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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

El Experimento: Sun-Sentinel Newsroom Tries A New Culture

by Deborah Ramirez

May 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

About seven months ago, when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel launched el Sentinel, its Spanish-language weekly, the newspaper was embarking on an unknown.

It had never produced a foreign-language publication in its newsroom, and no one was sure how well the experiment would work. We knew the newsroom's culture would change. We weren't sure how.

Certainly the timing was right: Broward's Hispanic population had nearly tripled in the past decade, and the sights and sounds of español and Latino culture abounded.

But there were technical adjustments and challenges to overcome. Could we get a spell-checker program in Spanish? We discovered we easily could.

Could we get our system to hyphenate words and break up syllables correctly in another language? That took some work.

As important, or maybe more so, could both sets of journalists work side-by-side, conducting interviews on the phone or discussing stories in different languages? Were the human networks compatible?

As the editor of el Sentinel, I'm happy to report the experiment has been a success. But like all good relationships, this one required patience, understanding and perseverance.

There have been moments of doubt. When el Sentinel first began in October, I wasn't sure how everyone would react to sudden bursts of Spanish in the newsroom or, as it's also now called, la redacción. After completing our very first edition, my small staff celebrated by wrapping their arms around one another and letting out Latino whoops of joy. I held my breath and waited for the fallout.

But instead, the reaction has been mostly positive.

Sometimes I hear el Sentinel staffers laughing, and then I've found someone translating a joke for the nearby co-worker who doesn't understand Spanish. Some Sun-Sentinel staffers who have been taking Spanish lessons will turn to el Sentinel employees for help with their "homework."

New friendships have blossomed. An el Sentinel copy editor and a Sun-Sentinel senior writer have discovered a shared passion for jazz. One recently invited the other over for a family dinner.

The same copy editor makes Spanish coffee -- a thick caffeine concoction loaded with sugar. Recently he began to brew more than one batch because some americanos have gotten hooked on the afternoon cafecito.

But the test of how well two newsroom cultures had blended came during el Sentinel's Christmas potluck luncheon. We had invited a handful of Sun-Sentinel editors and staffers who had helped launch the new publication.

Fearing we would not have enough food, we cooked up a storm and found ourselves with more than we could possibly eat. So we began inviting anyone who had not yet had lunch. Soon a line formed at the buffet table, and there was someone from every section of the newsroom.

For some, the menu was exotic: pernil (pork) and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) from Puerto Rico; papas a la huancaina and causa rellena (two potato dishes) from Peru; pan con jamón (bread baked with ham) from Venezuela; platanitos con queso (plantains with cheese) from Colombia; and flan (custard) from Cuba.

But the camaraderie was familiar. We were all co-workers, or compañeros de trabajo, and the feeling transcended any language.

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