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During the first decade of the 21st century, Bolivia’s “classic” newspapers have disappeared. Preference for tabloid-size print media was one of the reasons for the extinction of Presencia, the Catholic daily that, since the 1950s, had been the morning paper with the largest national circulation. Ultima Hora, an afternoon paper turned morning tabloid, also disappeared, unable to survive the death of its owner, Mario Mercado. Hoy was born a tabloid but also closed its doors, making room for the new leading opinion papers: La Razón (later acquired by Grupo Prisa) and La Prensa, established as a result of the resignation of La Razón’s founding managers. A new group of journalists, unhappy with the management and political positions of these leading La Paz newspapers, founded Página Siete, perhaps now the most influential independent daily. Only two of Bolivia’s older papers remain: Jornada, which was always a marginal paper because of its sensationalism, and El Diario, which was founded in 1904 and prides itself on being the “dean of the Bolivian press,” although its sales are for the most part guaranteed by its classified ads sections. The biweekly Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno is undoubtedly the foremost independent medium for political, economic, social, and cultural analysis.

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As newspaper publishers enter a new era, Kantar Media’s Global TGI believes newspapers have a key role to play in this changing landscape, but recognises that business models need to change to incorporate direct audience interaction. Recent research by the company provides publishers with insight to inform their strategies by showing the different social media habits of people around the world. In terms of engaging with user generated content (UGC), the number of internet users reading articles or comment varies significantly by country, with Latin America featuring strongly. 47% of internet users in Brazil and 44% in Argentina read UGC on newspaper websites, compared to only 35% in GB and 26% in Germany. Not all countries have high levels of user interaction however. Latin American countries again show the highest rates of activity in submitting articles or comment on the websites of newspaper publishers, with 27% in Brazil and 26% in Argentina. This drops to only 17% in Germany and 12% in GB.

“I don’t like reading on a computer screen” was the most familiar comment I heard when I started Slate, an online magazine, in 1996. Around that time, at a public panel discussion about (what else?) newspapers and the Internet (future of), a professor cut off a member of the audience who was making this point. “Your problem,” he intoned, “will be solved actuarially.” And he was right. Older people have died off and younger ones have been reading on a computer screen all their lives.

ARADHANA.
How inclusive do you see the public sphere that you are researching to be?

FRANCIS.
It depends on where you locate public opinion-making.

If you do so at the level of consumption, there is something profoundly gendered about how different media have organised themselves. So, even if you look at the debate that I was speaking of about – a debate centred around a newspaper at a tea shop – it is very masculine. Tea shops are not places where women hang out.

Papers that have made a claim to wider readership and persuaded people to subscribe at home have a much more heterogeneous readership when it comes to both age and gender. At the same time, it is less democratic because it is a very private form of consumption. So, there is that level.

Then, of course, there is the larger level at which the political parties set the agenda for what counts for public discourse.

And then there are several things that people know or can talk about, at tea shops for instance, that will never be written down. For instance, in Chennai I could not have given the talk that I have given here because there are certain things that you just can’t say about powerful people.