The project is an investigation of data that shows the decline of the written press in Venezuela. It is based on the perspective of freedom of expression and aims to analyze the newspaper ecosystem in the country and its evolution. After collecting, processing, and analyzing data, we found that at least 100 newspapers have disappeared in the last eight years in the country. In 2013, there were 121. Today only 22 circulate.
Prodavinci found that in Venezuela the number of newspapers in 2021 was the same as the country had at the end of the 1940s.
By June 2021, only six newspapers had national reach and 16 were local. A total of 12 states of Venezuela were left without newspapers, and these are areas where the majority of the population has poor internet access. The crisis runs deep in the daily newspapers. In 2013, the daily paper exceeded one hundred. In 2021, only two were circulating. We also found that 41 print media companies were permanently closed, and 59 migrated to digital platforms. These findings were shown in interactive infographics.
The formats in which the information is presented impact how Venezuelans consume it. A March 2020 survey, with 2000 interviews, showed that 46% got the news from friends, 37% used the radio, and half learned from cable television, with programming limited by the measures of censorship. Only 6% consulted newspapers.
This coverage included a content distribution alliance with six local media. We also shared the findings in a digital meeting with students and professors of the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Guayana, Bolívar state. We are conceptualizing educational documents for our Academia Prodavinci free teaching materials program.
The explainer had international attention. We discussed the findings in a diplomatic meeting with the mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Venezuela. Latam Journalism Review and the Luca de Tena Foundation Journalism Laboratory reviewed the project. The data explainer is a reference for NGOs interested in freedom of expression, international human rights organizations, and researchers.
The project lasted for a year. It involved the construction of databases, conducting interviews and consulting experts, reporting and research, conceptualization, writing, editing, visualization, and web assembly.
Prodavinci built its database with the collaborative effort of 41 journalists from all over the country. We directly consulted media representatives, reviewed historical documents, and interviewed communication specialists about the makeup of the newspaper’s ecosystem. The information collected allowed us to reveal data on the changes in the print media map: the country had 23 newspapers in 1946; in 1986 there were 71; in 2008 there were 117; in 2013 there were 121, and in June 2021 there were only 22.
A second stage of the research included a review of historical documents on the founding of newspapers and the shaping of the country’s print media map between 1800 and 2021. The investigation managed to systematize, at least, 474 newspapers that have been founded in Venezuela and that have had sustained efforts over time.
Seven members of the Prodavinci editorial team participated in the production of this work. A multidisciplinary team was formed with editorial, narrative, and storytelling skills, reporting and research, data analysis, visualization, web architecture. The team made their knowledge of freedom of expression, quantitative analysis, narrative, design, and infographics available to the project.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Prodavinci focused on a premise to pose the research questions: Venezuelan citizens face a massive wave of disappearance and survival of the newspapers during the last decade.
However, there was no official registry of active and closed newspapers. In some cases, the available information collected by NGOs or civil society was not consistent or out of date. Without precise information, it was not possible to know the situation of the newspapers, which ones successfully migrated to the web format, which ones stopped circulating permanently. So it was not possible to compare the current data with the little that existed from previous years. We identified the opportunity to run an investigation to generate a historical memory of the Venezuelan media map. When we confirmed that 121 newspapers circulated in the country in 2013, we took this year as a starting point to analyze how the supply of the newspapers evolved. It would be necessary to create a database from scratch, collecting information from direct sources.
This research included a collaborative consultation process, between June 2020 and June 2021, in which 41 journalists and newspaper workers across the country participated. That involved calls to the newspaper headquarters, especially those that were in areas far from the capital, to obtain direct information. It was necessary to corroborate the status of each medium for 2013 and in the following years, until 2021. We were interested to know if the newspaper was operational. Also, we saw the opportunity to obtain detailed information about the frequency of its publication, the experience in digital journalism, and its activity in social networks.
What can others learn from this project?
The project shows how to implement strategies in a hybrid newsroom, which gain the ability to address issues with different approaches with the hyperspecialization of knowledge and the combination of journalistic, narrative, quantitative perspectives, and data-driven analysis. The project is also a sample of how to involve in journalistic processes to economists and specialists in freedom of expression, human rights, and public policies.
The data collection methodology allows us to learn about the success of collaborative work. The network of journalists has value as a research method when we are collecting and verifying data. Also, we can nourish the link with other colleagues for future projects.
This research also summarizes the presence of newspapers in the country since the 19th century. Historical weight is necessary to understand the current crisis. It allows broadening the scope of the context in the country and the region.