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I was rather surprised when at the end of my second full day in Venezuela I realized that I had yet to buy a newspaper. In many parts of Latin America one does not have to set out to buy a newspaper. Newspapers are sold by salespeople who either rove the streets or display their wares on the sidewalk in main plazas or at principal intersections. They are usually very aggressive about shouting the names of the papers they are selling to passers-by. Hence, anyone walking around the central city will be asked several or more times a day to buy a newspaper.

In Venezuela, by contrast, newspapers are sold from small kiosks located in the plazas and at main intersections. The kiosks mostly sell newspapers and magazines, and maybe a little candy. The choice of daily newspapers available at the average kiosk is greater than that in a typical convenience store in the US. However, the kiosk vendors are not particularly aggressive at making sales - not once was I asked if I wanted to buy a newspaper while in Venezuela. Curiously, I also felt that there were far fewer people carrying newspapers or sitting in the plaza reading them than other places in Latin America. Perhaps readership of Venezuelan newspapers is comparatively low, at least in the Andean region. As Venezuela is a highly educated country, I find this hard to believe, however.

The press in Venezuela is highly stratified according to education and social class. While most newspapers in the USA, by comparison, tend to aim for a wide readership with a variety of features, Venezuelan newspapers seem much more narrow in their focus.

At the top end is the premier daily from Caracas, El Nacional, which everyone I asked told me was the nation's best newspaper. Panorama from Maracaibo is similarly very good. In terms of their international and national news coverage, these newspapers are by no means The New York Times or Chicago Tribune. On the other hand, they compare very well with quality regional newspapers in the United States that I am familiar with, such as the Des Moines Register and Grand Rapids Press, and are certainly better than others such as the Omaha World-Herald and the Quad-City Times (Iowa/Illinois).

The first thing I noticed about these better newspapers is that they are rather thin by US standards. However, considerably less space is devoted to advertisements than in the US, and there is considerably less space devoted to general features (cooking, comics, advice columns), sports, and similar non-news items than in the US. The space given to true news on the international and national level is certainly equal to the regional newspapers mentioned above. In reading Jeff White's 1992 study, I note that he found the newspapers to be thicker and have more ads than I did. This may be a difference in our perceptions or perhaps advertising and size in Venezuelan newspapers has decreased with the current economic crisis.

The better newspapers from Caracas and Maracaibo (and even some of the lesser ones) are just as widely sold by kiosks in Andean Venezuela as are the local papers of those communities so anyone interested in good coverage of national and international news can have it. However, these newspapers are six to twelve cents more expensive in the interior than in their respective cities. Add to this the cost of buying a local paper for local news, and the well-informed reader in the Andean states has to pay double what a Caraqueño does to stay informed at all three levels - international, national, and local.

The major international story in Venezuela while I was there was the Mexican economic crisis. Given Venezuela's current economic situation, this is a story that Venezuelans could very well relate to, and a reminder of how much worse things could get. After Mexico, the war in Chechen was the dominant international story. Domestically, Venezuela's on-going economic problems were the top story. There were no major domestic news events that took place during my visit. The other big domestic story was the national professional baseball championship taking place (a complicated affair in which the four top teams play one another several times).

One interesting point is that most and possibly all of Venezuela's newspapers did not publish on December 31, January 1, or January 2, taking an extended New Year's holiday.

Following is a detailed look at specific newspapers from Caracas, Maracaibo, and the towns I visited. All newspapers are full-page newspapers unless it is specified that the newspaper is a tabloid.


EL NACIONAL, Caracas, January 3, 1995. The front section was only eight pages long, with advertising taking up no more than a third of the total space. The front page was used for photos and headlines and short leaders for interior stories. The main front page teaser was the New Year's celebration with the Chechen situation and predictions for the US economy as secondary stories. Several domestic news stories were given lesser prominence on the front page.

Excluding a few domestic photos and leaders on the front page, the first section was focused totally on international news. Inside were lengthy articles on the Republican control of the US Congress (complete with charts), Marion Barry's return to power in Washington D.C., U.N. peace-keeping activities around the world, French investigations into Carlos the Jackal, the Mexican economy (the biggest story), and the political/economic situation in Brazil. There was also a page of smaller one to two paragraph stories from numerous places in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the USA, Europe, and elsewhere in Latin America. The editorial section was two pages long and mostly featured domestic issues, as did the letters to the editor. The only international editorials concerned Lady Di and the Japanese education system. There was an editorial cartoon about the Zapatista rebels in Mexico. In-depth stories about Chechen, Bosnia, Israel, and Italy on the back page finished the first section.

