With papers like these…

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El Universal
El Universal en inglés

For a long time, I held that Venezuelan papers were their own worst enemies. Even if the government has recently taken the top spot from them, we shouldn’t be deceived: they still do what they can to run a close second.

For show, a button: this amazing, self-refuting story in El Universal which categorically debunks its own headline and lede all the way down in the…third graf!

In between, it helpfully explains that Venezuela suffered 24,000 murders per capita in 2010. (By my count, that works out to a total of  696 billion murders…)

How does a story like that go out without anyone noticing anything wrong with it?!?

I have this private theory that the reason Venezuelan papers don’t run corrections is that, if they did, they’d take up 2/3rds of the paper.

I’m all for defending the freedom of the press as an abstract principle. It’s when you get into the nitty-gritty of the actual institutions you’re actually supporting when you defend freedom of the press in Venezuela that things get distinctly depressing.

1 COMMENT

  1. Just remembering about Mr. Eudes Vera.

    And the guy that reported that a caché of weapons from the independence war had been found when they really were 1935 Mauser rifles.

    what did they all have in common? El Universal.

  2. Laziness and stupidity is found anywhere.
    In this same comment you use “to show a bottom” which is a paraphrase of the saying “para muestra un botón” which has no translation or meaning in the English language. In fact “bottom” is not “button”.
    So you are giving your readers the same “quality” you are deploring in El Universal.

    • 1-I don’t have an editor
      2-I corrected my own typo within 5 minutes of initial publication
      3-I’m a guy in my pijamas in a basement, these guys have a 20 storey office block on Avenida Urdaneta.

      Osea please…

      • It is ok to let you know about the mistake: It got corrected, and the quality of the article improved!

        So it seems to me you do have an editor: your faithful criticones.

        Now, as for the size of the building….. I think the bigger, the more lack of excellence it can hide, meaning that a larger organization is not necessarily better than a smaller one. It is the quality of its people and the procedures in place what makes the different.

        • Again, you’re right on all counts.

          Another part of this is that newspaper wages are now so shitty that El Universal can’t attract top talent with a CNP card. I know more than a couple of former El Universal/El Nacional writers who ended up working in PR to get closer to a living wage.

          Still. To my mind, it’s unimaginable how any editor would ok a piece like that.

      • Don’t you think the language you used was condescending?
        Still the saying “para muestra un botón” is not translated like that in English.
        When you criticize like that you open yourself for the same treatment.
        An not only about the grammar and the translation, many times you throw your ‘coming from on high’ opinions about politicians, like Capriles who is risking his life in Venezuela, while you are in your pijamas pontificating about every thing.

        • I think we have a deeply hurt “Caprilieber” here. Everyone risks his life every single day by going out in the streets and about 500 die monthly, but I guess they are just statistics usefull for politicians, right? It’s pajamas or pyjamas by the way.

        • Lack of internal criticism is the hallmark of Chavismo. There’d be no point in being in opposition AND disliking criticism, especially since the opposition hasn’t succeded in becoming the government.

        • With all due respect, Ms. Palatino, probably 25%, if not 1/3rd of the users of the internet that pontificate (perhaps its just 1/3rd of users and I didn’t need the pontificating qualification) are generally guys wearing pajamas in a basement…and probably 50-75% of those are in their parents’ basement, besides. There’s a world of difference between that and an honest to goodness publication.

          An error of that scale isn’t just a minor one, its a screw up of a widely used statistic that measures the murder rates of countries the world over.

          The fact that it passed the quality checks that should be built in to a publication is embarrassing.

      • I think it’s facile bullshit.

        For one thing, even though we’re basically four people with no office and no budget, Caracas Chronicles DOES run corrections when we get factual things wrong. When was the last time El Universal did that?

        They didn’t even fess up when a con man like Eudes Vera sold them the idea that his buddy had invented A PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE in his garage in Miami!

        Osea, plis…

        • There’s always more than one side in the same coin. I think that saying that you could fill 2/3 of a newspapers with error corrections is a very stupid generalization, it’s like saying that 2/3 of all of venezuelan problems are caused by the opposition’s “manipulation”, I know you problably wrote it as a joke but I hate to read such unnecessary destructive criticism.

