulfill the task of informing and stimulating thought. That is a score that is not yet settled, because, when we have gotten closer we always find that something is missing. For example: chronicles or life stories, which are other ways of showing Cuba and that breathe so much life into a publication.”
“Personally, I am proud to belong to this group. It gives me great joy when we do something that is well-received by those who read us. No matter if it’s something from my staff, or from culture or internationals, because if there is something positive in Granma it is that there are no individual “beats”; what is most important is the newspaper, rather than your own signature on an article.”
“As for change … I would change many things. Some within Granma; others outside, but that also have an impact on what happens inside. However, there are changes that do not happen just because you want them to –all the more so when you are dealing with a newspaper. There are changes that depend on many people, and take time. So I think it’s best to change myself slowly (it’s hard to get rid of certain habits and ways of thinking) and to try to be part of that change in other people and things.”
Q: For several years, now the staff of Granma has been characterized by being eminently young. Can you describe the challenge of being a very young leader who works with so many young people? What role will they play in the kind of journalism that we are called upon to do?
“What is most complex is that you yourself are learning and sometimes you do not have much to teach. Although I graduated ten years ago, I do not think my past experience is enough to become the mentor that the young people I lead need or to be the guide they need to fully develop their potential. The shortcomings of the national news team today are my fault, my own shortcomings; and that is what I feel when any of my staff’s work is rejected.”
“But it’s very rewarding to work with young people, especially in these times when generational leaps are faster. At least, that is how I see it. Today a five year difference can be a huge gap in terms of the way we see the world. To work with those who view things differently can open my eyes to things I had not seen before. In journalism that seems fundamental.”
“As to the role they should play … I think it’s essentially the same: to speak with the voice of the times. Ideally, without losing this new voice –controversial and full of color that youth always has– Granma would reflect the very serious issues that it has to deal with on account of its role in Cuban society.”
Q: If I asked you for a kind of SWOT matrix with respect to Granma today, what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats would you identify? How can we change it for the better? How would you like Granma to be in the next five years?
“It’s a fitting question for a thesis, but I will try to answer briefly on the basis of the analysis we have done within the editorial board of Granma.”
“Threats: unfair competition from the so-called alternative media, both printed and digital, which offer better economic compensation and do not have the editorial pressure of the official media. To this I could add the inconsistencies in the information policy of the country, and the general absence of a culture of communication on a societal scale (hence the excessive secrecy and excessive regulation, etc.).”
“Weaknesses… Lack of professionalism and continuous emigration of an important part of young, trained journalists for a number of reasons. There are also the material limitations which we cannot overcome. This is coupled with a limited administrative autonomy (believe me… this also has a bearing on the newspaper we make).”
“These are just two, but I could mention others such as insufficient readership studies to know our public, generational gaps that exist in our newsrooms, self-limitations and lack of self-preparation by some professionals, not just journalists.”
“As for the strengths … Having achieved a system of collective leadership in decision-making and a growing collective construction of the media’s agenda which takes into very serious account the interaction with its readers. Furthermore, it is also very positive to have a Web page that technically allows us to be “up-to-date” with what goes on in the world of hyper-media journalism. There is also an understanding of the need for convergence between the traditional and the digital media.”
“If we consider the opportunity of having professionals who are mostly willing to make the changes and the training to do so –especially young people– then arguably part of the way towards the transformation we want is clear. But of course, there are things that do not depend on Granma, and these are matters of time and effort. And finding the way to do it, which is not always as easy as identifying problems.”
Q: For several years you´ve had the blog “Espacio Libre [Free Space]”, which is well-liked. I see that you haven’t written for some months. What is the relationship between Karina the blogger and the Karina who carries a national newspaper on her shoulders? What is the contribution of the blogosphere to the journalism we build in the media?
“Blogger Karina has many debts to those who read her, because I dedicate a lot of time to the newspaper and the blog is the most affected by that. On the other hand, I have run into an ethical dilemma, because when I want to write something for the blog I immediately think: why don’t I write about that for Granma?”
“Sometimes one is seduced by the magic of the fact that on the blog you’re the journalist, the editor, the one who dictates the information policies, the editorials and the writing manuals and therefore it is somewhat easier to write about anything. You don´t even have to convince those who read you. In the end, whoever comes to your blog knows in advance that he or she will find their personal criteria and they can share it or not, but that is your very own space to comment.”
“A public media like Granma has to respect its public service and, therefore, even if you are giving an opinion, you are obliged to present arguments; to think carefully what you want to convey to your readers; what use they can find in what you do. It is not a space for personal catharsis.”
“That’s why I was talking about an ethical dilemma, because if I want to write about something controversial in my blog, for instance, I always ask myself why not do it for the newspaper, which also needs these things. Often these ideas end in stories I ask my own reporters to cover because I realize that for Granma, I can’t present certain subjects with just my limited personal perspective. Thus, the blog has been going dry or includes texts that are closer to my experiences as an individual than to journalism.”
“That competition between Karina the blogger and the editor, I think, is one of the main contributions that the blogosphere makes to journalism today: to show all roads that are still untravelled. If the media tapped more into the multiple voices that are there, either to nourish ourselves with issues, or even publishing the best that we find in the blogs, Cuban journalism would breathe fresher air.”
Q: As for the debate on the need for a change in the Cuban press: What role do you see for ethics, the participation and leadership of young people in the journalism that we all want to see? What can we ourselves do?
“I think that if there is something that those of us who work in the media and the population agree on is that the Cuban press must change. Better yet, I would say that the system of the press in Cuba must change. Now then, in that change ethics is essential.”
“We want a press that has nuances, colors, where each publication is distinguished by its exclusive content, and that is closer to the people. However, to achieve this goal we cannot become frivolous, sensationalist tabloids. Ethics is the only thing that can save us when we fail to see clearly the boundaries between achieving a product that is attractive, even entertaining, and entertainment per se, i.e., populism.”
“The Cuban press has a tradition of defending truth, of patriotism: and, although this can sound like a “spiel” to some, I think they are values that we can never forget.”
“And it is also ethical to prepare every day to do a better job in the media; to fight against those who want to hide information … So for me any path toward change must be linked to ethics.”
“Furthermore, in that change, young people are the key, because they have the strength, the momentum, the new knowledge and the time to go tearing down walls. But first they must feel the commitment to do so.”
“Today’s world promotes many different ways of disconnection, of individualism. There are many people waiting for the guy next to them to resolve the problems that affect us all while they care only about their own. I think the first thing we can do is begin to realize that change is also in us and we must join forces with those who think alike. Only then will we be taking the step in the right direction. At least that is the way I see it, and I try.”
Source: María del Carmen Ramon – Cubahora