Natalia Crujeiras is grateful for the opportunity to work as a journalist in the United States. Born and raised in Mexico, Natalia became dismayed during her first working years after college with the extent to which the press was censored, and she opted to pursue a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Miami. It was a game-changing decision for her. She began to flourish as a journalist while gaining an appreciation for an open press and eventually landed her current position: Chief Content Officer for Radio and TV Martí.
How does your work for the Martís impact the Office of Cuba Broadcasting?
“I help create synergy among our content creation platforms, radio, TV, and digital, so we can better and more efficiently utilize our resources. I provide guidance from conception to completion in all aspects of our content development so our news coverage and content creation follow our core mission and adapt better to the vehicle they will be distributed in.”
You seem so passionate about your work. Why?
“I believe that those of us who have had the privilege to choose and make decisions about our life and future have the obligation to recognize that many (too many) people in this world do not have that freedom. I think that is the reason I became a journalist, because we need to give voice to those who are marginalized, to expose injustices, to question those who abuse their power. Journalists, to me, must have a vocation for defending basic human rights. That is what my job allows me to do every day: provide balanced information and context and present all – sometimes opposing – sides of an argument so our audience can reach their own conclusion and they too can make decisions about their future.”
Has the historic change in U.S.-Cuba relations affected your work?
“Absolutely! It’s been very, VERY busy. However, the core of our mission continues to be the same. Cuba is still the most restrictive country on our continent. It is still a dictatorship where human rights are abused every day, access to information is limited and heavily controlled, and all mass media are state owned and operated. The mission of the Martís is to inform, connect and engage with the people of Cuba in support of freedom and democracy. We have noticed how the regime has eased some restrictions on expression, allowing previously taboo topics to be aired in the national media and certain opposition voices to be more widely heard. However, authorities continue to suppress dissent by harassing, intimidating and detaining activists and independent journalists, including Martí collaborators. We still have a lot of work to do!”
You’ve coordinated several censorship circumvention strategies for OCB. Will the need to overcome censorship by Cuban authorities change with the renewal in U.S.-Cuba relations?
“Unfortunately, no. Washington and Havana may have changed the tone of the conversation, but in Cuba neither free press nor dissent are permitted. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media and allows free speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” Political satire is forbidden. Independent journalists can face up to 10 years in prison if they “collaborate with the enemy’s media.” Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive branch. Laws criminalizing “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news” are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security.”
You started at OCB in 2012 as its Digital Media and Social Strategy Director. What led you to work for the Martís?
“One word: challenge. It was a challenge. At the time, I was working as Director of Broadcast Operations for the University of Miami, where I also taught some journalism classes. I love academia and working with the students. I wish to go back to it someday. But I missed the “thrill” of a newsroom and was attracted to the challenge of leading the digital media transition in an agency that served the most isolated and literally “unplugged” society in the Americas. When I started working with the Martís, we could hardly get a photo out of Cuba and most of our engagement was over the phone. Now, in spite of the censorship and costly internet connections, we have daily video news reports from the island and actively engage in social and other media with our audience in Cuba. More people are now accessing the internet and using wifi connections, but outside of Havana and other major tourism destinations, the internet is still a dream. So our strongest reach is with our radio broadcasts. That is why we mix short-wave radio and the newest circumvention tools. We need to merge old and new technologies to better serve our audience.”
What’s been your key takeaway from your time at OCB?
“That OCB has some of the most talented and dedicated journalists I have ever worked with. They do their work with a true sense of mission.”
Prior to the BBG, you worked for the two of the leading Spanish networks, NBC Universal-Telemundo and Univision. What did you learn in those experiences that you’ve applied to your work at the BBG?
“That in storytelling, audiences will remember more about how you made them feel than the information you provided. In order to create positive change and be influential, our content needs to inspire, not only empower, our audience.”
Give me three adjectives and three verbs that best describe the Martís.
Adjectives: “Complex. Passionate. Loud!”
Verbs: “Fight. Provide. Offer. We fight censorship. We provide context. We offer hope.”
You hold a B.A. in Communications from Universidad Nacional Auto’noma de Mexico (graduating Magna Cum Laude) and an M.A. in Communication/Broadcast Journalism from the University of Miami. What convinced you that Communications and Broadcast Journalism made for the right course of study?
“I have always been amazed by the positive and negative influences a good communicator or a good communication strategy can have on people, media and government. After working my way through college as a graphic designer, I landed a dream job doing communication strategy for companies and political candidates. I was privileged to witness and participate in my home country’s (Mexico) peaceful transition of power during the 2000 election when the PRI party lost the presidency after 70 years in power.
“However, I also grew frustrated with the censorship of the press and how easily wrong, inaccurate information made headlines. As the drug war started to claim more victims among journalists, including a very close friend, and noticing an increasing trend of self-censorship, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in journalism in the U.S. I am forever thankful for the opportunities to grow and prosper my new country has given me. This land became my home, and I am now a proud American. It takes hard work but, to me, this really is the land of the free. Here, I can raise my family, thrive in my career and give back to my community.”
What did you learn in those programs that you’ve incorporated into your work at OCB?
“Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork.”
What five things mean the most to you and why?
“Family, integrity, work-personal balance, sense of community, respect of self and others. They are self-explanatory.”
What’s next for you in your professional life?
“I will be grateful for any opportunity to grow where I can spearhead positive change in my work and my community.”