Ten years have passed since the first edition of The City Paper rolled off the press on April 9, 2008. A decade may not seem a major accomplishment for newspapers that have been in circulation for more than a century, but in a time when almost everyone still doubts the future of print, it is.
When María Claudia Peña and I co-founded this publishing venture, which seemed to friends more like an adventure, Colombia needed a free English language newspaper that would present, every month, diverse and unique stories of a country that seemed to be very misunderstood and stigmatized by the outside world.
We wanted to write stories from a fresh perspective, backed by our years of journalistic experience and in a language familiar to us. For many Colombians, though, reading in English was a luxury, elusive, and to some degree elitist. This began to change when we started moving flower vases in over 400 cafes and restaurants to showcase our first print-run.
By offering constructive stories from a country we call home, we felt we could reach out and influence public opinion. In 2008, Colombia was beginning to decouple from six years of the Álvaro Uribe presidency, and while his administration was responsible for motivational campaigns such as Viva Colombia, Viaja por Ella (Live Colombia, Journey through it) that got Colombians on the road again – albeit with military escort – foreigners did begin to trickle in and appreciate a high quality publication, which offered them stories about where to travel, a streamlined cultural agenda, restaurant reviews and features from a country that for many was off limits. Colombians also got a new perspective on what mattered, beyond the daily toll of violence and drugs in headlines.
This last decade has been transformational from a socio-political vantage point to what we’ve covered as news. With Colombia increasingly engaging with the world, many countries and economic blocs eliminated visa requirements for Colombian citizens, then the start of peace negotiations in Havana in 2012 with FARC, a guerrilla few envisioned would lay down their weapons, sign a peace accord, and morph into a political party. If, on April 9, 2008, I had written in my first editorial that by edition 120 Colombia would be a country at peace with FARC, no one would have believed me.
Prediction is never an ally of journalists, even if a change in the mood of a country is palpable and tangible. The same happens with newspapers. Though there are plenty of naysayers when it comes to the future of newspapers, what we have experienced with The City Paper, from meeting 120 incredible persons for our front page feature to exploring remote regions of a fascinating country, has been the opposite.
We have been rewarded on an emotional level to degrees that can’t be condensed on a page. From our first cover with singer-song writer Fonseca, to an exclusive interview with Fernando Botero, and host of talented writers, musicians, film makers, scientists to reach 120 with the celebrated fashion designer Esteban Cortázar, one of the most rewarding aspects of publishing a newspaper every month is getting constructive feedback from readers.
Not everyone agrees though with what appears on a printed page, but without ideas, or those willing to take a stand, words ring empty. With 120,000 readers every month, and a consolidated distribution network that covers every major city in Colombia, The City Paper has embraced digital media with www.thecitypaperbogota.com.
As our print circulation grows, so too, our online presence. Every media organization now faces the challenge as how to balance two platforms, one that depends on daily, weekly and monthly deadlines, the other on the immediacy of breaking news. Unlike digital, the printed page doesn’t allow changes once the red button of a printing press is activated. This is where having criteria, ethics, and experience is essential to our journalistic ethos.
As we enter a convoluted election season with the first presidential round on May 27, Colombia, once again, faces important challenges. Whomever clinches the run-off on June 17 will have to fight corruption, keep engaging this country with a world increasingly weary of globalization, immigration and security. Another big challenge ahead will be peace, and whether it is in the best interest of the country to amend an agreement signed with FARC back in 2016, or let it be. The country’s smaller and disjointed National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla will have a much harder time trying to reach a deal with the Santos government given the politically polarized moment.
After reaching 10 years as Colombia’s English language newspaper, we are confident of our future in print and online. To come this far would not have been possible without the support of so many, including writers, photographers, designers, readers, and advertisers. María Claudia and I want to extend a heartfelt thank you. Enjoy this anniversary issue and the many issues that are looming on the horizon