Tradition and Change in the Nicaraguan Press: Newspapers and Journalists in a New Democratic Era

Article excerpt

* Tradition and Change in the Nicaraguan Press: Newspapers and Journalists in a New Democratic Era. Kris P. Kodrich. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002. 199 pp. $34 pbk.

For fifty years, the Nicaraguan press published under constraints of repression and censorship. Then, in the last decade of the twentieth century, those constraints were removed.

In Tradition and Change in the Nicaraguan Press, Kris P. Kodrich undertook the task of explaining the nature of the press that emerged, blinking in the tropical sunlight of newly minted Central American democracy. What he found was a longing for change and a persistence of traditions, notably sensationalism in graphic crime and disaster photos and partisanship in political coverage. Throughout the 1990s, Nicaraguan newspapers tried to strike a balance between appearing unable to confront the new democratic era by clinging too closely to their traditions and changing more rapidly than their readers would accept.

The stakes were high: During the three-year period of the study and before the book's publication, two of the five newspapers Kodrich examined folded. One had reverted to Nicaragua's partisan tradition after an experiment with more objective journalism. The other had forged ahead of the pack with flashy graphics; color photos; and short, snappy stories, techniques adapted from abroad. Changing too quickly or not quickly enough were equally fatal.

Kodrich first visited Nicaragua as a journalist covering the momentous 1989 election, the beginning of the new era of democracy that provided the background for his study. Conducting fieldwork in periods of several months over three years ending in 1999, he produced the dissertation that was the basis of this book. A 2000 graduate of Indiana University, he is an assistant professor of journalism at Colorado State University.

The strength of Tradition and Change in the Nicaraguan Press is the number of techniques that Kodrich employed to arrive at, and separate, the elusive themes of tradition and change. Making those distinctions is especially difficult, he pointed out, because some forms of change have become traditions in Nicaraguan journalism. For example, Nicaraguan journalists have long sought out foreign influences, adapting the new ideas to their needs. Kodrich explained such points in a background chapter that agilely sweeps the reader through the century of Nicaraguan history needed to understand the study. Even with that context, or perhaps especially with that context, separating tradition from change is a delicate task.

To separate the two, Kodrich employed surveys, content analysis, participant-observation, and interviews and discussions to develop a case study. …