By Doug Gray, Senior Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – “Paper versus computer is the conundrum facing today’s news” says Steve Yolen, former editor of Rio’s last printed English language newspaper The Latin America Daily Post. “Newspaper is one word, but you need to lose the paper bit. Now you’d have to call it a news platform.”
Currently living in Nova Friburgo in the mountains some two hours out of Rio, Yolen has been a long-standing member of the news community here. He wound up in Brazil initially as Manager for the operations of United Press International (UPI) in 1970, then was hired to open the Fairchild Publications South American Bureau for three years from 1974.
It was then that he was approached by a team looking to develop an English-language newspaper in the mold of the Paris based International Herald-Tribune and to compete against the only other English language newspaper at the time the Brazil Herald.
The Brazil Herald publication had been running since the 1940s, in Yolen’s words “a curious but mostly bland mix of international and local Brazilian and foreign community news” for the expatriate community in Rio – which was considerably larger then.
With Hunter S. Thompson among those with writing credits (he was a sports reporter for two years in the 1960s), The Daily Post/Herald won quite a reputation, but struggling in the economics doldrums of the 1980s, slowly became a victim of its own ambition.
Owned by advertising Wunderkind’s Mauro Salles, the son of one of President Getulio Vargas’ leading ministers, the Latin America Daily Post was to fill that void for ten years, a mouthpiece for the expatriate community and a fervent supporter of foreign nationals’ business in Rio.
With the backing of Salles Interamericana Agency, the paper was able to run a daily operation, hire professional journalists, and eventually deliver the paper the very same day it rolled off the press in Rio to both Brasilia and Sao Paulo, no mean feat for a small operation run from two rooms in the Folha de Sao Paulo building.
The task of running a newsroom with sixteen pages to fill daily and a staff of Brazilians with little English having to type up the journalists’ stories, Yolen gives the impression of a man slightly envious of today’s Internet publishing tools, where an audience of millions can be reached at the touch of a button. The satisfaction of the actual printing process, however, is also impossible for him to hide.
“Brazil is in a great position now, and the strongest economy in Latin America. The fact that it still has no English language daily news is staggering when you think of those countries that do – Panama, Chile, Indonesia; the list is long. Rio should be able to sustain an English publication.”
Where he is adamant in the face of new technology’s indelible mark on the delivery and consumption of news, are the methods of journalism itself. Old school reporting or ‘covering the beat’ as he refers to it – is invaluable, getting the interviews, going face-to-face with your subjects and speaking directly to your audience.
As a self-styled ‘outspoken defender of the expat business community’ the Latin America Daily Post was designed to represent the interests of the English speaking community, and that is how he sees the future of a publication like The Rio Times.
“Newspapers are folding globally, but the focus of those that survive is local news for the local community, that is where the business is” he says, adding; “The Rio Times is in a wonderful position and its future looks incredibly exciting.”