          I’m not saying the don’t make stupid mistakes (cagadas) like the one that coincidentally just happened in valencia http://noticias24carabobo.com/actualidad/noticia/28837/aclaran-suceso-en-la-iglesia-san-antonio-no-hubo-un-atraco-masivo/
          the newspappers should definitely work harder to avert this kind of costly mistakes, I know that getting reliable information in a country where institutions are a joke is very hard but the problem it’s not only that they fail to do good reporting, it’s that the hegemons take advantage of this to magnify x1.000.000 and support their absurd conspiracy theories and somehow get votes. But still, it’s unnecessary to exagerate these things and make the hegemons job easier.

  3. Maybe the individual newspaper needs to be separated from the concept of “Institution”. I.e: yes, I support their freedom to publish any content they want -that’s the institution support level-. And I openly criticise their factual mistakes, including gramatical, logic in the line of thought, and many other mistakes.

  4. Escríbeles.
    Yo nunca les he escrito a ellos, pero en los últimos 15 años les he escrito dos veces a los de Últimas Noticias y dos o tres veces a los de Notitarde. Ha servido de algo? No sé. La esperanza es l.u.q.se.p. Quizás esos emails, junto a los de un par de otros locos, han servido para que en dos o tres oportunidades algún periodista haya revisado, de manera excepcional, el texto que redactaba. A lo mejor si otros escriben, algo llegará.

    • Yo le escribí a los del universal por un artículo de unos supuestos rifles de la independencia y nunca me respondieron. Estaban equivocados a todo nivel, pero imagino que el patriotismo va primero.

    • Yo también les escribí, por ahí del 2005, referente a algún error — no me acuerdo cual, y nunca respondieron. #shoestringoperation

  5. That was painful to read! It just seems like someone meshed together different numbers and phrases without thinking of what they meant. What I see is a lack of basic mathematical or logical reasoning. Like the fact that if you have more murders than people (>1 per capita), you wouldn’t have ANY people left! It’s just a big confusion between per capita, and other forms of proportion to population (like the usual per 100 000 people used in crime). But anyway, that could be explained by misuse of per capita, but it’s unacceptable in a world where anyone with a computer can solve differential equations (even if they forgot la tabla del tres), not to multiply and divide and see if the data makes sense.

    The last sentence of the second paragraph reduces to the following equation
    24 murders/1 person =74 murders/ 100000 persons. There’s no way that works.

    Pero lo peor, is the phrase “el segundo país”. Where? In Latin America? In the World?. In what year? The contradiction is just awful when they mention the countries that are worse.

    I’m in the physical and natural sciences, but y’all know I spend my time obsessing with journalism. Why? because in both fields the quality of your work relies on how good your data/info is (in journalism you want good sources, in science you want accurate and precise data) and the quality of your analysis and interpretation of said data.

    Am I being hard on the reporter that wrote this up? Probably. You’ve all talked about on how they’re probably making a terrible wage, being overworked and fearing that any day the government might attack their paper. But I justify my rant in that one of my obsessions in life is the importance of bridging areas of knowledge, this is precisely why it’s not useless for journalists to take an intro science course. Even if they’re going into this sort of political/judicial news. (I of course believe the converse about scientists and social sciences and humanities)

    • I re-read the article and I realized that I missed a little “mil” in the sentence I turned into the equation, which makes it even crazier (as Quico pointed out with the billions of murders). But that explains the source of the problem, there where 24 000 murders total, which divided by the population of Venezuela gives a rate of 74/100 000 which makes sense (in mathematical terms).

  6. I think it is perfectly legit to criticize those guys for shoddy – in the case in point, daft – work when they are in such an exacting field, the more so in today’s Venezuela with all that that means for a medium of expression. HOWEVER, the discussion would be incomplete without someone’s asking at some point in the proceedings whether the country is better with or without El Universal. So, whilst rightly getting a lambasting for the crime-figure mess, they deserve a generalized support too. Say I.

    • What burns me is the lack of accountability. Even when they publish something as aggressively mangled as this – or, hell, even after hyping a PERPETUAL MOTION MACHINE – they simply will not run a correction. Or apologize to readers.

      There’s this haughty imperial distance, this posture as if to convey why-would-I-bother-with-minnows-like-you-I’m-UNIVERSAL-damnit that is so laughably divorced from their editorial standards that it just kills me.

