The dark side of El Sol

So many El Sol de San Telmo puns, so little time remaining… Okay, a month. Plenty of time for additional ridiculous blog titles.

But working for El Sol differs from working for Vox in more ways than clever titular options (have you ever tried to make a pun with Vox? No easy feat). Reporting for Vox and for The Missourian was nowhere near easy, but reporting for El Sol carries a whole new set of challenges.

For a start, no matter how you spin it, there’s a language barrier. I count myself lucky that I’m pretty proficient in Spanish. In Texas they start you young; I’ve had a Spanish teacher since kindergarten and have continued lessons to this day. As such I can understand about 90% of what my sources are saying, but sometimes it’s that extra (missing) 10% that gives a story its depth. As a reporter, one of the worst feelings is reading over interview notes and hearing a voice in the back of your head that hints you’ve fallen short. Sigh.

Then there’s the cultural gulf — the difference between how reporters are recieved in the states and how we’re recieved in Buenos Aires. Here’s how it works in Columbia:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait 1-2 days, max.
  • You recieve a reply to your email or a phonecall.
  • The potential interviewee clearly expresses whether he/she wishes to speak to you or not.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it is kept, barring exceptional circumstances.

Here’s how it works in Buenos Aires:

  • You send an email and leave a voicemail.
  • You wait, sometimes for a week or more.
  • Perhaps the person or persons will get back to you. Perhaps you’ll never hear from him/her/them. Perhaps they will contact you three months later. It’s all up in the air.
  • You make a date or try again.
  • If a date is made, it may or may not be kept. Variations include showing up on time, showing up hours later, not showing up at all.

I discovered these differences, to my displeasure, working on my first story for El Sol about cultural centers in San Telmo. The first interview was a sinch — I showed up at El Centro de Difusión Cultural de Rosa de Luxemburgo on a Wednesday afternoon. The director was sitting at a desk in the front. We talked for a good 30 minutes, I got all the information I needed, and she was delighted to discuss a subject about which she was passionate.

The second interview, though scheduled, never actually happened. I showed up at El Centro Cultural de la Plaza Defensa on Saturday, after calling down to make sure it was opened. I walked in and ask to speak to a director. He came out, introduced himself (cooly), and told me to come back the next day. We scheduled an interview for 3 p.m. and I departed.

On Sunday I returned at 2:45 and was told the director wasn’t expected until circa 5 p.m. I waited in the area for two hours (luckily there was a lively market in San Telmo that day) and came back. The director pulled up on a bike, greeted me, and went inside to complete some task or other… I told him I’d wait out front. Fifteen minutes later I went looking for him. “Oh, him?” replied one woman when I inquired after his location, “He left.” “When will he be back?” “No idea.” 

Late to Spanish class, I left.

Thus, to all aspiring reporters in foreign countries: beware. Standards are different, people are different, and “timeliness” carries a loose interpretation.

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The dark side of El Sol

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