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The changing ways Cubans get their news
There’s a new media intermediate in town.l
BY KEVIN VESTAL
vestalkc@miamioh.edu

HAVANA
Iraida Casanueva perches by a street corner in a gap in the iron
railing, her chamomile-colored hair sheltered beneath a tree from the
summer sun. A stack on fresh newspapers sits in her lap for her to thumb
through the headlines and comics when business is slow.

“¿Granma?” she squeaks at the strangers who pass her post, be they
longtime locals of the Vedado neighborhood or wandering tourists looking
for a bite to eat. They answer her with a small shrug or feigned
ignorance. Pesos remain in pockets.

Her asking price is modest at two Cuban pesos, with a discount for her
small band of regulars that roughly equals what she pays every morning
to buy the Granma off the truck. A black duffle bag in the grass behind
her holds most of Casanueva’s daily newspaper cache.

Two decades of this practice has helped her stay financially afloat, but
now there’s a new media intermediate in town: the internet.

A crowd of young people gather just down the block, huddling with their
iPhones around one of Cuba’s new WiFi hotspots. Although $2.25 for an
hour of connection is expensive, they flock to the various parks and
hotels along the Malecón in order to access the outside world’s variety
of media outlets, or at least what is allowed by the Cuban censors.

Young people cluster in Havana at one of Cuba’s 35 WiFi hotspots. While
expensive by Cuban standards, internet access allows them an alternative
to state-controlled media. Photo by Kevin Vestal
Snapchat may be blocked, but Facebook and Twitter are regularly used by
Cubans to share stories and reconnect with relatives abroad.

According to Arnoldo Coro Antich, a journalism professor at the
University of Havana and senior adviser to the Cuban Institute of Radio
and Television, it was visiting relatives from the United States who
first introduced young Cubans to mobile devices, prompting the demand
for increased internet access.

However, Coro views the upswing in young Cubans using cellphones as
problematic to the spread of information.

“People are losing their ability to use the written language,” Coro
said. “The isolation provided by earphones and the screen of the
computer impedes communication. The way the processes of news flows
should include live sessions at least once a day.”

A poster of Cuban leader Fidel Castro hangs proudly on the wall of
Granma’s office. According to Granma’s website, the newspaper’s primary
goal is to “promote, through its articles and comments, the work of the
revolution and its principles.” Photo by Kevin Vestal
Recognizing a decline in young readership, Granma is employing new
strategies to fight for its audience.

In an interview with visiting students from Miami University, Granma’s
national newsroom Department Head Karina Marron Gonzalez said that the
official voice of the Communist Party is using more visuals and graphics
to spice up its pages. The Friday issue also includes a “Letters from
Readers” page that allows Cubans to publicly voice their issues and
provide more interaction with Granma.

Going forward, Granma wishes to expand from eight pages in the daily
issues in order to include more niche stories. So far only three issues
of the paper have printed color to highlight special events such as the
Pope’s 2015 visit to the island. But Marron hopes the paper will be less
monochromatic in the months and years ahead.

Nevertheless, the newspaper, with a circulation of 500,000, has some
boundaries for itself when it comes to innovation. A strict policy
against “red journalism” means that tabloid gossip and sensational crime
stories will not appear in print, no matter the public interest.

“The purpose [of Granma] is that people identity with the paper and
people think that if the Granma says so, it is true and it is
important,” Marron said.

While the state-funded newspaper ultimately does not have to worry about
losing revenue from readers, young or old, Cuba’s slow transition to
more digital media hits Casanueva close to home.

Despite her difficulties, Casanueva said she spends every Sunday at home
with her mother, Araselia. Otherwise she is at her corner selling
Granma. The news may never stop, but once a week Casanueva needs a break.

“Today my mother is 100 years old and it is hard to put food on the
table for her,” Casanueva said. “[Granma] is not something you would
have in the United States, but here this is what we have. It puts bread
on the table.”

Source: The changing ways Cubans get their news | In Cuba Today –
www.incubatoday.com/news/article87927472.html

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