Cartas de Chinandega

Francisco Centeno is the founder, as well as an author for the website named DesdeChinandega.com. This is where he has spent about eight years sharing his love for the city of Chinandega. He dedicates the content on the website to promoting nearly everything about the beautiful city that’s nestled in the northwestern corner of Nicaragua only about 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

This news organization provides a surprisingly optimistic community voice for its people despite being stationed in Central America where most of the countries have a reputation for government censorship of media, mistreatment, and even murder of journalists.

No deaths of journalists have been reported during Daniel Ortega’s three consecutive terms as President of Nicaragua, but they still fell 17 spots to 92nd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index heading into 2017. Article 52 in the Nicaragua constitution is the main cause for this steep ranking drop. This article allows the government to censor and restrict freedom of information by making its own vague definition of what “constructive criticism” means.

After being re-elected for a third term back in November 2016, some are speculating that the electoral democracy has skewed polling that is preventing the country from reaching its true potential. The RSF website points to death threats, harassment campaigns, physical attacks at demonstrations, and arbitrary arrests as the causes for the major fall in world ranking. This sounds terrible, but Nicaragua is actually one of the safer Central American countries for journalists. Nicaragua falls right in between the massive ranking spread of its two bordering countries. Honduras to the north, ranks in the bottom third for Press Freedom globally at 140th. Surprisingly, their Costa Rican neighbors to the south rank 6th best in the world on the Press Freedom Index.

Central America is a seemingly unstable environment for journalists besides the exception of Costa Rica. There were three journalists killed in 2016, two of them in Guatemala and one in El Salvador. Amidst this uncertain environment, passionate journalists like Francisco Centeno refuse to allow corrupt governments to hinder their continued effort to make their voices heard.

For my Nicaragua case study, I wanted to choose an optimistic journalist or news organization that focuses on the great culture and future potential of the country I’ll be visiting in about a week. Desde Chinandega translates to “From Chinandega,” so it doesn’t worry about providing hard news, international news, or even much national news. Instead, its main mission according to the website is dedicated to being “The Cultural and Informative Website of Chinandega, making known the culture, traditions and events of the city.”

As I browsed through Francisco’s website, the social media presence, and the content of the articles, I noticed that Desde Chinandega has no politics tab on the website. I could only find two stories covering what we would call hard news, and they covered topics the community needed to know about, in this case robbery and natural disasters. I was hoping to speak with Francisco to find out whether this was because of a fear of government or just because of a primary focus on the community he serves. The stories published on his news outlet resemble a proximate, and seemingly instrumental community.

This Chinandega community does seem like an instrumental one based on the stories I’ve come across or read. These people are proud of their community and they’re progressive with their actions. Many different stories on the website covered politically active actions of the people in this city of 134,720. Unlike most of the news organizations in Nicaragua who are mainly in the capital of Managua, this unique news outlet is solely online and still has a great sense of community based on its content.

The website focuses has little content with a hard news focus or negative news. Instead, the stories they put a lot of work into include unique community characters, events happening in the city, their Catholic faith, and progressive moves by the people of Chinandega. Desde Chinandega is full of great stories about citizens participating in marches and political demonstrations for a variety of reasons. Recent stories covered a water supply company ENACAL, members of the community who were cleaning atriums around Catholic temples, new urban development called “Farallones” and a proposition that focused on having a cleaner central market. Many other stories were focused on this same positive content covering political marches, water resources, lagoons, a cleaning day, and the transition to new roof changes with an electrical system.

It would appear that Chinandega, the fifth largest city in the country, is one of those bigger cities that still has a small-town feel to it like Duluth. The authors seem to put a lot of heart into their character section that features a new community member and their life story each month. Another clear example of this sense of community is the website tab dedicated solely to “Our Faith,” which features stories about the Catholic majority in Nicaragua and Chinandega specifically. Under this tab, they still include coverage from the Easter Week of 2013, Holy Week 2015, and Holy Week 2016.

After reading through many of the stories produced by this news organization, one of my favorite sections were their Character stories that they seem to put a lot of work into. They even included two brief stories about a local man named Father Peguero who was celebrating 100 years of life. I thought that was just a neat story to write about and provides another great example of this small-town vibe in the community.

The amount of people Desde Chinandega can reach is impressive for a country that ranks in the bottom third globally for internet users according to the CIA World Factbook. Francisco’s efforts have paid off. The number of reads he gets for each story published on the website vary anywhere from 500 to 4,500, but the content’s reach doesn’t stop there. Desde Chinandega also has an active social media presence using Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Facebook page created in November 2009 has 15,534 likes with 15,700 people following it. They post some, but not all stories, on the profile with an average “like” range anywhere from 60–250 on each one. The Twitter account wasn’t created until February 2013, so it only has 774 tweets with 35 followers. They seem to post all their stories on Twitter but “likes” and respondents are non-existent.

The news organization’s newest outreach is an attempt to start a radio broadcast. It hasn’t gained much traction yet with only a little over a thousand followers, but I was surprised how accessible they make their stories to their audience. Francisco created a great website that reflects the voice of the people of Chinandega. It’s a great example for other Latin American news organizations who want to continue making their voices heard despite government pressure. I have contacted Francisco Centeno and hope to meet with him to discuss his work while I am in Chinandega next week.