      • In in 1974, 1984 or 1994 there were people in Venezuela whose stories were mangled, who felt misrepresented, who were refused the basic right of replying in print. Grievances were nurtured, and the conviction grew that “when we get power, we’ll shut them out, just like this.” And they have done so. Of course, it is a small piece of the overall tide of resentment which brought the present gang to power, and keeps them there, and it is a small piece of the repression they impose.

        But accomodation of small grievances, and a practice of inclusion goes a long way toward undercutting the appeal of demagogues.

        I expect Capriles or his next iteration to understand this. But will Universal?

  7. Off topic but of interest:
    Fausta’s Blog has an interesting link: How Venezuela’s Military Tried to Fly A Ton of Cocaine to France.

    …Camero told InSight Crime that police in France, Italy and Spain had launched a joint investigation some months previous, operating undercover in Europe and Venezuela without the knowledge of the Venezuelan government. “They could not tell the Venezuelan government what was going on, because they knew that high-ranking Venezuelan military officials were involved.”

    Italian police managed to infiltrate the criminal operation, she said, getting details from informants about collaboration between the Venezuelans and the Ndrangheta, the powerful Italian mafia who are estimated to control 80 percent of the cocaine coming into Europe. The ‘Ndrangheta were due to receive the shipment, which Camero believes was originally purchased by the GNB from the FARC in the border state of Apure…
    The Venezuelan arrests are pure window dressing, says Mayorca, and do not target those truly responsible. An examination of the financial accounts of the detained has failed to uncover any suspicious transactions, apart from one payment of $57,000 for a house made by the wife on the list (a discovery which sparked her arrest). “That is peanuts,” he said, given the value of the haul estimated at around $270 million by a source close to the French investigation. “Hundreds of millions of dollars changed hands, where is it?”

    So it was a sting from the beginning. It is not a surprise the sting was done without giving any knowledge of the operation to the Venezuelan government, given the involvment of certain government officials in narcotrafficing. The European authorities should know which Venezuelan government officials were involved. It would appear that they have not passed this information onto Venezuelan authorities, if those who were arrested in Venezuela were “pure window dressing.”

    • Interesting but not surprising that it was a sting op. agree on the window-dressing arrests in Vzla. It came across as just a too pat, too timely damage control so that the Vz authorities would look like they were on the ball… not

  8. It’s absolutely astounding. The problem with such a lousy piece of work is that it puts into question the veracity of pretty much anything they put in the paper. In other words, always get a second (and third) opinion…

    O yea, and certain spanish newspapers, despite what I guess is a considerably better budget, also play fast and loose with the facts when it will sell some print…

  9. Paoers have a lot of people working in them , some not so good , some great , some down right stupid. Thats true of almost any big organization , so no surprises there . What really bothers me about a journalistic piece is when they try and explain something which is out of their depth ( they dont fully understand themselves) and massacre the intormation so that you as a reader have to guess what the article should have said . Sometimes they miss the REAL news and go after something which is showy but inconsequential. Sometimes you know more about the background of the piece than the writer himself . Lets remember that Venezuelas are always gravitating towards chaos, towards confusion, people are easy going , laid back , bored with details., easily sattisfied . Its always a source of amazement to me how good is the material which comes out of CC, a shoe string operation if there ever was one.!! Despite the flaws there are times when traditional Venezuelan papers come out with great pieces of reporting !!, which I attribute more to the individual newspaperman writing it rather than to the organization.. .

    • Quico did a good job of covering all the possibilities here. For something like this to happen implies a breakdown of accountability. You can pin it on a few specific people, spreading the blame on writer and editor, but down the line this is also a potential problem up the level of general editorial management. The immediate and more specific problem was a lack of simple fact checking and editorial control. Then there are possibly deeper “structural” roots: the pressure to meet deadlines without sufficient personnel, even the quality of personnel. Beyond lie less tangible issues such as the relationship between the paper and the public, that is, journalistic integrity and public accountability. But would you go as far as comparing El Universal to, say, The Sun?

