[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Ana Menendez Bids Adieu

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ana Menendez Bids Adieu

Coming back from a weekend away from home, I got a chance to read Ana Menendez's farewell column in today's Miami Herald. For those of you who follow this blog, you know as the Herald's super-liberal Cuban-American "metro" columnist who has an uncanny way of getting under my skin with her arrogant, exile hard-line bashing and general way-left-of-center musings (just type "Ana Menendez" in the search bar at the top and you'll see what I mean).

Strangely enough, reading her column today was an interesting exercise of mixed emotions. Despite the fact that we won't have to endure any of Menendez's columns any longer, it's clear that the layoffs and decline of the Miami Herald has deeply affected a devoted, if misguided, journalist who strongly believes in her profession. Say what you want about Menendez (and I do), but you have to feel for someone who's seeing her ship sinking.

From her column:
Three years ago, I returned to The Miami Herald after a decade away. A brilliant colleague greeted me in the newsroom with a handshake: ''Welcome back to newspapers,'' he said. ``It's like joining the railroads in 1897.''

Maybe it's our prolonged association with calamity, but journalists always seem to operate in crisis mode. For as long as I've been a reporter, the business has reeled from catastrophe to catastrophe. But it's hard to remember a more difficult time for newspapers and the people who work for them.

Last month, The Miami Herald's publisher sent a memo coolly stating the paper was ''reducing its workforce by 250 FTEs.'' That's the way it goes, even in a business that traffics in clear language: You hire people and fire FTEs.

The Miami Herald has plenty of sad company. Nationwide, newspapers have seen staggering losses of both revenue and readers. The old business models are failing, victims of technology, poor planning, and unreasonable profit margins.

The anxiety over the future of newspapers has spawned a secondary industry in plans to remake them. I leave that deplorable exercise to the experts. I have no idea how to save newspapers. All I can do is mourn what is happening to them, not just because the future of so many colleagues depends on the health of American journalism, but because our democracy does.

DIFFICULT EXIT

Earlier this year, I accepted a Fulbright grant to teach at the American University in Cairo. I return next summer, but this is my last column. I had intended it to be a light farewell.

Instead my exit coincides with a far more serious story. As I write this, respected colleagues are losing their jobs. The paper is offering workshops with names like ''Marketing Yourself with a Résumé.'' It's impossible now to say goodbye with a smile.

In many ways, I grew up in The Miami Herald. I was hired in 1991 (in the middle of a hiring freeze) and returned in 2005 in the middle of another crisis.

I can write a book about all the ways this paper has disappointed me. But I also learned a lot here: about toughness, integrity and truth. We make mistakes and we're crabby. But you will find no finer collection of idealists.
Then again, a Menendez column (even her swan song) wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of arrogance (emphasis mine):
In the last three years, The Miami Herald uncovered massive corruption at almost every level, from the affordable housing scandal to the continuing mess at Miami International Airport to the bio-tech park in Overtown to Diddy's free plane ride to the squandering of the transit tax. ''Everyone knows The Miami Herald is the only investigative force in this town,'' an official told me recently. Damn right.

Then there is the daily work, the tireless coverage of government meetings, police, hurricanes, development. I do not have enough space to call out all my colleagues. You don't know them. But they work long hours for little pay, little recognition and almost constant abuse. My only lingering anger with this town is that too often, too many of you have taken them for granted.
Way to slap your customers in the face there, Ana.

More on my reasons for the Herald's decline below, but here's the ending:
In two months, I will face a classroom in Cairo and begin a conversation with the next generation of journalists in the Arab world. I couldn't do it if I didn't trust in what our business stands for: openness, courage and a willingness to confront power.

Many of those values are endangered here at home. But I still believe journalists are engaged in a noble endeavor. In America, that may be just a punch line. Across the globe, men and women have died proving it. This paper belongs to all of you. Take care of it.
I can only speak for myself here, but as a long-time and current Herald subscriber, here are my thoughts and opinions on the reasons for the Herald's decline:

- I don't believe anyone "in this town" has taken the Herald for granted. If anything, the reason people are bailing out and canceling subscriptions is simply because they don't like the way the Herald reports the news. It's THAT simple. Contrary to what many on my side of the ideological spectrum think, I believe the Herald attempts to be fair most of the time. Do they fail? Yes, more often than not. Sometimes they hit the nail on the head, such as in their editorials which harshly condemn the Cuban regime and strongly support dissidents.

