El Nacional: Newsprint-geddon’s Most Coveted Trophy

After years of resistance, El Nacional stops its print edition indefinitely. For the hegemony, this is the endgame of a long strategy to control newspapers in Venezuela.

Photo: Listin Diario, retrieved.

After 75 years of history, Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional just released its last print edition.

Even if the paper calls it a “temporary” measure and pledges to keep going on the web, the news, announced by El Nacional’s chairman, Miguel Henrique Otero, caused a huge impact after it went public.

“In the end, we couldn’t resist,” Otero said.

Four and a half months ago, Otero told Reuters that El Nacional would “try to maintain the print edition until the end, even if it’s just a page, because it’s politically symbolic.” That same dispatch showed a paper barely hanging by a thread, with a limited number of personnel and resources, far from the times when it was one of the main papers of national relevance.

With the other two major nationwide papers (Últimas Noticias and El Universal) bought and turned into the government’s mouthpieces, El Nacional stood alone. Already in decline, it faced both the effects of our economic turmoil and the menace of a hostile takeover by Diosdado Cabello.

But even if El Nacional becomes just another number into the larger statistic of neutered papers, its significance cannot be dismissed.

The biggest casualties are those papers servicing mid-size cities and smaller towns, those places where the internet has not yet settled in.

I started covering the shortage of newsprint here at CC around mid-2013. In early 2014,  I coined the term “Newsprint-geddon” to describe, perhaps dramatically, a troubling issue that kept on rolling over months and years later, confirming fears that this was not a trend, but a planned strategy to suffocate non-loyal newspapers.

The biggest casualties are those papers servicing mid-size cities and smaller towns, those places where the internet has not yet settled in and the already muzzled free-to-air radio and TV are the only options to get information and entertainment. Those papers were the last resort to have another outlook of reality, different than the one promoted by the hegemony.

My main local paper, El Impulso, has been off the streets for more than ten months now. Yes, there are others still available, but their fate still depends on the government’s whims anyway. At any moment, their time can come, if the government decides to stop giving them newsprint (through the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex, or CEAM).

Newsprint-geddon alone didn’t bring those outlets down: The consequences of the crisis, which got exacerbated by the Red Friday announcements, has accelerated in recent weeks the fall of local media, especially among newspapers, and the open repression against press workers to stop any coverage that didn’t suit the official narrative has made their work even harder.

Witnessing El Nacional folding its print edition is the moment where Newsprint-geddon has won.

Like the shutdown of RCTV, like the decision to censor CNN en Español, it marks a precedent. Therefore, Newsprint-geddon as a term has fulfilled its purpose.

There still is a silver lining: Newsprint-geddon has brought a big shift of the Venezuelan media landscape. New digital outlets born out of the remains of some newspapers have been for quite some time resisting the hegemony. And the government is aware of that.

That this is happening just in a time when free press worldwide is facing a siege, when its work is questioned and threatened, is simply no coincidence. Now, like their fellow outlets at home and abroad before them, El Nacional has to show resilience in the face of the challenge ahead.