      You obviously can’t compare a newspaper to a blog by the way since a blog is closer to an opinion page. Most of the material on CC (with some exceptions) amounts to opinionated dissection of stuff found in other media sources. Traditional rags are screwed because they are neither chicha ni limonada. They have to do it all, cover an enormous breadth of topics and time scales, from breaking news to forecasting to in-depth historical investigations. CC can focus on one topic and do it well, while keeping it interesting, aggregating the most interesting articles generated by other sources. Much of its value also comes from commentators who provide complementary info and alternative perspectives, something online papers get to some degree, but their large audience makes them more hit-or-miss as far as the quality and volume of reader opinions.

      So in a sense, this begins to sound to me more like Quico whining: “damn those Venezuelan papers, I can’t get any decent copy for my blog, why don’t they work harder…” Quico, maybe you should get a paying subscription to El Universal and help them out a little, huh?

      • But would you go as far as comparing El Universal to, say, The Sun?

        Now you’re dangling a red rag in front of a Toro.

        Because thanks in part to Britain’s very harsh libel laws, The Sun can be faulted for many, many things, but casually throwing around things that are not factually true is NOT one of them. If anything, the standard rap against them is that they go way, way too far in trying to ascertain what is a fact so they can go ahead and print it, and trample basic decency and privacy in the process.

        I would so much rather have that problem than the problem we have: a general boredom with/disdain for factual accuracy, to the point that nobody gives a shit if a story’s third paragraph directly contradicts its headline…

        • So for obvious reasons I’d prefer an alternate hypothesis, such as, that the article was slapped together someone working against the clock under extreme conditions (perhaps even by a new recruit on a day in which a virulent strain of the stomach flu decimated the editorial board), facing a “full frontal war” against the propaganda machine of an oppressive government and intimidation by chavistas.

          I checked the article and they still haven’t corrected it, maybe they just don’t have time… but perhaps you are right and they are just really lazy. Kinda sad.

          So perhaps they should retrench, limit their coverage to stuff where they can do a reasonable job. You’d think CRIME would be one important topic near the top on their agenda, but government censorship may have forced them to bump it down a notch or two.

          It’s worth remembering that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to help the FREE press, buy a subscription or some ads.

  10. You are right Toro, the writing suggest that all us become killers, no, we became mass murderers…

    “Según cifras y proyecciones de la Organización Mundial de Derechos Humanos, podría superar la cifra alarmante de 24 mil asesinatos por habitante, es decir más de 74 por cada 100 mil habitantes”

    this is the infamous quote “la cifra alarmante de 24 mil asesinatos por habitante”… is what I call, copy & paste from the google translator…

  11. “24,000 murders per capita in 2010”

    Anyone care to do the math to figure out, at that rate, how long it would take till there is only one Venezuelan left standing? I am guessing that would be less than a week.

      • It’s kind of sick, but I am actually chuckling imagining it. Sort of a Venezuelan Zombie Apocalypse.

        Did you actually do the math, or was that a guess?

        • No, a guess and a bad one.

          Sorry, it does have to be much less because if one is Venezuelan, it’s just not possible that every Venezuelan can kill another Venezuelan…unless, of course, one is killed by several others.
          The trivial thing would be 24000 x 29,500,000 = 708,000,000,000 people, more than all humans if Venezuelans were to run amok for a year…or 1,939,726,027 on a day.
          1,347,031 Venezuelans could be murdered in a minute.

          • Yes, but you have to assume the rate of killing goes down as the population goes down. It is the same equation that is used to calculate compound interest. Need someone who took Calculus a lot more recently than I did.

          • Yes, but if the murder rate goes down: how can we talk about having the initial murder rate? OK, it’s possible, but I thought the task would be to see what could happen if the rate is kept the same…this could only happen with simultaneous cross-murdering, of course.

          • Sorry, I wasn’t clear. Yes, the murder rate per capita stays the same. But, because the population decreases precipitously, the gross murder rate decreases proportionately, approaching zero, but only everyone is dead except the last survivor/killer.

            “simultaneous cross-murdering”… Not sure what that means, but I love the phrase.

          • According to my calculations, using an initial rate approximation k = -DP/(Dt x P0) with DP = 708,000,000,000 people, Dt = 1 year, P0 = 29,500,000, only one person would be standing after 6 hours 17 minutes. No accounting for cross-murders, which would presumably lead to non-exponential behavior.

          • Thanks, gro!

            I knew there was somebody who could do the math. 🙂

            You are right. Venezuelans would be declared a WMD, and Venezuela would quarantined… for the six hours it would take to completely self-destruct.

