The first eighty years of breaking news | Luis Britto Garcia

In image, the lawyer, narrator, historian, essayist, playwright and cartoonist Luis Britto García


The climate of freedoms established by President Isaías Medina Angarita in 1941 encourages the appearance of two progressive newspapers, which will have a decisive projection. It is El Nacional, directed by Miguel Otero Silva, and Últimas Noticias, commanded by Francisco José Delgado, “Kotepa”, in Russian Iron Man.


Kotepa had been one of the organizers of the legendary oil strike of 1936, which paralyzed the industry for a month and a half. He was accompanied on the board of directors by Victor Simone De Lima, Maja Poljak, Vaughan Salas Lozada and Pedro Beroes, militants or sympathizers of the Communist Party. The daily is inaugurated in tabloid format, with agile style, striking headlines, moderate price and wide popular reception, which led disgruntled opponents to disqualify it as “the cooks newspaper”. It operated under the slogan of self-criticism. Kotepa told me that they met every morning to examine the edition and point out defects. "This is misspelled." "That is not understood." "This information is missing data." Perhaps nostalgic, decades later, Kotepa brought us together with the collaborators of the humorous weekly La Pava Macha for controversial meetings on the selection and disposal of originals.


The defense of the interests of the workers and the temptation of sensationalism were present in those early years. Kotepa told me that the town criers told him: "This does not sell, it does not have María Pacini." María Pacini was a lady who dressed like a man to exercise her trade as a bricklayer. To satisfy town criers and readers, countless anecdotes about the industrious worker were reviewed or made up. A beautiful young woman, Ligia Parra Jahn, killed the boyfriend who had seduced and abandoned her: the daily's sentimental chronicler, Claribel, assumed the defense of the accused as her own crusade. Sometimes it went from urban legend to magical realism. For a whole season, alarming headlines followed the exploits of The Naked Shadow, supposedly a black man smeared with black oil and wearing a black cape who walked the rooftops to descend to fondle the sleeping ladies. The meticulous journalistic investigation determined that he slept in the graves of the Cemetery and came out at night, loaded with chains, to caress the female statues. "In the graph we offer a reconstruction of the events," explained the news caption. I picked up those shocks from the village Caracas in one of my plays, Muñequita Linda.


Managing a daily routine is a complex task with a thousand incidents and setbacks. Últimas Noticias incurs in debt; their manager, businessman Miguel Ángel Capriles, took over them in 1948 in exchange for a majority share that allows him to remove the staff. In October of that year, a military dictatorship assumed power; it was difficult for a progressive news line to survive. Capriles leads an expanding media group, which will include the daily La Esfera, the evening newspaper El Mundo, the Elite, Venezuela Gráfica and Pages magazines, and numerous other publications. Its development and practices can be consulted in I attended the Capriles cabinet: the chain inside, by Isaac Benarroch Pinto (1965). Publications without imprint were attributed to the chain: fantasized memories of untraceable lovers of the dictator Pérez Jiménez, the criminal record of the priest Biaggi, accused of murdering his sister. Like other editors, Capriles tries to convert media power into political power, and by 1968 he pacts with the Social Christian Rafael Caldera to support the presidential election in exchange for a dozen nominations for Congress and other positions. Later, he republished information on border security already included by the philosopher Pedro Duno in Punto Negro. President Caldera orders the arrest of Duno, Carlos Ramírez Faría, director of the countercultural magazine Reventón, the director of Últimas Noticias Víctor Simone D´Lima and the editor Miguel Ángel Capriles himself, who expressed his willingness to retire from politics and was released shortly after. Such were the social democratic practices on free speech.


It is impossible to summarize the impact of Últimas Noticias in Venezuelan society. I will refer to personal details. The first, the work as a daily cartoonist for decades of the great friend and brilliant painter Régulo Pérez, with his lyrical world of animals, flowers and mischievous puns. The second, my collaboration since the mid-seventies, at the invitation of the director of Últimas Noticias Nelson Luis Martínez, in the Cultural Supplement. Mercantilist pressures and exquisite mafias eliminated or restricted cultural spaces in the other newspapers. By pure will Nelson Luis maintained an unparalleled feat: the twelve-page Cultural Supplement without commercials, which he called a "Space to dissent." In his office, with walls and ceiling covered with paintings where naivety and pictorial genius alternated, a sign warned: "Neither Deputy, nor Graduate, nor Director: simply Nelson Luis." The same cordial simplicity presided over the selection of collaborations, from the highest hermetic essay to the circumstantial comment. The history of current Venezuelan culture is in the prolific sources of the Cultural Supplement.


At the turn of the century Nelson Luis died and in 2001 Eleazar Díaz Rangel was appointed director, who comes from outstanding performances in the direction of the UCV School of Communication and the presidency of the Venezuelan Association of Journalists, of the Latin American Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Press Workers. These are times of exacerbated debates: media groups seek to overthrow and impose presidents. Eleazar chooses the difficult route of sanity and informational balance, which ensures Últimas Noticias the largest circulation in the country. A national newspaper vetoes me for dissenting from their coup line. Eleazar opens the doors of Últimas Noticias, where I have never been objected to a line or censored a text in this column where I exercise what since my adolescence has been not a trade, but a passion.


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