Graduate in Journalism in Cuba? No Thanks!

Journalism students from the University of Havana, on a recent visit to the official newspaper ‘Granma’ / Granma

By Yoani Sanchez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – It was once a career competed for by students with the best grades, but in recent years its enrollment has been plummeting. Entering University to study Journalism no longer unleashes the passions of yesteryear and the number of potential graduates has decreased significantly. In the most recent 2nd National Plenary Session of the Union of Journalists of Cuba, the despair of the directors of the official press due to the lack of relief was the star of part of the meeting.

The decrease in the number of students, which had begun to be noticed some time ago, has become more pronounced after Active Military Service (SMA) was established as a mandatory requirement for girls who choose to study this specialty from academic year 2024-2025. For the dean of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Havana, Ariel Terrero, the implementation of this condition is “a failure” and he questions whether the SMA serves to “educate and ideologically train these young women.”

The decision to force the students to spend a year as recruits was evidently intended as another form of political filtering and indoctrination. Military training would help mold them to follow orders, to not question the authority of their superiors, and to put the submission and docility of a soldier before any possible criticism or personal rebellion. Life in a barracks would prepare them for the journalistic newsrooms controlled by the Communist Party by training them in the maxim that all insubordination is also an act of betrayal.

However, instead of running smiling and confident towards the rifles, these Cuban women who dreamed of writing reports or covering an event for a television news program decided to put their vocation aside rather than wear an olive green uniform. The result of this imposition has not been what the authorities expected. Instead of future reporters shooting at targets and crawling on the ground camouflaged to surprise the enemy, what has happened is the exodus of applicants to enter a career in Journalism.

The crisis in this specialty has been brewing for decades. Some of those who graduate from their classrooms each year end up not practicing the profession, emigrating or switching to independent journalism. This is the case of Lili and Manuel — whose names have been changed to avoid reprisals — who are part of a recent batch that left the Faculty of Communication at the University of Havana. She took advantage of a health problem to not even begin her Social Service; he worked for just a few months at a radio station and asked for leave.

The reasons for not working in a profession for which they have sacrificed so much range from low salaries, to the desire to emigrate, to the conviction that in an official media they will not be able to practice the type of journalism they want to do. Less than half a year on Cuban radio was enough for Manuel to understand that “you have to ask permission for everything.” A couple of reports he prepared with testimonies collected on the streets were never broadcast. “The editors dragged their feet but it was evident that they did not like the complaints of those interviewed about the situation in the country; they said that those people who spoke did not offer hope or propose constructive solutions.”

Now, the young man publishes under a pseudonym for an independent media outlet while he waits for humanitarian parole through his father, who lives in the United States. “I don’t want to complicate myself by working in an official media, lest I have problems leaving later.” Lili, now recovered from her illness, writes weekly horoscope texts for a digital site outside of Cuba that pays her by the piece and in dollars.

Translated by Translating Cuba.

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