While Extra has continued to deliver what readers want, the new restrictions have changed things for the paper’s writers and photographers. Photographers say that they have to work just a little bit harder to get around the somewhat more vigilant police force. Checa said that Extra had incredible access before the 2008 rules, especially in Guayaquil: “The reporters had total access from the Guayaquil National Police. They could photograph the corpses whenever they wanted. They could even come in and set up a scene to make it look more dramatic.” He said that they once re-hung a suicide victim for a photo. (In an e-mail, Holguin hotly denied the charge.)
The government’s motivation in strengthening rules on the public visibility of dead bodies is unclear. Commenting on the new regulations, Education Minister Raúl Vallejo was quoted in the Guayaquil daily El Universo as saying that the cronica roja “is in and of itself a degradation of humankind. Death and pain are personal. I believe that to commercialize them is an attack on decency.”
Extra and its defenders say that the government is simply distracting the public from domestic economic and political controversies. But many countries do not allow photographers into morgues. Omar Rincón says that he is not aware of such restrictions in other Latin American countries, although he had not heard of Ecuador’s before I told him about it. While he acknowledges that tabloids can have a less than constructive social impact, he calls the government’s move wrongheaded: “If reality is violent and pornographic, then the sensationalist papers have to see it as such.”
While Checa mocks elite criticism of Extraand its readers, he agrees with the new rules, saying they are a reasonable measure to protect the privacy of victims and their families. Yet aside from requiring a higher level of investigative creativity and a faster reaction time from reporters and photographers, Extra’s work and sales continue.
After interviewing the dead boy’s relatives and eliciting the story behind the murder, Daniella Vacy and Yadira Yesca left the police morgue and drove to the scene of the crime. The neighborhood was unsurprisingly poor for Guayaquil—the city is spectacularly impoverished. We approached a bloodstain on the gravel street. Neighbors approached to recount their story of and proximity to the murder, helping Yesca reconstruct the geographic layout of the previous day’s violent encounter. Vacy began her rapid-fire, point-blank photography, inducing a somewhat confused response from a few of the neighbors. They seemed like they did not want to be photographed, but pinned between Yesca’s soothing, friendly voice and Vacy’s impersonal, mechanical consistency, the women were unsure of how to avoid it, and so relented and continued the interview.
Vacy then found one of the bullets on the ground, near the bloodstain, picking up where police incompetence left off. I was shocked that the police had missed the evidence; Vacy and Yesca were unimpressed. Thursday’s page two blared: “They killed him for dating a preppy girl!”