Monday, July 18, 2011

No Better In Spanish, Newsweek En Espanol Is The Same Lousy Magazine.

The Good: Nice pictures, Occasionally decent articles
The Bad: Not exactly hard-hitting investigative journalism, Biased, Expensive for what one gets, Mediocre
The Basics: As uninspired as the American English version, Newsweek En Espanol is a literal translation of the popular newsmagazine into modern Spanish.

Sometimes, life hands us gift-wrapped packages that we simply need to recognize for what they are. As a reviewer, I encounter a lot of different items, some of which I simply cannot review for one reason or another. But recently, I found myself in a doctor's office leafing through magazines and I encountered Newsweek En Espanol. Not only did I encounter Newsweek En Espanol, but I found the same old issue of the magazine I had used when reviewing the English version of Newsweek. This was fortuitous for two reasons: 1. It allowed me to do a side-by-side comparison between Newsweek and Newsweek En Espanol and 2. It allowed me to brush up on my Spanish, which I have not used in a decade since I fled a Level Four Spanish class in tears and ultimately gave up my attempt to get a double major B.A. in under three years.

The side-by-side comparison of the same issue of Newsweek and Newsweek En Espanol afforded me an important opportunity: the two magazines are identical, save in the language they are written in. Newsweek En Espanol is (as close as possible) a literal translation of Newsweek into Spanish. It is geared toward Spanish-speaking Americans and, presumably, Spanish-speaking individuals who are interested in an American take on news, culture and world events. What this means is that there are no sections catering to Hispanic or Latino culture in Newsweek En Espanol. All of the politics, celebrity gossip and information is following the exploits of those who interest mainstream America. So, for example, while a Latino or Hispanic-oriented Newsweek might keep tabs on famous Mexican soap stars or celebrities, Newsweek En Espanol reprints the same articles stalking Angelina Jolie in Spanish that were in the English version. As a result, Newsweek En Espanol has the exact same strengths and weaknesses as its American English counterpart.

Newsweek, and by extension Newsweek En Espanol, like many other corporately-owned, glossy magazines written with a vocabulary and diction an American fourth-grade student could read failed utterly to investigate the supposed evidence presented by the Bush Administration in its build-up to war in Iraq. As one of several standard-bearers, Newsweek reported Bush Administration allegations as facts and helped bolster public opinion for the war. And before one chimes in with "We were all swept up in post-9/11 frenzy and NO ONE questioned the Bush Administration allegations!" I'll cut that right down by pointing out that in the United States, several magazines (The Nation, The Progressive, The Washington Spectator), a handful of newspapers (I'm sure more if one counts college publications) and virtually every foreign press publication observed that the Bush Administration was selling the people of the U.S. on shaky evidence. And before one blames the American spies, it was U.S. spies that came forward to say that the Bush Administration was not being truthful BEFORE we became mired in the war.

The point of this, of course, is not to start a political debate, but rather to make the observation that Newsweek En Espanol is hardly an ambitious reporter of news or events. It is not the deepest publication, not the best-written and certainly not the one that exposes the truths of the world in order to prevent government from abusing its powers, which is supposedly what news organizations are supposed to do.

What Newsweek En Espanol is, because it is not ambitious, groundbreaking or controversial, is a collection of articles that summarizes the state of the world an average of a week after events happen. It is a glossy, ad-heavy, sixty-four page weekly magazine. The random issue I picked up to review (having read articles in most issues for the past year) had twenty-six pages of advertisements, not counting the inside front and back covers. Most of the ads were placed by pharmaceutical companies. It is also worth noting that that same issue (February 4, 2008 cover date) had no columns on health or pharmaceuticals outside a rather blase article on chemicals people commonly ingest.

In addition to being over 1/3 advertisement space, Newsweek En Espanol is a fairly well-organized magazine that offers reports on news, U.S. culture and political and business events. After a table of contents (complete with easy to understand pictures), the editor comments on articles within the magazine before gets a page of press with notes on the hottest articles not in this week's magazine, but available on They highlight their bloggers and list the ten most popular articles on the site (ironically, three of the ten have a pharmaceutical bent, which suggests that might be reporting stories that the print magazine's advertisers are not so keen on). Again, there were no specific stories unique to highlighting issues for Spanish-speaking people.

