Reporting, Uncovered


Colombia is far from dry of newsworthy stories. For the past half-century, the media has been blessed with plentiful to report given the intense F.A.R.C. rebel conflicts that are still being resolved today. Colombia’s own media has tip-toed around sensitive topics with fear of losing their careers — or lives. With almost 50 journalists murdered for job-related reasons, the reporting coming from within Colombia is not always the most full and accurate. But, foreign publications have helped pick up some pieces that were left out. Details that are not available in Colombian publications are sometimes in external sources and can help produce a more complete package of information.

And, both internal and external publications tend to write stories about Colombia’s conflicts. Reporting of triumphs in Colombia is rare. The hot issues on the menu for this month (and most likely for the next months) are: resolving the civil conflicts, the spreading Zika virus, and cocaine trafficking.

How Zika spreads… (And the news about it)


The Zika virus is prevalent and has been spreading within Colombia since October of last year. US authorities confirmed earlier this month that Zika does cause mircocephaly and numerous other birth defects. Caribbean News Now!, a Latin American publication that covers countries in the Caribbean like Colombia, has been covering the Zika outbreak since the beginning of this year. On January 18, they published a story headlined “US issues travel alert over Zika virus in Caribbean.” The story’s headline does well in encompassing the heart of the story, as that’s the story’s main point. Besides stating that it’s not a good idea to travel to these places, the story includes a rudimentary back-history of Zika outbreak, like where it was first reported. The other point the story offers is that it is linked to birth defects. There’s no sources or quotations in the story.

Caribbean News Now! released another Zika story a month after this one, titled “Zika virus may be more easily transmitted than thought.” This headline, at least, isn’t identical to its lead- like the last story. But, the story is that Zika is sexually transmitted as well as through mosquito bites. After stating that in the lead, the rest of the story is history of the Zika virus and a case study. At the end of the story is a subheading titled “implications,” that advises readers to use safe sex or abstinence to avoid transmission. This story also lacks quotations. Similar to a WedMD article, the story briefly explores symptoms of Zika, and deep history including the first recorded Zika case ever. Completely off topic from the lead, the story lacks more exploration of preventing the disease. As a reader, I’m more interested in hearing about how to avoid getting the disease than cases of Zika in the rhesus monkey.

In comparison, the Brazil Sun print newspaper released a story today about the Zika epidemic in Colombia. As an external source, I expected the coverage of Zika to be different than Caribbean News Now! But, the two publications wrote stories that are similar in content and structure. Brazil Sun’s story is titled “Nearly 72,000 cases of Zika in Colombia since October.” The headline presents a shocking statistic, creating a dramatic effect for the reader. This made me want to read more of the story, but none of the information in the story is different than Caribbean News Now!’s story. Every paragraph is a few sentences with different statistics about cases reported. Similar to the internal news coverage, there are no sources or quotations. What’s interesting is that through all of these big numbers, the story reiterates that government says the epidemic is “dropping precipitously” for the time.


Nets are placed over beds to keep the mosquitos away.

NPR‘s report of the Zika outbreak in Colombia is strikingly different than the internal report and the report from Brazil. NPR explains the conflict between Venezuela and Colombia, and how they’re making the outbreak increase. Those who are sick in Venezuela with Zika are unable to find necessary medical attention, and are coming to Colombia to find treatment. Currently there are 37,000 people sick in Colombia. In Venezuela, there are only 5,000.

“We know Venezuela is full of Zika right now and a lot of people who are sick in Venezuela are coming to Colombia,”

-Juan Bittar, Head of State Health Department, Colombia

NPR’s report presents an unbiased perspective of the Zika crisis, presenting multiple sides and information. It also is more personal reporting. The story includes a quote from a pregnant mother who’s concerned about the virus. You can’t find anything personal in the Colombia or Brazil report. As Brazil and Colombia are countries currently being affected by Zika, perhaps the reporting shouldn’t be personal — because it already is. As a Colombian, I wouldn’t want to necessarily read about specific stories coming from mothers themselves about their Zika case. Since it would be in my own backyard, perhaps the tragedy would be too realistic if I had to experience it and read about it in my own newspaper. At first I was skeptical about the rigid and shallow reporting from the other publications, thinking that it lacked personality and purpose. But, perhaps if Zika were to break out in the United States, I would want more statistics in reporting than personality. The publications all cater to their audiences’ diverse needs. NPR audiences are searching for a personal story to get lost listening to. But, in a Zika-infested country, I wouldn’t want to hear a soap opera about a Zika case — I’d only need to look in my own neighborhood.

Colo… I mean- Cocaine Conflicts


Colombian conflicts or cocaine conflicts? Pretty much the same thing. The rebel conflicts in Colombia were the catalyst for massive drug trafficking. Your weird uncle’s blow probably came from Colombia, as some 90 percent of the world’s cocaine is grown and manufactured there. That’s how the rebel groups financed their activities, so in a way, your weird uncle is paying for the rebels to be active.

With peace talks in session with the rebel groups, eliminating coca cultivation has been an important menu item for the Colombian government. And, also a topic for many publications, both internal and external. Many external publications have written feature stories that sensationalize the cocaine conflicts. BBC News jumps on this train in their coverage of cocaine in Colombia. They released a story in 2011 that features a slideshow of a cocaine “megalab” that was recently found by Colombian police. Using a term like “megalab” embellishes the story, making it seem similar to a meth laboratory like in AMC’s Breaking Bad. In the photos, the “lab” doesn’t seem like a lab at all — there are no materials for chemistry. But, using the word “lab” made me more interested to see the photographs. Viewing the photos, there isn’t anything particularly shocking in them besides the massive amounts of cocaine.

File picture of Colombian Army Gen. Montoya examining a cocaine pack confiscated by troops near Puerto Asis

Within Colombia, publications aren’t afraid to report about the drug conflict. I expected publications to hold back in reporting the issue since drugs are controversial. But, since cocaine is deeply rooted in Colombian history and life, there are many different stories of different perspectives. Colombia Reports, an online publication in English, covers the different tactics government has used to eradicate coca cultivation. In the past, Colombian government has tried using a weed killer that has been linked to cause cancer. Colombia Reports released a story about the weed killer that didn’t appear biased in any way. The story does well in presenting sides in support of the weed killer and sides that are opposed. I respect this published story a great deal, and admire its commitment to valid journalism. It would be easy to avoid scary details of the weed killer, like not listing all of the different diseases it’s known to cause. But, the story commits to reporting it all.

The City Paper Bogota published a story in March, headlined, “Coca cultivation skyrockets in Colombia according to new data.” This story, along with the other stories in the Bogota are similar to the stories in Colombia Reports in an unbiased nature. Included are quotes from those who are outraged by the new numbers, and words from those who understand why the issue is so expansive. With the coca being in their own backyard, its inspiring to see balanced reporting on an issue with personal ties to the reader. The government and media are transparent with plans for coca eradication, where many readers have family in the coca business.

Colombian publications have more diverse and balanced reporting on the drug trafficking issues and progress than external sources. Foreign publications like BBC News take the novelty of drug trafficking and expand upon the entertainment side of it, making it seem like a movie. Other reports coming from external sources deal with the seizure of cocaine shipments and the discovery of drug routes. But, the internal reports from Colombia are detailed and thoroughly explain the complications of the issue in a way that’s easy to digest. Although surprising to me, I’m inspired by the balanced internal reporting being done. I would expect more corrupt reporting coming from a country with corrupt government, but journalists are upholding a positive reputation for themselves in Colombia.




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