A stroll down any main street in Argentina’s bustling capital of Buenos Aires bears testimony to the country’s love of newspapers. Stands on virtually every block, on every major avenue, are packed full of them.
align=leftThe newsstands are run by vendors, many of whom know their regular clients by name. And at lunch time, the city’s plazas and cafÃƒÂ©s are crowded with Portenos (as the local people are known), enjoying a sandwich with a newspaper propped in front of them.
align=leftThere are 12 daily newspapers in Buenos Aires and hundreds of other smaller ones in the surrounding provinces.
align=leftNewspapers are part of the culture in Argentina, where 97 percent of the population is literate. Some 140 newspapers were sold per 1,000 people in the years before a major economic crisis hit the country in 2001. In 1994, for example, UNESCO estimated that Argentina had the highest newsprint consumption in Latin America, with around 123 newspapers sold per 1,000 people. The World Bank reported 138 newspapers per 1,000 individuals.
align=leftAfter the 2001 crisis, newspaper sales fell by 40 percent, while weekly magazine sales fell by 70 percent. In the past six years the market has slowly been returning back to normal. The Instituto Verifi cador de Circulaciones says that newspaper sales increased by 3.5 percent in 2004, 2.8 percent in 2005 and 1.7 percent in 2006.
align=leftBut now newspaper sales are facing a new threat Ã¢Â€Â“ from the online media.
align=leftLast year, a record 60-million readers logged on to US online newspaper sites, according to a report compiled by Nielsen Online for the Newspaper Association of America.
align=leftThe Nielsen report suggested that the newspaper industry in the United States is becoming increasingly reliant on advertising revenue from websites.
align=leftHigh-end newspapers such as the New York Times have reported large falls in earnings, with ad revenue switching to the internet.
align=leftExperts in Argentina believe that the country will buck the online threat, largely due to the country’s deeply entrenched culture of newspaper reading.
align=leftDario Gallo, executive editor of the weekly newspaper Perfil, believes Argentina’s newspapers will be alive and well for years to come, despite the advance of the internet.
align=left”The support and creation of newspaper media goes beyond increasing the number of readers of their online versions. Although every day millions of digital readers are born, there will be space for paper newspapers for many more years… Until they almost become the ultimate in luxury,” Gallo says.
align=leftArgentina’s newspaper-reading public are divided into the usual political groups of centrist, left and right.
align=leftTraditionally, people with centre political views favour the daily newspaper Clarin, which according to the latest figures, sold an average of 380,000 copies every day in January this year. Its Sunday edition sold an estimated 750,000 copies in January this year, according to the statistical group Medio Argentino, which measures media circulation figures.
align=leftClarin, widely regarded as the most influential newspaper in Argentina, has a 44 percent share of the market in Buenos Aires. According the financial firm JP Morgan, Clarin, which is owned by the media giant Grupo Clarin, has the largest circulation in Latin America.
align=leftSome 900 people work for the newspaper and according to Alexa.com, a website that analyses internet traffic, the electronic version of Clarin is one of the most visited online Spanish newspapers, with 4,000,000 visitors a month.
align=leftClarin also publishes supplements on culture, sports, economics and world affairs. On a weekday it averages 52 pages and on weekends, 71 pages.
align=leftGrupo Clarin also prints the popular sports newspaper Ole and La Razon, which summarises the day’s news and is handed out for free on the metro.
align=leftThose with a more conservative view prefer the newspaper La Nacion, the only newspaper in Argentina still published as a broadsheet. La Nacion was founded by the former Argentinean president, BartolomÃƒÂ© Mitre, in 1870.
align=leftLa Nacion has a 30 percent share of the newspaper market in Buenos Aires. It is distributed both nationally as well as abroad, and has 500 employees.
align=leftIt sold an estimated 150,000 copies each day in January 2008. Its Sunday edition sold 150,000 in January.
align=leftOn weekdays the newspaper has, on average, 18 pages in its main section, and eight additional pages for regular supplements. On Sundays it normally has 24 pages in its main section. There are also special supplements and a magazine.
align=left”The newspaper-reading public can be divided into three main groups,” says Nicholas Reyes, a media researcher at the University of Buenos Aires.
align=left”Conservatives read Clarin or La Nacion. A smaller group of intellectual people prefer Pagina/12 or Perfil. Some prefer Cronica, a sensationalist newspaper. Very specific newspapers, such as Ole and Ambito Financiero, a financial newspaper, are most of the times bought as a second newspaper,” he explains.
align=leftArgentina’s newspapers have had a troubled history, often facing censorship pressure from oppressive governments, who were never very keen on free speech. Since Juan Domingo PerÃƒÂ³n to the last military government, which collapsed in 1982, strict controls on the media were imposed by those in power.
align=leftThe English-language Buenos Aires Herald, which now focuses on the tourist and well-educated end of the market, was one of the only newspapers to highlight the issue of people who were being kidnapped and tortured by the military government.
align=leftEven in recent years, journalists have faced a torrid time from the state.
align=leftIn 1997, Argentineans were shocked at the murder of photojournalist Jose Luis Cabezas, who was murdered while investigating police corruption. Newspapers kept the story in the headlines for months.
align=leftIn March 1999, Ricardo Gangeme, a journalist who investigated corruption in government and business, was shot dead as he returned home.
align=leftIn the past two decades, however, newspapers have generally experienced a major revival and are now more than ready to pull the trigger when politicians, police or business people step out of line.
align=leftThe newspaper Pagina/12 also has a strong tradition of investigative journalism and often takes pot shots at ex members of Latin military juntas who are allegedly guilty of crimes against humanity.
align=leftOne of the latest stories to receive wide coverage was of a suitcase packed with $800,000 (US) that was allegedly illegally smuggled to the newly-elected, power-suit wearing President Cristina Kirchner from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, through the United States, as a contribution to her election campaign.
align=leftReyes says newspapers have found themselves in a position where they have had to align themselves with the government in order to win valuable state advertising contracts.
align=left”Media is, for economic reasons, having to align itself to the government, which distributes the official advertising,” he says.
align=left”This benefits those newspapers which seem to be harmless.”
align=leftIn 1998, Perfil which branded itself the “first independent newspaper” saw all of its government advertising dry up. It went bankrupt within three months of being launched, but later returned as a weekly.
align=left”During the last 50 years Argentina has struggled with press freedom,” Reyes says. “Each government tried to close or control the opposition newspaper of that moment.
align=leftNow things are different. Newspapers have to be big enough to afford possible financial problems in case they disagree with the government.
align=left”Of course, those ones which can’t do it disappear from the market.”
align=leftAt the moment the future appears bright for Argentina’s newspapers, but there is still a feeling of inevitability that one day internet news sites will be the normal way of taking in the day’s news.
align=leftFor Jorge Alonso, who has run his own newspaper printing company for more than 40 years and who still buys his newspaper every day from his local vendor, having no newspapers in Argentina is inconceivable.
align=left”Newspapers are too much part of the life here,” he says.
align=leftBut he is beginning to resign himself to the fact that technology may at some point take the place of the romantic ink and paper.
align=left”We love newspapers and always will, but you have to wonder how much longer (it will be before) the people will be willing to sacrifice the romantic smell of newsprint for computer screens.”
align=leftÃ¢Â–Â This article was first published in The Media magazine as “Argentina’s paper trail”.