Word first leaked out on Twitter last night: Grupo Nación, publisher of several publications including what is considered by many to be Costa Rica’s largest and most influential daily, La Nación, would be cutting up to 100 jobs, including 14 reporters. This followed news earlier in the afternoon that the company would stop printing its recently launched, college-oriented newspaper Vuelta en U, leaving only the website.
Informa-Tico, the on-line daily that broke the news on Twitter, had a story up within a few hours quoting unnamed reporters from La Nación saying they were shocked by the news.
“This feels like a funeral. Even though there had been rumors in recent days, nobody expected layoffs. This has been very hard, very sad,” said one reporter who kept her job.
Informa-tico also ran the text of a memo sent to La Nación employees that included news that those remaining would receive a 5% raise in February.
La Nación today ran a story announcing in the lead “changes in the organizational structure and some products in order to increase efficiency and create savings that will allow (the company) to face the foreseen contraction in the advertising market within the context of the global economic crisis.”
Buried in the 17th paragraph (fourth to last in the story), La Nación revealed it would be cutting 25 positions immediately, and not refilling other positions that are left vacant in the future.
The news came as a shock to many in Costa Rica, but there were already symptoms that the country’s media was not immune to the same ills afflicting U.S. publications.
After a steady decline in ad pages, the English-language weekly The Beach Times quietly closed down at the beginning of this month, though a few stories have been posted to the website since then.
The Beach Times, where I worked for a year, was founded in 2003 by Ralph Nicholson, a life-long Australian journalist who worked his way up to vice-president in charge of new media at Reuters International. The paper served an audience of expats, investors and tourists with hard news and feature reporting from the booming northwest Pacific coast.
Meanwhile, at The Tico Times, where I currently work, ads have been shrinking steadily for months, and when one of the weekly’s four full-time reporters quit last year, no replacement was hired. This month, management announced there would be no raises until further notice.
Founded in 1956, The Tico Times documented much of Nicaragua’s civil war, losing a reporter in the infamous 1984 La Penca bombing (that link is in English, I promise), and has been a pioneer in environmental reporting over the last decade.
And finally, there have been rumors that AM Costa Rica, a staple website for expats in Costa Rica, would be shutting down this year. When I called and asked about the possibility, owner Jay Brodell oddly told me that he doesn’t talk to reporters.