What follows, then, are eight pages of news columns exploring foreign affairs, the state of terrorists and other nations (Israel was given about a column, in which the magazine reported there were problems with the new porous border between Egypt and the Gaza strip). There was a celebrity obituary (of Heath Ledger, written by Christopher Nolan) side by side with a column on a National Book Award winner's favorite book list and a monitoring of current political trends in primary season. Strangely, the meter on the various campaigns was combined with a snippet of highlights from the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, so it is pretty easy to look at Newsweek En Espanol as an authority on both politics and culture that takes both seriously. After a column on religion, a guest columnist writing about trusting Evangelicals, there was a column on how the U.S. needs faster internet service and another on the mathematical organizations of elections.

After two pages of letters from readers and corrections to previous issues' errors, there is a single page of political cartoons and quotes and for a magazine from 2008, it seemed odd that both cartoons - which essentially had the same punchline - featured Bill Clinton. No, Newsweek En Espanol is not part of the alleged liberal media.

One of the two main features begins then with a full two page photograph and ten pages on politics. The issue, written at the start of primary season, focused several pages on Bill Clinton's effect on Hillary Clinton's campaign for president before exploring the Obama and Romney and (finally) Clinton camps. The article, like all of the others, is written simply, broken up by several photographs and explores how angry a man Bill Clinton can be. It is worth noting that by page 37 of Newsweek En Espanol in the last year of his administration there was not a mention of George W. Bush or any of his current initiatives. So much for a full view of politics!

The other feature (the cover story of the week) was an eight page expose on the economy. While the graphs manage to resist the literal definition of a recession, the magazine reports enough to prove their point, that America was headed for a recession. But the oddity is that in the same article, there is an expose on critics of the Federal Reserve being big business operators. Rather bafflingly, that article does not illustrate how the Fed, which the banks were criticizing, keep banks, money managers, etc. in line and regulated. Instead, the magazine repeats and emphasizes the claims of the money managers that the Fed is behind the times. The economic news is wrapped up with a fairly balanced perspective of the international effect of a U.S. recession on the world.

The two main articles are followed by two interviews, one of Hamid Karzai and another of Ehud Barak. Neither interview is especially revealing and, in fact, interviewer Lally Weymouth steers both interviews by making biased statements instead of asking questions at some points. Most of the questions are leading questions and lead to predictable answers that fit with the questioner's clear bias.

Following that is an opinion column on the war in Afghanistan, followed by a science article repeating information easily available for decades on chemicals that get into foods from our plastic storage containers. Culture is then explored in gushing tones that read like a tabloid. The issue I picked for review had a columnist drooling over the wholesomeness of the Jonas Brothers, another putting in their two cents on a highly criticized book, and a culture page that claimed fashions of the real people are now all the rage, but it was still reporting from SoHo in New York City. I'll believe the fashion world is honestly ready to adopt the common person as their image when they start doing photoshoots at the YMCA in Des Moines, Iowa.

The last pages offer commentary on food and drink, celebrities and the magazine closes with one of Anna Quindlen's wholesome feel-good columns that one supposes senior citizens and middle aged housewives clip and put up on their refrigerator to remind them of something (being neither I have no idea what that would be).

In all, Newsweek En Espanol is behind the times, biased and in no way exceptional. With the old phrase, "once you've had X, you can never go back . . ." if X are magazines that actually investigate and report the news, do not fill up space with advertisements and actually have wit and character to them, then I can never go back to Newsweek En Espanol. The magazine is self-censoring, including limiting some of its quotes for a family-friendly audience and if the magazine is truly intended for an adult audience, then it is falling severely flat.

I want current (the internet has it), I want insightful (The Nation has that) and I want direct (magazines without extensive ads have that). Newsweek En Espanol does not. It is biased, looks good, but lacks real substance and depth. And yes, it fell down with actual reporting during the Bush Administration. Some of us won't forget that.

Despite my issues with it, Spanish-speaking readers are likely to be disappointed by the lack of differentiation between the standard Newsweek and Newsweek En Espanol. The lack of any articles catering to the Spanish-speaking audience leaves little for that niche to get excited about.

For other magazines reviewed by me, please check out my take on:
The Progressive


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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