The days are getting awfully rich here, and we’ve barely been here 10 days.
Breakfast with Santiago Times
Dunreith and I left our place at about 7:15, and, after a brisk walk and some direction asking the old fashioned way-translation: we asked people where to go rather than consulting our cell phones or GPS-we arrived at our destination.
Steve Anderson, founder and publisher of the Santiago Times, a longstanding English-only publication that has been online since its inception in 1989, was there to meet us.
Steve, a Texas and Arkansas native with curly, graying hair and a flowery shirt from his recently ended family vacation in Mexico, started the publication a couple of years after arriving toward the end of the Pinochet regime.
He came to Chile in 1987 to do social justice work and has been here ever since.
He’s raised a family, bought a farm in Puerto Montt in the southern part of the country with turkeys and hens, and purchased three apartments in Santiago.
One of them houses the paper, which has grown from Steve’s hobby to a well-respected operation that is currently staffed by a blond Aussie editor named Joe Hincliffe, a bearded business manager from Bangor, Maine named Cort Hepler and a rotation of anywhere from eight to 10 interns, most of whom stay for three-month stints.
Steve spoke with pride of Times alums who used their time at the paper as a training ground to orient themselves in Latin America, and who have gone on to work at high-profile outfits like Reuters and Bloomberg elsewhere on the continent.
It’s a financial struggle, though.
Like media enterprises the world over, this one is thinking hard about how to have a viable future.
Over some tasty tostadas with avocado, we identified possible areas of collaboration and specific next steps.
We took a quick jaunt a couple of blocks to check out the apartment/office and then walked with Cort to the Metro stop before zipping north to meet with Antonio Campana, the Fulbright Commission Director here in Chile, and Yunuen Varela, who provided absolutely invaluable logistical assistance for us in the months leading up to our flight two Thursdays ago.
We chatted pleasantly for an hour about the upcoming Fulbright orientation, the state of Chilean journalism and the impending presidential election. Antonio pointed out that former President Michelle Bachelet is trying to do what has not been accomplished in Chile in the more than two decades of post-dictatorship democracy: win a second term.
By law Chilean presidents are only allowed to serve a single term, something Bachelet did from 2006 to 2010.
Although there was a time early in her tenure when her approval rating was quite low, when she left it was at more than 80 percent.
It’s stayed there since, and, as Antonio pointed out, her strategy to avoid having it fall appears to be to make as few public appearances and comments as possible-a latter-day version of the “Rose Garden” tactic Jimmy Carter used to win the 1980 Democratic primaries.
Antonio went so far as to say that a very high percentage of the Chilean voting electorate, when asked, would be unable to explain Bachelet’s political program or the key issues on which she plans to focus, if elected to a second term in office.
His theory in part was that, as opposed to her first campaign, the far left parties are supporting her, and thus she wants to say as little as possible to alienate any members of her coalition.
He attributed Bachelet’s enduring popularity to many Chileans’ identifying with her personal journey of enduring her father’s being killed because he stayed loyal to the country’s constitution and to democratically-elected President Salvador Allende in the face of the Pinochet coup, enduring torture, having gone into exile and then having returned. At the same time, he noted that she has been working steadily to increase her own power for the past three decades.
For her part, Yunuen said she was excited that for the first time in Chilean history there are two major presidential candidates who are women.
The conversation wound down, we headed back to the apartment well equipped with a blue Fulbright Chile bag, a to-go coffee mug and a bunch of brochures. A little while later, went to Mercado Providencia, a covered market whose vendors sell all kinds of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, chicken and meat as well as, in some cases, homemade prepared foods.
Dunreith and I followed a tip we had received and purchased piping hot empanadas from Empanadas Tinita, an empanaderia that we went to just in time because the line stretched to more than two dozen people who waited patiently for their freshly prepared concoctions.
They weren’t disappointed.
Dunreith went for cheese and mushroom, while I had the mariscos, or shrimp, that also had what we are learning of standard ingredients of hefty servings of onions along with eggs and black olives with seeds.
