“If you compare the situation in Colombia now for journalists,” Pombo told me in his modern corner office in Bogota, “with what happened 10, 15, 20 years ago everything changed. We work better, safely, now.” And his paper is certainly doing something right. El Tiempo circulates 400,000 copies of its Sunday broadsheet, and about 250,000 on weekdays, and lures 9 million unique visitors a month to its website.
Colombia is a country defined throughout history by its isolated geography. The Andes divide the nation. What can unify it are mass media and herculean transportation networks. President Gaviria credits radio. It was radio that heralded to most Colombians the 1993 assassination of drug baron Pablo Escobar, at which time Gaviria was president. The killing was a bin Laden-compound moment for the country. To get the best, fastest news about Colombia, Gaviria told me, he turns the radio dial.
But other modes of journalism also unite this country. The late Colombian journalist and historian Eduardo Lemaitre argued that “Three things have given this country of countries a nation with common principles, and have given it a compact to exist as a singular unit: The Constitution of 1886, the Magdalena river, and the television.”
One writer wrote in The New Yorker in 2010 that “Colombia is one of those countries where the locals are just grateful that you’re willing to visit.” Not so true. The number of foreign visitors to Colombia surged about 133 percent between 2000 and 2009. The same New Yorker writer also conceded that Colombia’s ability to attract foreign writers and visitors is “a sign that progress is possible in countries once left for dead.”
Journalists in Colombia were once the prey of professional killers. Today, they still face dangers, even grave ones, but they’re a part of their country’s broader momentum.