Why one Guatemalan newspaper now refuses to cover the giant sinkhole

The Tampa sinkhole that appeared Sunday is reminiscent of last month's Guatemala sinkhole. But despite the seemingly insatiable appetite for the story, The Guatemala Times newspaper is now refusing to cover the topic.

Moises Castillo/AP
A giant sinkhole covers a street intersection in downtown Guatemala City, June 2.

The Tampa sinkhole that swallowed a car Sunday is not as deep, wide, or perfectly cylindrical as the Guatemala sinkhole that emerged in late May to rabid news coverage.

Six weeks on, the Guatemala sinkhole remains unchanged – it’s still 66-feet wide and 100-feet deep – as the municipality decides what to do with it, says Barbara Schieber, editor-in-chief of the English-language Guatemala Times.

IN PICTURES: Guatemalan sinkhole

Despite the US public's voracious appetite for the coverage of the sinkhole, which appeared on May 29, the Guatemala Times refuses to cover it anymore.

“Guatemala has so many problems. The sinkhole is really not a problem, except in the little neighborhood where it happened,” says Ms. Schieber, who was born in Guatemala to a Guatemalan father and a German mother.

In a June 3 op-ed on the Guatemala Times website, Schieber wrote that the top story about Guatemala was not the volcanic eruption of Pacaya or tropical Storm Agatha, which killed more than 120 people in Guatemala. Rather, "the most important discussion on the news is if the sinkhole is a Photoshop picture or if it was made by UFO's."

The Guatemala sinkhole now yields 8.44 million Google search results and 2.89 million Yahoo! search results. All of the top results are from news sources outside of Guatemala providing gee-whiz coverage and photo galleries galore.

Local Spanish-language newspapers, says Schieber, focus more on the sinkhole’s real impact on residents and how the municipality will handle the problem – not its amazing roundness.

And as far as Schieber is concerned, the reporting efforts of her online-only Guatemala Times – which opened in 2008 with a two-person staff (Schieber and her Swedish husband) and several volunteers, are best spent elsewhere.

“We try to provide limited information with very limited resources. We would like to maintain a line of relevant news,” Schieber says, adding: “There is a point where we get a feeling of repugnancy about the predatory, soulless reporting of anything that sells.”

Meanwhile, she says, Guatemalans are dying daily in an escalating drug war spreading south from Mexico. Gangs are rampant. The International Crisis Group (ICG) on June 22 released the report “Guatemala: Squeezed between Crime and Impunity,” which says that “skyrocketing violent crime” is a result of a corrupt and weak police force, along with the proliferation of youth gangs (maras) and Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

"Guatemala is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with some 6,500 murders in 2009, more than the average yearly killings during the conflict and roughly twice the homicide rate of neighbouring Mexico," according to ICG.

Schieber says she’s been mugged five times in the past three years.

Meanwhile, the news is the sinkhole.

"There is so much information out there that is so irrelevant," she says. "People are drowning in irrelevant news."

IN PICTURES: Guatemalan sinkhole


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