  12. 24.000 murder victims divided among 32 million inhabitants gives you an approximate ratio of 74 murders per 100.000 inhabitants . The paper made a goof and included the words ‘per capita’ where it shouldnt . A paper contains thousands of words in each edition which are hastily written and put together in 24 hours.. Journalistically speaking a pretty awful mistake, but putting things in perspective a pretty silly thing compared to the current miseries and horrors that fill Venezuelan life.!! .

    • Bill, I work for a real-time news agency, where we publish stories sometimes less than 10 seconds after we hear them. We are a team of about 20 people (including photographers, cameramen, and reporters), and we check each other stories before they go out to the wire, to try to avoid this kind of thing. And when a mistake goes out, we publish a correction. We do this publicly and on the same wire where we published the mistake, as soon as we realize there was a mistake. There is a saying that every journalist should have hardwired on his head, which goes like this… “Lawyers’ mistakes are locked away, doctors’ mistakes are six feet underground. But journalists’ mistakes are on the first page”. Bottomline, there is no place for that kind of mistake on a newspaper, but if it happens, then a Fe de Erratas never killed anyone and brings you closer to your readership, by showing you care enough to correct a mistake that might induce them to make a mistake.

      • Thank you Tom for offering me an inside view of how a good news agency is run , It makes me all the more respectful of the ethos of high standard journalism !! I’ve perhaps become a bit jaded by all the mistakes and imprecissions one routinely finds in many news reports , half the time they appear not to know the mistakes they’ve committed , not just factual stuff , but mistakes in interpretation , arising from their poor education in the fields they report . Other times they are really good at presenting complex stuff in a way that ornery readers can understand .!! In the professions mistakes happen but they dont always have consequences , so they may lay buried for ever or suddenly raise their ugly heads when conditions change and consequences do appear. Look at that marvelous financial seer Greenspan !!.

        • Let it be clear that I am not saying that we journalists are not Monos con Hojilla sometimes. At least back in the Motherland, we go to school for 5 years to study a curriculum that does not really know what it wants to be. A branch of Sociology? Maybe… Journalistic skills? Do please! Marketing? That too! Video production? Of course! Advertising? Yeah man! … and then you get out of school, they give you a recorder and a laptop and send you to cover budget negotiations. You usually have no clue for the first couple of years. Only long talks with those negotiators, their aides and YOUR EDITOR back at the news outlet will get you anywhere in time. But precisely because we are not initially experts, we have to remain HUMBLE to see trough the fog of talking to presidents and senators and CEOs on “mira mijito” terms, and to admit our mistakes, lack of information and doubts when they arise. Because if we have them, there is a good chance our readers will have them too and it is our job to ask about those.

  13. Really, a second pair of eyes is all that is needed to weed this stupid mistakes out. The figure about 24,000 killings for every Venezuelan will take us, via simple math, to the fact that we as a country of about 30 million inhabitants have killed around 720 billion people. Given the fact that there is only about 7 billion people on Earth, that put us in the Galactus category of intergalactic Super Villains (BwahaHAHA!) after killing the equivalent of 100 planets… Damn!

  14. I love it! I’ve been saying this for a very long time, Venezuela doesn’t really have good newspapers/journalists. I’m an avid reader of “El Universal” mainly because their website is a little bit more user friendly than the one from “El Nacional” and because I absolutely hate they way language is abused by Ultimas Noticias. Sadly, there are always the “Caprilibers (Love the term by the way) Kudos to GotaDeAcido” who can’t see beyond their noses and the moment you start pointing out a critical mistake by the opposition jump at you and tell you how much of a “Chavista/Madurista/CastroComunista” you must be to criticize such a sacred institution…

  15. The NYT corrects a slip or two:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/pageoneplus/corrections-october-31-2013.html

    Note near the bottom:

    OBITUARIES

    An obituary on Oct. 18 about William F. Niehous, an American businessman who was kidnapped by leftist guerrillas in Venezuela in 1976, referred incorrectly to Gabriel Puerta Aponte, one of the kidnappers. He is still alive and is now the leader of the leftist political organization Bandera Roja; he did not die in a 1992 coup attempt led by Hugo Chávez. (Initial reports of the coup attempt erroneously said Mr. Aponte had been killed.)

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