Photo: AGV

After 60 years of publishing history, Trujillo newspaper El Tiempo canceled its print edition on July 31, 2018. However, this doesn’t mean farewell, but rather the beginning of a brand new stage:  

“…we refuse to yield; we’ll keep reticent and reinvent ourselves. Today we close an informative window, but we consolidate another, one that offers the most relevant news of the region through a web portal and social networks that allow us to interact with our followers.”

Sadly, this has become a common thing in Venezuela in recent times: Newspapers are forced to drop their paper editions and take shelter on the Internet. Others are struggling with the small reserves of newsprint they have left, forced to cut days in order to survive for as long as possible.

The deliberate plan to suffocate papers (or Newsprint-geddon in CC lingo) has caused at least 40 newspapers to cease printing between 2013 and May of 2018, according to IPYS Venezuela.

Now it seems it has indirectly reached the inside of the government’s communicational hegemony.

The deliberate plan to suffocate papers (or Newsprint-geddon in CC lingo) has caused at least 40 newspapers to cease printing between 2013 and May of 2018.

In Barquisimeto, the Ciudad BQTO newspaper announced they’ll stop their daily edition and become a weekly from now on. It previously reduced its number of pages from 16 to eight. Another problem for the paper is the declining revenues caused for the lack of banknotes, given that people can’t buy it and many kiosks and street vendors don’t have points of sale.

Earlier in July, it was reported that sister newspaper Ciudad CCS  was having issues of their own (but unlike its guaro counterpart, there’s no official confirmation from them). Back in better times, it published a 32-page edition that was handed out for free in the capital’s Metro stations.

Unlike other SIBCI-owned newspapers like Correo del Orinoco or the PSUV’s own mouthpiece Cuatro-F, the Ciudad papers are handled by local or State governments.

Newspapers have been affected by two other fundamental reasons: shortage of banknotes and exchange controls, resulting in lack of dollars. (Surprised that international providers don’t believe in the Petro!) Nicolás Maduro addressed the issue by blaming sanctions and promising a new newsprint factory. This idea has been tried before, resulting in white noise, an inoperative / unfinished / underfunded / nonexistent paper factory.  

In Barquisimeto, the newsprint shortage has crippled local papers in reaching the streets: El Informador only publishes from Sundays to Wednesdays and La Prensa de Lara has called off all weekend editions. Let’s not forget that El Impulso is digital-only since February of this year.

From Tachira State to Aragua State and Margarita Island, the effects of Newsprint-geddon are spreading all over Venezuela at a breakneck speed.

Newspapers have been affected by two other fundamental reasons: shortage of banknotes and exchange controls, resulting in lack of dollars.

Not even the last remaining nationwide non-hegemony newspaper El Nacional (which just celebrated its 75th anniversary) has been safe from it, as this recent article from Reuters’ Vivian Sequera and Angus Berwick indicates:

“Due to lack of paper, El Nacional says its circulation has dwindled to 20,000 copies, just one-tenth of what it was a decade ago. (El Nacional’s editor-in-chief Patricia) Spadaro said a nationalized company that controls paper distribution, the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Corporation, didn’t sell to El Nacional. Instead, the newspaper buys from a joint-venture of major Latin American newspapers, importing supplies by ship…”

As the paper struggles with “…one-fifth of the 2,000 employees it had over a decade ago”, it faces another threat: A possible hostile takeover by Diosdado Cabello. Even if he lost a lawsuit in the U.S. against the Wall Street Journal, the ANC Speaker keeps pressuring both El Nacional and fellow paper Tal Cual. And he even teased a new name on State TV.

Even if Newsprint-geddon is a very Venezuelan method of media clampdown, it’s just a part of a larger worldwide trend against the free press, which should be a great concern for all of us. As late Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuscinski once described journalistic work as “…not stepping on cockroaches, but turning the light on to see how they run into hiding.”

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