Section two was all Venezuelan news, of either national or regional interest, but only stories that were not of a political or economic nature at the national level. That is, there were stories about things like bus fares going up in a particular city, school events, car crashes, etc. Section two was rounded off with some general articles on medical and genetic themes, movie ads and a movie review, and comics. Section three was a thin sports section, mostly focusing on Venezuela's professional baseball championship which was taking place.

In some ways, section four is the most serious part of El Nacional. Here were the lengthy and analytical articles on the political and economic situation in Venezuela. There was also a two page insert of The Wall Street Journal Americas with translations of items from The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal section had numerous short one paragraph items from around the world and longer articles on US and Mexico, plus several business-oriented tables.

I purchased El Nacional on several other occasions during my stay and found the weekday editions to always fit in with the outline above. I purchased one Saturday edition, however, and found it to have a lot less news (both domestic and international) and many more ads, general features, and sports articles. There was also an tabloid magazine insert that was very low-class in content and appearance, quite out of line with El Nacional's image in my opinion. Indeed, if the insert hadn't had the El Nacional logo on the first page, I would have dismissed it as something that had inadvertently gotten mixed in with my copy. I did not get to see any Sunday editions as the paper did not publish on New Year's Day and I was on the road on the other two Sundays of my visit.

Although I was not so pleased with the Saturday edition that I saw, I otherwise found El Nacional to be a very good source of both Venezuelan and international news. As stated above, it is certainly at the equal of major regional newspapers in the US such as the Des Moines Register and Grand Rapids Press. It's obvious why Venezuelans told me that this is the best newspaper in the country.

PANORAMA, Maracaibo, January 4, 1995. The two main front-page stories on January 4 were about Chechen and Colombia. Other international stories on pages one to three were from Mexico, Bosnia, Beijing, London, Brazil, Bonn, the Philippines, Washington (Republican Congress), Gaza and Buenos Aires. All of this fit on the first three pages because there were no ads. There were two pages of editorials, all on domestic issues except for one on US-Latin American relations. The remainder of the front section was filled out with nacional news and ads.

A section entitled "Costa Oriental" focused on local news from communities on the eastern shore of Lake Maracaibo. The "Local" section had news of the city of Maracaibo itself plus some in-depth features. There was a very large feature on AIDS mostly focusing on the AIDS problem in Zulia state, with a smaller sidebar article on the problem elsewhere in the world. Another full page was entirely taken up by two in-depth historical articles on the Korean War and on the beginnings of the Cold War. Both were interesting and well-researched, and I suspect some sort of stock articles translated from English and purchased from a news provider. A sports section rounded out the newspaper.

I think Panorama comes close to competing with El Nacional for best international news coverage by a Venezuelan newspaper. Considering that Maracaibo is a much smaller city than Caracas, this says a lot for the quality of Panorama. It also seemed more like a US newspaper in that it had more general interest feature articles than other Venezuelan newspapers. I purchased it two other times besides the day outlined above and found it to follow a similar format. On Sunday, January 15th, I was able to buy that day's edition of Panorama in Merida airport on my way out of the country. The Sunday edition closely matched the weekdays in composition and content, except there was less international news. I have included Panorama as a national newspaper, although I would guess that it is not distributed east of Caracas (and maybe not even in Caracas). It is probably more a paper of major status in western Venezuela, than on the national level.

EL DIARIO DE CARACAS, January 5, 1995. Unlike El Nacional and Panorama, El Diario de Caracas is a tabloid newspaper. There are a number of tabloid newspapers in Venezuela, and except for El Diario, they are of poor quality. El Diario is not in the same league as El Nacional and Panorama, but it is a serious newspaper.

As a tabloid, El Diario is one thick section only. The small front page had two small domestic stories with accompanying photos and headlines and page numbers of main inside stories . The front-page domestic stories were continued inside. I was surprised to see pages two to four given over to the editorial section. I would have thought they would be deeper in the newspaper. The editorials were mostly domestic, but there was one on the Mexico situation and another on the success of free market economics in the world.

After several pages of domestic and city news, there was a Science and Technology page with articles on AIDs and Alzheimer's Disease. Next was two pages of economic and business tables, including mutual funds, Latin American debt, major local stocks, Wall Street indices, etc. International news was buried on three pages toward the back with short articles on the US Congress, a Chilean-Argentine boundary dispute, Colombian rebels, Chechen, and the Argentine cinema industry. Movie ads and sports rounded out the paper. Advertising seemed rather sparse in El Diario compared to Venezuela's other tabloids and tabloids I've seen in other Latin American countries.

I purchased El Diario on two other occasions and found it to conform to the pattern outlined above.

OTHER NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS: The three newspapers mentioned above were the most common quality national newspapers seen in the Andes. In reading Jeff White's 1992 study I see he mentioned El Universal. I recall seeing this newspaper a few times in the Andes, but not frequently, and I never bought a copy of El Universal.

