Designers create prototypes of newspapers in a capitalist Cuba

Collage of newspaper prototypes in a capitalist Cuba.
Collage of newspaper prototypes in a capitalist Cuba. Courtesy

Three Cuban-American designers have dreamed up what might be the future newspapers of a Cuba where McDonald's could advertise a “McLechon” and Cubans could read about entertainment or politics in modern and attractive formats.

Amid the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, Mario García, who has redesigned 703 newspapers in more than 120 countries, invited Ana Larrauri, a Miami Herald designer, and Nuri Ducassi, creative director for the Toronto Star, to carry out what he called “a conceptual exercise on how the newspapers of this new Cuba might look.”

The results were three renditions — Cuba Hoy, La Rampa and Havana 24/7 — that play with possible formats, contents, announcements and visual designs.

“I was born in Cuba and came at the age of 14, and my career has been designing newspapers,” García said. :I always think that some day it might be interesting to design a newspaper in the land of my birth, even if I never return to Cuba.”

García, who founded the García Media company and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University, said the three designers aimed at a modern newspaper focused on analysis and not on breaking news, which are more rapidly disseminated by way of smart phones and the Internet.

“We are inviting them (the Cuban media), since they did not modernize in the last 50 years, to turn the page and join the vital journalism of the digital era. I believe there's an opportunity, because these new newspapers are born without the burden of tradition and can go from the journalism of 1959 to the journalism of 2016,” he said. “That's very exciting for me.”

The three designers said their projects sought to encourage a dialogue and spark the interest of U.S. newspaper companies and future advertisers, although they believe that the future newsroom should be in Cuba.

García acknowledged that the possibility of any of the three newspapers being published in Cuba would require “a very radical change, with freedom of the press.”

Ducassi agreed, saying that the publication of her La Rampa newspaper would depend on an end to “government controls and press censorship.” Larrauri added that there must be “freedom to publish whatever we want.”

“They will have to open up to the idea that independent publications can coexist with their official newspaper; open up to the concept of debate between publications,” Ducassi said. “The Cuban government is all about control and it impedes creativity and free thought. They have to loosen up.”

Tabloids, Color and Publicity

Even though freedom of the press seems far down the road, other changes like the financing of media through advertising might be around the corner. During a brief period in the 1990s, the Cuban government allowed the display of publicity in some publications, television programs and outdoor billboards.

Today, digital publications such as Vistar, which calls itself “the official magazine of the entertainment scene in Cuba,” include advertisements. And in April, the state-owned National Information Agency launched a new publication, Ofertas (Offers) with regular and classified ads from enterprises and small private businesses.

A report in the official Granma newspaper said the new publication had a circulation of 60,000 and offered “advice, guidelines, counsel and useful suggestions for starting a business on the island, immersed in the process of updating its economic model and the search for more efficient management methods.”

What's more, the proliferation of blogs and independent media such as 14ymedio – still in legal limbo because they are not officially recognized — has been slowly expanding the debate on the Internet, although with limited impact because of the restricted access to the Web.

The idea of a U.S. publication put together in a newsroom in Cuba also has one example already: On Cuba, a magazine directed from Miami by Cuban-American entrepreneur Hugo Cancio, with a newsroom in Havana and distribution on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

Cancio said On Cuba does not have a “correspondent” in Cuba because its content is generated on the island, even though it is accredited with the government as a foreign media and it is printed in the United States. His project also has a Web page and two other magazines — one on art and another on real estate and architecture. The majority of the publication’s advertising comes from enterprises based in Miami, he said, although they also receive ads from Cuban businesses.

“Neither the Cuban newspapers nor television generate enough revenue to sustain themselves without the support of the state. The media, at some point, will have to adjust or perish, because I don't believe that the state can continue to sustain them,” Cancio said.

For Cancio, the future imagined by the three designers already exists. “They are saying nothing new. On Cuba has been in existence for two years,” he said.

He acknowledged that his publications walk a fine line and that their “coexistence” with the official media has generated “high levels of sensitivity,” but added that he believes the space for communications media on the island will grow.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

The projects

Cuba Hoy

Designer: Mario García

“Cuba Hoy follows the popular tabloid model. I have the experience of having designed many dailies when the Iron Curtail fell, more than 20 years ago, in Germany, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, and what people wanted to see — after having lived through censorship — were popular newspapers; they wanted to see color, read about artists and assasinations. None of that now exists in Cuba; the Granma newspaper is completely political.

“When countries that have been closed off open up, there is a huge appetite for journalism that offers more than politics. The population grows tired of politics and Cubans will go through the same thing.”

La Rampa

Designer: Nuri Ducassi

La Rampa could appeal to Havana's professionals whom will form a new middle class. The new city entrepreneurs such as paladar owners and other small business owners. But it could also find some fans in university students and Spanish speaking visitors. I see it as a free daily like Metro with more of a magazine format. There will be stands all over the city, particularly by bus stops.

La Rampa will cover mainly city-related news, politics, arts, sports and a friendly guide to cultural events, restaurants and bars. It will carry local ads. La Rampa will touch lightly on national and international news.

“I was born in Havana and expend my early childhood years there. My mother left with my brother and me in 1969, I was 11 years old. We lived in el Vedado and I clearly remember 23rd street also known as la rampa as the most exiting place to go. A long vein of clubs, hotels, movie theaters with the sea visible at the end. Even the sidewalks have mosaics everyone who wanted to feel the pulse of the city went to La Rampa. The logo was inspired by the beautiful Amelia Pelaez mural on de side of the Habana Libre hotel.”

Havana 24/7

Designer: Ana Larrauri

“In my case, I chose features, something more uplifting. [Havana 24/7] is like a Sunday supplement with an emphasis on activities and cultural events. If this were to really take off in the future, Cubans can get their ‘hard news’ through the Internet. What’s left is local news, culture and entertainment.

“The ads I selected are of three businesses that I thought could be of most benefit at this time for the Cuban people: American Airlines, Target and Home Depot. Once the population’s needs with food and technology are covered, what comes next is a desire to travel, make purchases for the home or make purchases, period. These American companies also could help Cubans with employement opportunities.

“[Havana 24/7] would be a vehicle for these companies to publicize their products and for the Cuban population to learn about capitalism, while staying informed and entertained.

“As for the design, I wanted to highlight color — Cuba is an island of beautiful colors — a Caribbean rainbow. We created a lot of illustrations because magazines in Cuba (such as Carteles and Bohemia) have a history with lots of color and spunk.”