Newsprint-geddon Comes to My Hometown

For years, I've been chronicling the slow demise of Venezuela's free media at the hands of an authoritarian state. This weekend, it happened to the paper I read with my café con leche.

For the people of Barquisimeto (yours truly very much included), 2016 had one last nasty surprise up its sleeve. Last week, the city’s main newspaper, El Impulso, announced it would shut down its print edition until further notice because the state refuses to sell it enough newsprint.

The December 31st edition was the paper’s last, por ahora. Disappointment and uncertainty now surrounds both the 113-year-old paper and its staff.

As staff and readers adjust to the news, El Impulso still refuses to back down on its editorial line and its commitment to the people of Barquisimeto and Lara State.

Yes, it’s true, we’re bewildered, sad, dejected, for more than through the last decade we had feared reaching such an unwanted situation, which is so far removed from our own nature: having to use these pages, meant to register news, to say goodbye to our readers instead, because there’s no newsprint. This threat of closure has shown us its cunning and stinking muzzle before. We perceived its bloody breath and cold imminence, not only in this particular situation that El Impulso has lived through as a print media outlet that decided to not sacrifice its editorial line at the altar of a failed, for not say ruinous, vicious and decadent revolution; but above all, for something that the government, the same in its ideological succession of 18 years, has not even bother to hide.

This one hits especially close to home. I’m a Guaro, “El Impulso” has been part of my life for years and years, there staring back at me from the breakfast table since I can remember. The hegemony continues with its effort to take down any media that refuse to toe the line, replacing each with a propaganda-driven knockoff, in our case a thing called Ciudad Barquisimeto.

El Impulso has faced similar crises before, but this time it feels like this forced stoppage could be for the long haul. The paper’s chairman, Carlos Eduardo Carmona, said he was hopeful that, like on previous occasions, the government’s newsprint company CEAM would back down at the last minute and give them another lifeline.

It didn’t happen.

El Impulso has no set timetable to return to physical circulation, though the paper is still running through its website.

Since the government began to manipulate access to newsprint to silence its critics, at least 15 newspapers  have stopped printing at some point (temporary in most cases) and 50 report difficulties in sourcing newsprint.

“El Impulso” hopes to come back right before January 14th, the day of the yearly procession to Barquisimeto of our patron saint, la Divina Pastora. The paper’s front page for this special date has become an important annual tradition in itself. But the truth is that there’s no telling when El Impulso will be back, and there’s a good chance that if and when it does, it won’t be as a daily paper.

As happened to TalCual and Correo del Caroni before it, El Impulso could come back transformed into a weekly, which would limit its agenda-setting role in Lara, and imply many job losses. Take the case of Valencia’s El Caraboneño, which stopped publishing in March 2016 and then returned in a new format six months later. The paper slimmed its staff from more than 400 to just 86, according to the specialized NGO Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Venezuela.

This holiday season was tough for many newspapers across Venezuela, which suspended their editions (anything from four days to a month in some cases) in order to save newsprint. Even a couple of HegemonCorp.-dominated papers (El Universal and Valencia’s Notitarde) made minor cuts to their editions. Since the government began to manipulate access to newsprint to silence its critics, at least 15 newspapers  havestopped printing at some point (temporary in most cases) and 50 report difficulties in sourcing newsprint from the State monopoly provider: the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex (CEAM).

Like I said, this one’s been hard for me. But even in this darkest hour, I know for sure El Impulso will not go down without a fight. I’ll leave the last word of this article to  the paper’s staff, and their message to the government.