However, many other times they roll out articles and columns which disparage a large portion of the Cuban-American community (if they did this with any other ethnic group in Miami, they would have been skewered a long time ago). Ana Menendez, Carl Hiaasen, Oscar Corral, just to name of few of the guilty parties. To these journalists, the liberal, anti-hard-line Cubans are the courageous folks confronting the powerful hard-liners, while reasonable voices from the Cuban-American right are merely part of the machine, and as such are given cursory glances at best. After a while, reasonable people on the center and right get fed up.

So when Ana expresses her disgust at Miami for taking journalists for granted, what she's really saying is that she's frustrated when people here don't buy into her ideology.

You know what? I don't mind a fair, intelligently-written article or column which is critical of the establishment, whether it's Cuban-American or other. Just give us some balance. Too often, I don't see this happening. I'm not the only one who's noticed.

- The Herald's annoying habit of finding a dark cloud in even the most positive and/or non-controversial story (read any of Oscar Corral's stories, for example). For me, reading the paper in the morning is a ritual, one I've followed for most of my adult life. This ritual can be pretty depressing when the Herald puts their characteristic negative spin on a story. Don't get me wrong, negative is OK when called for. But I like a little sugar with my cereal every once in a while.

Interestingly enough, their Spanish counterpart El Nuevo Herald presents many of their stories from a positive or neutral perspective.

- The online version of the Herald is sub-standard. Good luck trying to find a story on their web site if it's not headlined/featured. In most papers I read online, you don't have to look very hard to find a non-feature story. Just go to the appropriate section and it's there. At the Herald site, however, I have often had to use their search feature to find an article published THAT SAME DAY.

Here's hoping the Herald replaces Ana Menendez with someone who at least has an open mind and sees both sides of the story. In other words, my view of what a journalist should be. For example, find out what makes conservative Cuban-Americans, especially the younger ones, tick. Someone who understands the true fabric of this town and isn't afraid to say what's right as well as what's wrong about it.

Is that too much to ask for? For the Herald, it might be, and it might indeed already be too late for them.

I share the sentiment of Ana Menendez and her colleagues that the day the Herald folds would be a sad day. Every city worth it's salt deserves a successful newspaper.

6 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan said...

I don't think it's sad. The market is passing the old papers by, just as it does for all types of businesses that don't adapt when the world changes. The sooner the Herald is superseded by better local news services, whether on paper or online, the better.

3:43 AM, July 14, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Jonathan,

I guess I implied that the Herald would leave a vacuum of local news service, which would be sad but also unrealistic. I agree with you that when a better service comes along, everyone will forget about the white elephant on Biscayne Bay.

4:10 PM, July 14, 2008  
Blogger roland said...

I for one feel like you, Robert. It hurts me to think the Herald could disappear one day. After all, growing up and living in Miami, the Herald has been and is part of our lives! Who wouldn't feel this way?

Now on the other side, they have been involved in a relentless bashing of Cuban-Americans for quite some time. Last year's Tom Fieldler's Chihuahua comment, was the last straw and I partially canceled my subscription to Thur-Sun (that's right, I couldn't go cold turkey).

I for one am glad Ana Menendez is leaving. It would be difficult for them to find someone as misguided and annoying has her. Her departure means I will be spending less on Tums, which comes at a good time to help pay for gas!

10:01 AM, July 15, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Roland,

I hear you about the Tums!

3:22 PM, July 15, 2008  
Blogger deborah said...

Ana Menendez was one of the only reporters to actually represent a balanced viewpoint on the Herald. As a Cuban-American Miami native, it is depressing to see how insular and right-wing my fellow Cuban-Americans have become. They are drones who don't even know the rest of the Republican base despises them (Republicans don't know the difference between Mexicans and Cubans). I wish Ana Menendez the best. She is an excellent writer.

12:32 PM, September 05, 2009  
Blogger Robert said...

Deborah,

Despite the fact that I totally and absolutely disagree with every sentence of your comment, this right-wing insular Cuban-American supports your right to make said comment and more.

Have a nice evening and thanks for writing.

10:27 PM, September 05, 2009  

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