NPR’s Adrian Florido: What covering Puerto Rico taught me

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Beyond suffering and resilience, reporter unexpectedly finds the best in America

In October, Adrian Florido joined NPR reporters parachuting into Puerto Rico for 10 days at a time to cover the massive destruction left by Hurricane Maria. He told his editor, Luis Clemens, that he thought this story had legs — and that he’d volunteer to stick with it.

NPR took him up on it, assigning him for nearly six months more in Puerto Rico, long after most stateside-assigned reporters had taken off.

After a week of meetings in New York and Washington, Florido returns today to San Juan — and to another six months explaining to mainland Americans just what makes the U.S. commonwealth so distinctive as it deals with both an economic crisis and the fallout from a once-in-a-century natural disaster.

“For people who don’t know a lot about Puerto Rico,” he said in an interview Wednesday, “most of the coverage has been on the devastation and the sadness and the damage. That’s important coverage, but it be can easy for a mainland public to associate Puerto Rico with only those things.“

To be sure, Florido has covered the reopening of Puerto Rico’s schools after months of closure, growing frustration over the slow distribution of aid and concerns about contaminated water. But he also has written about how bomba music has helped the island and profiled a sketch comedy group that has tried to make Puerto Ricans feel better. (In one skit, a Puerto Rican woman on the mainland says she feels so bad every time she hears about an island blackout that she turns off her circuit breaker in solidarity).

Adrian Floido (Photo: Hugo Rojo). Used with permission.
Adrian Florido (Photo by Hugo Rojo)

Florido believes media overplay the resourceful, resilient Puerto Rican trope — there is plenty of anger and impatience over the neglect from both the Trump administration and the commonwealth’s government. Yet many mainlanders don’t understand just why Puerto Rico is such as asset to the United States and often has a soulfulness that puts many mainlanders to shame. (“I’ve never had so many people try to force comida criolla on me,” Florido said, “and they won’t take no for an answer.”)

Puerto Rico’s outsized role in the world came to him one day when he walked into the cemetery in Old San Juan — abutting the Atlantic Ocean between the 500-year-old El Morro fort and La Perla, the slum anthropologist Oscar Lewis captured in “La Vida.”

“You just look at the headstones and you see famous name after famous name,” said Florido, who normally works for NPR’s Code Switch unit. “I’m convinced that Puerto Rico exports more talent per capita — musically, artistically, aesthetically — than anyplace in the world.”

What’s coming up in the next six months? The first $1.5 billion of $20 billion in HUD grants after the hurricane. The possible sale of the island’s energy grid. A Congressional oversight board requiring the government to cut pensions, health coverage, 25 percent of the schools — and raise college tuition.

“In some ways, the biggest, most important stories are just now surfacing,” Florido said. And that’s not counting last week’s start of a new hurricane season — and mayors who say their communities are woefully unprepared if another disaster should strike.

Quick hits

AT&T/TIME WARNER APPROVED: An entertainment colossus will be formed after a federal judge cleared the way for the $85.4 billion purchase in the biggest antitrust case of this century. AT&T, already a telecommunications giant with 100 wireless customers and 25 million pay TV homes, will acquire Hollywood’s biggest movie studio as well as HBO and CNN. The new company could create content to engage AT&T's vast network of consumers and target advertising tailored to their habits.

A BLOW TO TRUMP: The president, who denigrates CNN almost daily, opposed the purchase during his campaign, and the government argued a bigger company would lead to higher prices. AT&T argued prices would go down and the bundling was needed to battle online competitors such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and Google, writes the LAT’s Jim Puzzanghera and Meg James.

RESTRICTING THE MEDIA: To an outcry by press defenders, the White House shut out The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg from its press pool during the Singapore summit. Also barred: representatives from radio and the foreign press corps and the editorial representative for the pool TV networks — reporters who generally relay to their colleagues what is said or occurs during a photo op. An AP spokesperson called it “a disservice to the public, which deserves prompt, accurate and complete reporting on what may be one of the president’s most consequential meetings.”

STAGECRAFT WON: Margaret Sullivan argues that the media fell for the Trumpian pageantry of the U.S.-North Korean summit, emphasizing the sizzle instead of a dubious document.

A QUALITY PLAY: Will a select group of readers pay $300 a year for a different type of tech coverage that explains the ramifications of new products to society as well as a launch? That’s what The Logic is betting on. Billed as a type of the successful Silicon Valley site The Information for Canada, The Logic launched today. Shan Wang writes.

NAMED: Former Los Angeles Times managing editor Marc Duvoisin will be editor of the San Antonio Express-News, effective immediately. He replaces Mike Leary, who retired in May.

DROPPED: Boston Globe lawsuit against former employee who alleged a questionable text from top editor. Globe says it got information it needed.

BIAS IN THAT ALGORITHM?: This tool claims to fix it, Fast Company reports.

What we’re reading

MUELLER’S RIGHT: The special prosecutor is totally protected constitutionally — and for the president to suggest otherwise is wrong, says George Conway, respected lawyer and husband to Kellyanne Conway. Here’s his argument, from Lawfare.

SO YOU KNOW: A highlight of the atrocities carried out under North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

LATEST ROHINGYA CRISIS: In a different world, we'd have wall-to-wall coverage of the genocide in Myanmar. The latest: The hundreds of thousands of people who fled torture, rape and murder in their homeland now face a new threat: monsoons.

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