We like to ride our bicycles
Happily sated, we took advantage of the unseasonally warm weather to take our initial ride on the bicycles friends
Miguel Huerta and Maca Rodriguez lent us the day after we landed in Santiago.
It took a while to unlock the bikes, adjust the seats and take them to a local bike store to get the tires pumped, and soon enough we were off.
It’s safe to say that it was a very different experience than our traditional jaunt down Lake Shore Drive’s bike path.
To begin, the bikes are much heavier than the ones we have in the United States, our seats kept sliding down as if they had their own will, we stopped repeatedly because of traffic lights, and the terrain is generally much more urban, with plenty of walkers, children, parents and cars with which to contend.
None of it mattered, as once again starting the endless rhythm of cycle stirred something deep and visceral within me.
We returned the bikes to our former apartment, got the makings for a quick snack and then walked down to the Movistar building where I had been invited to talk about our work with data at Hoy.
They took place on the second floor of the Movistar Innova building, an incubator zone for startups that had the requisite rows of casually dressed, potential entrepreneurs hunched over the Macbooks and talking in sing-song tones before the presentations began. in a long, high-ceilinged room with images of yellow, orange, pink and white balloons and bordered at each end by semi-circular arches. One part at the front of the room showed the time down to the second, while another at the back automatically calculated the number of people in the room at that moment. (The number ranged from 58 to 60 during the course of the evening.)
I spoke during my presentation about our evolution with data and as a team during the past three years, how we’ve moved from doing very little with data in 2010 to creating infographics in the daily two-page center spread, online photo galleries and a interactive map in 2011. I then explained how in 2012 we hired videographers, produced the Crunch Time series, created Google Fusion Maps, embedded tables in our posts from Google Docs and used Document Cloud to annotate our stories, before moving onto this year, when we built an in-house television studio and our remarkable intern Wil Morales became the driving force behind our food inspections application.
The other presentations were from Nicolas Kaiser-Bril, a French data journalist who started Journalism++, a company that does customized data visualizations and who has also developed free tools like Data Wrapper; Alvaro Graves from the winning team of a recent scrapeathon held in late June who in eight hours built an impressive site designed for parents and policymakers that looks at schools quality, distance and cost in Santiago; and Francisco Kemeny who owns a company named Black Sheep. He gave a very provocative look at big data, social media and choosing metrics that actually matter. (When I told him about being able to write an 800-word piece in Hoy, he said that he could do it in seven Tweets.).
The talks stimulated a bunch of questions, and the conversation continued afterward over tortillas, croquettes, fine wine and absolutely delicious egg custard and a creamy cheesecake- like dessert with strawberry flavor and a flaky crust delivered in a small cup and a smaller spoon
I spoke with Claudia, a reporter from El Mostrador who is very committed to reporting about the intense concentration of power in Chile, knows very little about data, and wants to attend the course I’m going to teach.
Raul contrasted the resources and opportunities for graduates here in Chile compared his country, saying that students here have the luxury of studying what they want and what interests them. In Colombia, he said, young people have to focus on making enough money to support their families.
This sparked a sharp response from Claudia, who cited the high percentage of people in Chile who barely make enough money to get by.
Raul rejoined, talking about the large number of Afro-Colombians who come to Chile chasing an updated version of the American Dream who ended up exploited and without the work they so desperately seek. (I wrote earlier about Donde Mi Negro, a restaurant owned by an Afro-Colombian who, like Raul, comes from Cali.)
Things were really starting to get interesting, especially since the woman serving the desserts had brought out one of the cheesecake ones just for me that blended just perfectly with the rich red wine I had already consumed.
But the crowd was starting to leave, and we did so, too.
It was fine with me.
Although I was not like the guy in the famous “Better get me a bucket” scene of Monty Python fame, I had already had way more than enough material to digest for the next couple of days.
We walked down to the first floor, said our goodbyes in English, French and Spanish to the people who spoke those languages, and once more strode to our apartment, the cool evening air hitting our faces as we went.
We didn’t even want to contemplate what things will be like in December.