The State of Journalism in Argentina

On July, 7th we celebrate journalist’s day in Argentina. This year, a big telecom thought that day was a good opportunity to organize a small event to discuss journalism and its challenges. They invited Andrew Phelps, journalist from The New York Times, to make a short presentation about journalism and The New York Times strategy to deal with changes in technology and reader’s expectations. Surprisingly, US media have the same problems that we have in Argentina.

Since the beginning of Internet, traditional media tries to adapt to new technologies and business models. Newspaper’s sales are declining and online media adds pressure as they compete for reader’s attention.

Journalism in Argentina is now facing economic crisis. Our biggest newspapers, La Nación and Clarín, are reducing their staff while others close their doors. This is not only a newspaper problem, it is known that radio & TV stations are firing journalists as well.

Between 2010 and 2015 we experienced an expansion of small media outlets in Argentina. The new broadcast law —focused on limit business concentration— and a government willing to finance small companies as a strategy to win an ideological war with big media companies pushed forward the creation and growth of newspapers, TV and radio stations. Suddenly, the role of media was being discussed outside universities. Politics was only one part of this change, technology was the other one.

Phelps said that millennials trust more on Vice than traditional newspapers like New York Times. They feel that journalist in Vice are more reliable because they report from the scene. “Why are we paying for journalist to travel if our readers don’t know we are also where the news are happening?”, asked himself, Mr. Phelps. Traditional journalism models aren’t good enough, and newspapers and journalist must change their way to communicate with their audience.

A recent poll conducted by Argentinian telecommunication and media watchdog shows that children trust more on social media and Wikipedia than traditional sources of information. The government in Argentina took notice and is beginning a campaign to educate children and help parents and teachers to help boys and girls search information on the web. Unfortunately, not only is child´s perspective but journalists are also relying more on social media and Wikipedia to write their own stories.

The cultural problem is even worse when analyzing economic situation of media in Argentina. Until 2016 there wasn’t a guidance for official advertising distribution and even the Supreme Court condemned the Argentinian government for discrimination. The strategy for distributing money between media was purely discretional and companies liked-minded with official politics had received more money, no matter how many readers or audience they had. A research made by Santiago Marino and Agustín Espada for Argentinian website Chequeado shows that during Kirchner’s government, the three most benefitted companies were Grupo Veintitres, Grupo América and Grupo Indalo. This companies were also the first to closed doors and fired journalist when the new president Mauricio Macri took over and change all the official advertising distribution.

Macri’s strategy is more related to audience and even though Grupo Indalo has been firmly opposite to government politics, it has been benefitted with more than 67 million pesos (3,8 million dollars) in the first six months of Macri’s presidency.

I must confess I don’t have a clear position about how official advertising must be distributed, but I’m sure that friendship and politics ambitions must not interfere with money distribution. Moreover, having an audience centric view could have collateral effects like loss of small media outlets.

Trying to compete as a small media company is hard and journalist should deal with the need of raising money and stay independent of advertisers and government. This is hard to find between small media companies that usually depend of advertisers to pay the cost of travelling and covering relevant events —and this is just the best situation possible.