Following a new five question interview series I started the other day on Eyes On Brazil, I’ve decided to do the same here on Eyes On Colombia. As it turns out, I was lucky enough to have Brian Andrews, Director of Colombia TV – RCN News in English agree to start the series. The questions are mine and the goal is to get to know the person being interviewed through understanding what they do and how they positively contribute to showing the true Colombia.
Before starting, I would like to give a big shout out to Brian and thank him for taking the time out to assist me in kicking off my interview series! Also, I would like to help spread the word that RCN News in English is changing with the times. Colombia News is expanding to do News in English from all over Latin America. The new site launched last week called http://news.ntn24.com so check it out!
1. Can you tell me a little about how you got into journalism and how you ended up reporting on Colombia?
This has been my passion since I was a teenager. I started as a stringer for different radio networks in the US when I was just 16. I worked my way through college at CNN in Atlanta. Then, I moved to Miami, were I spent 10 years as a field reporter and anchor for Channel 7. After 7, I moved to CBS, where I did a brief stint as a National Correspondent and then returned to Miami as an anchor and investigative reporter at the local CBS station. One of the things I loved about my job in Miami was the travel! I went all over the world covering stories and really loved Latin America. When I wasn’t reporting there, I was going there to escape the stress and take vacation. Cartagena was my escape. I always said to myself that I wanted to live in Colombia one day.
In November of 2007, I took the plunge. I quit my job, sold my house, and moved to Colombia without a job, determined to create something. I knew there was a void of english-language reporting on events in the country. I knew there were more stories to be told than just bombs going off and kidnappings. It took me a few months, but I was able to convince Caracol to hire me. But they didn’t share my vision of reporting Colombia’s News in English. So, I took my big dreams and ideas to the competition. RCN had a true global vision. We reached a deal after our first meeting. RCN News in English started just a few weeks later.
2. How much of Colombia have you seen? Is there a place you liked more than others? Why?
I’ve probably seen more of Colombia than the average Colombian. From Ipiales to Barranquilla, I’ve been there. It’s such a beautiful country with amazing people and landscapes. My favorite place in Colombia is Cartagena. It’s a magical city on the north coast where you just can’t help but feel in love with life. It’s also very romantic. Everyone who goes there falls in love. My other favorite part of Colombia is the Eje Cafetero. I’ve hiked the Nevado del Ruiz, been to Covenas, seen the Botero Statues in Medellin, and marvelled at the Chicamocha Canyon. Barichara is also amazing, a great place to disconnect.
In Colombia, it’s all about adding life to your years, not years to your life. Every city has a unique story. However, paradise does have a little trouble. The further you go from the big cities, the more insecure things can be for gringos. We got robbed in Honda, Tolima. Someone broke into our farm-house we had rented and stole computers, clothes, and money. Plus, there was an attempt by the FARC to kidnap me and my crew while on assignment in El Cerrito, Valle. Lovely places with bad memories for me.
3. How do the majority of Colombians react to a ‘gringo’ reporting on their country? Do they find it to be a strange concept?
I have been amazed by how much the Colombian people connect with what we are doing. The show is wildly popular in Colombia. I feel like a rock star sometimes as it’s crazy how many people know me for the work me and my team do. And it’s not just in Colombia! I was at a performance of the Bogota Philharmonic in Miami this weekend, and a guy came up to me and said “Thank you for what you are doing for my country.” They realize that our programs on the internet and TV are bringing the good things of Colombia to the world in another language. In a sense, we are Ambassadors carrying the message that it’s an amazing country that’s worth a visit. Our news is a mix of hard and soft stories. Yes, we covered the bombing of Caracol Radio and the Plane crash in Santa Marta, but we also cover the culture festivals and interesting slice of life stories that you would never see on CNN or the BBC.
4. How hard is it to continuously find content on Colombia to write about and report on? Do interns and assistants help with that?
It’s never hard to find content. We are surrounded by it! Plus, everyone has a story. There’s always something interesting to show. We utilize the reporting resources of Noticias RCN and NTN24, in addition to the work of our team. We take material the other networks shoot and repackage it. We also shoot a lot of our own material. We take suggestions from viewers on what they would like to see. We have also solicited stories from our viewers. For example, we have regular contributors to our Colombia News from Canada and New York. We do have interns who work with us. They play an active role in the production. I make sure everyone has a chance to appear on camera and to write about stories and issues that are important to them.
5. Finally, what Colombian food and drink do you recommend that everyone have at least once?
Food: The food is so fresh in Colombia. I love going for breakfast and having the fresh-baked breads (pancitos) and fresh fruit. For example, you cant get grenadilla in the US. It’s an orange fruit with a hard shell. When you crack it open, its full of slimy sweed seeds. It’s delicious. I also like Bandeja Paisa for breakfast. I admit I love Coral Hamburgers in Bogota.. and the really big ones you get at Mercagan in Bucaramanga. And you can’t beat the fresh fish in Cartagena or San Andres. You pick it, and they fry it up for you!
Oh yeah, Patacones… ME EN-CANTA!!!!
Drinks: I love Lulo juice, wapanela (don’t know how you spell it) and a shot of Old Parr. 🙂 And while it’s not very Colombian, it’s very Bogota: an apple martini at Prava in the T zone! One is never enough..but two is always too many 🙂
From places to see and things to eat or drink, I can’t believe my five years studying Colombian culture and my two years writing about it hasn’t brought me more knowledge about some of the things Brian mentioned!! I suppose there’s a reason that Colombia’s slogan isn’t “Colombia: The risk is that you want to stay at home and study it”! Time to move there? ; )