There were several low-quality tabloids from Caracas for sale in the Andean cities. Unlike the more serious newspapers, these were filled with advertisements. Most likely they have lower rates. Generally sports or scandalous stories were featured on the front page. The interiors were a mix of short and poorly-written articles on Venezuelan domestic news, sports, and general features. There was very little international news, but curiously the proportion of editorials on international topics was no lower than for the better papers.

Ultimas Noticias is a good example of this type of paper. The international news section consists of one page of three or four sentence items buried in the back of the paper after the classified ads. Curiously, this format does allow them to at least mention numerous international stories. For example, in the January 3rd edition there were several items not in that day's El Nacional, including a parliament fire in Belfast, upcoming elections in Portugal, killings in El Salvador, Chile's renewing relations with Cuba, and a crime explosion in China. However, with the articles so short, the reader hardly learns anything from them.


Merida's main local daily is the full-page Frontera. Frontera is published seven days a week (per the masthead) and the weekday editions cost eighteen cents. I did not get to purchase any Sunday editions. The weekday edition is just two thin sections. The first page is a mix of short stories and leaders for interior articles on a variety of national, local, and international themes. The international stories are given the least prominence. Page two is all local news and page three all national news. The editorial section occupies the middle two pages. All the editorials that I saw were of domestic issues. Next is two pages of international news on the more important topics of the day. The international coverage is about at the same level as El Diario de Caracas. Social news fills the back page of the first section. The second section consists of a little sports and general features and a lot of advertisements and classifieds. Total ads in the first section consisted of about one full page (although spread out over several pages).

Merida's other daily newspaper is the tabloid El Vigilante, which follows the same pattern as the low-quality tabloids of Caracas. That is, lots of poorly-written local and national news, sports, and general features with heavy use of advertising. Like Ultimas Noticias, there is only one page of three or four sentence items of international news.

As I didn't arrive in Valera until Friday night and left early Sunday morning, the only chance I had to buy a local paper was Saturday and the only one I could find was the tabloid El Diario de Los Andes at twelve cents. This is thinner than the other tabloids, but better-written than most of the others. The coverage focused mostly on national news and there is less sports and general features. There is only one page of international news, but that at least consists of multi-paragraph articles on three or four major stories, and not the short tidbits found in most other tabloids.

I was rather surprised on Monday morning in San Cristobal when I went to buy local newspapers to see El Diario de Los Andes there, too. However, on closer inspection, this was the edición Táchira. I still had my Valera paper in my bag, and that evening I compared the two papers. Both are owned by the same company but the Valera one is the edición Trujillo and is published in Valera, while the Tachira edition is published in San Cristobal. I was comparing different days, but each paper had a lot of local news from its own state. Otherwise the San Cristobal one was just like the Valera paper in content and cost. One interesting feature of this pair of papers is that they had only one page of (domestic) editorials, versus three or more pages found in other tabloids and two or more pages in full size papers.

San Cristobal's other daily is the full-page La Nacion, a quality newspaper of four sections. Only several local stories were on the front page of the January 11 edition, but pages two and three had a selection of international articles including the US and UNESCO, Bosnia, Israel, Peruvian politics, cholera in Ecuador, Salvadoran politics, inflation in France, and the Mexican economy. Two pages of editorial followed. Again, these were mostly domestic but there was one on Cuba. The front section was rounded out by three more pages of national and international news, including two more articles on the Mexican situation, and articles on Chechen, Libya, and the King of Spain giving an award to Jimmy Carter, among others.

The second section of La Nacion, La Ciudad, was filled with city news. The third section was titled sports, but only the first three and final pages were sports. Page four was comics and movie ads and page five social news.

The final section of La Nacion was entitled Frontera (border). The first three pages was a mix of about two-thirds news from Colombia (mostly datelined Bogota or the nearby border city of Cucuta) and one- third from small towns in Tachira state. After five pages of classified ads, there was two more pages of news from around Tachira state. The emphasis on Colombian news is explained in part by San Cristobal's strong commercial ties to Colombia and part by the fact that the paper is sold in nearby Cucuta. In fact, it was as easy to buy in Cucuta as any Bogota newspaper.

There is some cross-border traffic in newspapers between San Cristobal and nearby Colombia. Bogota's premier newspaper, El Tiempo, is sold in San Cristobal, arriving in early afternoon. Likewise, San Cristobal's La Nacion is sold in nearby Cucuta, although I did not see the Cucuta newspaper for sale in San Cristobal.

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This article is copyright 1995 by Don Moore. It may not be printed in any publication without written permission. Permission is granted for all interested readers to share and pass on the ASCII text file of this article or to print it out for personal use. In such case, your comments on the article would be appreciated.

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