One of Puerto Rico's most recognizable journalistic voices, Rafael Lenín López has made his career on local television news programming (Noticentro, WAPA TV) and radio shows (Pegaos en la Mañana, Radio Isla). At 34, he has already been elected twice as president of the Puerto Rican Journalists Association.
Although his incursion into Facebook and Twitter should not come as a surprise, what is genuinely thrilling is the way in which Rafael has been able to use social networks as a bridge between his different journalistic enterprises.
Rafael uses his @LeninPR Twitter account – with over 20,000 followers – to offer quick updates and information about the latest news, later to be covered in greater depth on television or radio. The account has also provided him an outlet to voice his opinions and establish a more direct connection with the Puerto Rican audience. In fact, it was through Twitter that we politely asked Rafael for some time away from his busy schedule in order to answer a few questions for us:
Global Voices (GV): I would like to start by asking you – not about the beginning of your career (we’ll get to that later) – but about your introduction to social networks. Since you already had the experience of working within more traditional or established mediums such as radio and television, what motivated you to start reporting through Twitter? How did you come by this medium?
Rafael Lenín López (RLL): Hello! Thank you for your interest. After the frenzy over Facebook, I was a little skeptical about going into other social networks. However, I went into the Twittersphere and found a much more practical way to simultaneously report breaking news and create a new personality through a medium with an audience which was different from the one for traditional media. It also grants me the opportunity to slip personal comments and opinions through, which wouldn’t be allowed in traditional media. I can quickly exchange comments with the audience, people get to know me better, and I get to know them better as well.
I don’t remember how I came by Twitter, but I’m pretty sure that the events that boosted my account were [ex-Senator] Héctor Martínez’s trial [es] and the governor’s interview [es] in [local television gossip program] La Comay.
GV: You’re presently working for WAPA TV and Radio Isla, and you were also reelected president of the Puerto Rican Journalist Association. Has your exposition over social networks created any conflict with your professional work? Has it resulted in any qualms about the way you present yourself to the audience? Do you hold any considerations when you send a tweet or share something over the social networks?
RLL: For more conservative individuals perhaps this “over-exposure” would imply a conflict, but not to me. I try to complement my professional job with the content I put out in social media. Maybe it has become the outlet through which I combine the work I do in radio with the work I do on TV. My objective is to share the most urgent and immediate information through social media, and leave the details and explanations for radio and television.
I write my opinions and comments when I deem it important to express them and generate some sort of discussion or debate. People need that spark to wake them up. To date, there hasn't been any conflict generated by this.
GV: Journalism seems to be more hard-pressed than ever to adopt a greater focus towards entertainment, thanks to the economic realities of media outlets. The emergence of the so-called “crowdsourcing” also complicates the situation. Were these trends already taking shape when you started your career? What were your greatest challenges back then? How does it all compare with your experience in the present day?
RLL: When I began my career at WPAB Radio in Ponce, none of these trends were emerging just yet. I had the chance to witness a great and disorderly transition in mass media, a transition that made most people a little crazy and left many without a job. At the beginning, I was working with analog broadcast consoles and playing publicity ads from cartridges; I edited reels with razor blades and ripped the paper out of the teleprinter with a ruler. I used to break into a sprint whenever I heard the bell that announced an urgent piece of news. And be mindful that I’m only 34 years old!
The present-day experience is completely different, but what I’ve gone through previously – at risk of sounding a bit nostalgic – allows me to perfectly understand the situation confronted by communicators nowadays.
GV: What is the present state of journalism in Puerto Rico? Are journalists fulfilling their role?
RLL: I think they are. I think we have journalists that tend to be very responsible and committed to their work and, above all, to our nation. However, we should improve our investigative journalism.
GV: You recently shared an essay on Facebook [es] about the national broadcast of the picture of a decapitated head. In this essay, you say: “we have to take an investigative angle on these cases, and analyze how the lack of proper planning to confront this social problem has brought us to this point.” What hinders this kind of coverage? Is investigative coverage being done as rigorously as it should?
RLL: Our daily criminal activity does not allow us communicators – hence the rest of the nation – to take pause and thoroughly analyze the social problems we’re afflicted by. The daily time slots allowed for news are taken up by the most recent events, and very little time is left over for a more composed discussion. Alternative media, therefore, plays an important role in this.
GV: The Occupy Wall Street movement is becoming the North American version of the Arab Spring. What’s your take on this movement? What effect could it have on our island?
RLL: I think it’s appropriate for people to attempt to occupy spaces we’ve come to accept as “not ours.” However, I think we’re far from a widespread movement in Puerto Rico because of the poor sense of collectivity we have when it comes to explaining and solving our own problems.
GV: In your career, which news have most impressed you and what did you learn from them?
RLL: For its human drama, the explosion in Río Piedras in 1996 – without a doubt. Considering more frequent, everyday events, the trials over cases of corruption are evidence of how our political elite is rotting from the inside. Also, when it comes to people, both interviews to Filiberto Ojeda Ríos [es] marked me for life.
GV: Is it difficult to detach yourself emotionally from news that impassion you, be it a coverage on elections, interviews, or anything else? Do you feel detachment is a requirement?
RLL: I don’t think it’s necessary, and I usually don’t detach myself. I’m a citizen and resident of this nation and this planet. We cannot offer coverage as if we were aliens. This doesn’t mean we should take sides in a controversial case. In such situations, what’s appropriate is to present all angles justly.
RLL: I do follow the local musical scene. I like what’s happening out there with the artists and cultural exponents that aren’t well received by the mainstream media. That’s how I realize how disconnected traditional media really is.
I listen to almost every kind of music, as long as it’s good.
GV: Lastly, could you share with our readers any advice that you understand is vital to achieve a better nation for everyone?
RLL: We need to build a nation whose ultimate goal is solidarity and collectivity.
Special thanks to Diana Campo (@dianadhevi) for her work translating this interview.
For a longer version of this interview (in Spanish) you can read Puerto Rico Indie here.