A frequent trend in Guatemalan journalism is the lack of tact and focus many news people have towards their subject. This could be the result of lack of training or poor judgment (or a combination of both). It’s bad enough when rookie reporters or columnists travel down this road, pandering to the supposed gossip interest of their readers, but when the culprit is the president of a daily newspaper, it’s considerably more shameful.

Yesterday, José Ruben Zamora, main stockholder and president of elPeriódico (a Guatemalan daily newspaper), rejoiced in his column when reporting (though you can hardly call it that) local law enforcement officials and their dealings with drug cartels, as well as the case of Ana Lucía Alejos, a woman (former government official) who was kidnapped and rescued alive (after, according to emergency medical technicians, being tortured and beaten) two days ago in Fraijanes, a Guatemalan county located about 15 miles outside of the nation’s city.

Zamora speculates and uses euphemisms, as if he were addressing colleagues at the office water cooler, without any regard for the nature and focus of the events he describes. This is no coincidence of course, since Zamora himself experienced a violent raid to his home, in 2003, which prompted him to point Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd non-violence sculpturefingers and accusations to some of the individuals he cheerily revisits in yesterday’s column. Of course, one could assume that such a terrifying ordeal would make him more sensitive towards reporting crimes of a violent nature in Guatemala, even if it deals with his past political “foes”. Instead, you can feel Zamora’s condescending and patronizing narrative masking his satisfaction for these recent events (mostly, the Alejos case and its ties with Carlos de León Argueta, another former Guatemalan official from the Alfonso Portillo administration).

Now, it is quite obvious that Zamora has let his personal issues cloud his journalistic judgment. So, let’s take him to school and review some concepts from this Poynter article (focused on rape and sexual violence):

We use ambiguous language about the crime that can mask its violent nature.

  • Cara Tabachnick, news editor of TheCrimeReport.org, says this ambiguity can lead people to believe that the crime is not as bad as the victim and others are making it out to be. The best approach, she said, is to avoid euphemisms and tell it like it is.”I think being vague creates more questions than necessary,” Tabachnick said in a phone interview with Tenore this week.

Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said crime accounted for 4 percent of news organizations’ overall coverage in 2010. It accounted for six percent of the coverage in 2009, 5 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2007.

Online news services had the most crime coverage (6 percent), compared to cable news (4 percent) and newspapers (about 3 percent, not including local crimes).

Zamora, when choosing to write the way he did, missed an opportunity to properly inform his readers (he used nick names, referred to incidents without even making an effort to specify possible sources). He presented himself as an amateur news man, someone you’d find in a Stieg Larsson novel (or its Latin American equivalent), half-assing his job and making a fool of himself in the process.

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