By 1988, Holguin was looking for a new home, and promised Extra owner Galo Martinez Merchan that he could turn his paper around. The magic formula, of course, was dead bodies and soft-core pornography.
At the time, Extra was a small local paper in the coastal city of Guayaquil, offering a standard fare of reporting on politics, business, and sports. Under Holguin’s leadership, the paper’s circulation increased from an estimated 17,300 in 1988 to 112,602 in 1990. By 1999, Price Waterhouse certified that Extra had a circulation of 190,000. The paper now reaches from coastal villages to the Andean highlands and the Amazon rainforest, claiming a circulation of 200,000—including thousands of copies, Holguin says, put on daily flights to immigrants in New York, Spain, and Italy. By any measure, the paper is Ecuador’s most sold.
I spent two days with Extra’s three-person reporting teams, visiting Guayaquil’s morgues and crime scenes. As I shadowed teams across the city, it was remarkable to watch how eager people were to speak with Extra and play a part in the reporting, as though they were walking into the pages of a book they had been reading all of their lives.
One evening, I was driving around with Extra reporter Vicente Chonillo and his photographer, Cristian Vinueza, when we got a call about a suicide. It took us nearly an hour to get to the scene in a slum far from the city center, described as “near a radio tower” in lieu of a street address. As we got closer, people simply pointed us in the right direction, knowing, in a state of bizarrely organic collaboration, exactly where the truck with Extra emblazoned across the front doors wanted to be.
But the police had beaten us there.
We stood before a shell of wooden frames, absent a roof or walls. We were told that the man’s wife had left him the day before, and he had begun to disassemble his house. At some point he gave up, and hung himself from a rope tied to the rafters. The police had cordoned off the front section of the house, and Vinueza quickly appraised the situation, finding a spot from the rear of the house from where the man’s feet were visible. Given the new rules, Extra must get a photo before the body is covered underneath the coroner’s tight, white carapace. Vinueza took a few quick, ultimately unsatisfying photos.
Although police had ostensibly secured the scene, a neighbor approached to suggest a vantage point from an adjacent property where a clear photo of the corpse could be taken. Vinueza returned to the front of the house, where Chonillo was speaking to neighbors. He showed me a photo of the man hanging, rope still around neck. But Chonillo wanted an image of the shrouded body’s exit, too, and they waited for the stretcher to be wheeled out of the deconstructed house, down a dirt road to a waiting coroner’s vehicle.
While dozens of people crowded in to get a look at the moving corpse, Vinueza climbed a hill where the neighborhood’s children had gathered. Above the fray, he got a few more shots. I was struck that only he and the kids had known where to go. On our way back to the car, people gathered around to ask when the story would be published. We drove back towards the highway, on our way to interview the prominent owner of a local brothel. Chonillo hoped to pitch him a framing of sex lord as entrepreneur. He would, it turns out, be excited about the chance to rehabilitate his image. Chonillo said that he was unsure whether or not the suicide would make it into tomorrow’s paper. “We only publish suicides on slow days,” Holguin had told me. The story never ran.