Print media with national and regional circulation have traditionally been those of superior influence and credibility in the country and those that usually establish the information agenda. The pioneering newspapers belonged to well-known families that had a clear political affiliation and were inherited by their successors. The two oldest newspapers with the largest circulation, El Tiempo and El Espectador, arise in this way. El Tiempo, for instance, was born as an initiative to support the thoughts, ideas and government of Republicans, in 1911. El Espectador, founded in 1887, was born as a newspaper advocating liberalism in the country. The regional newspaper El Heraldo, owner of Al Día, was created in 1933, as a liberal source to support the candidacy of Alberto López Pumarejo. Other regional newspapers followed this trend and it was very common to find that main publications were related to families with an important political and economic influence in the region.
Nowadays, many of the print media belong to large economic conglomerates, which are also owners of well-known national companies. Indeed, there has been a significant change in the logic of administering media companies. Traditionally, these companies were passed through inheritance within families with recognised prestige and clearly established political roles. Nowadays media companies are considered part of the business chain, mainly under a commercial perspective, although with interests often interfering in the professional exercise of informing the audience objectively and impartially.
According to the Cultural Consumption Survey lead biannually by the National Department of Statistics (DANE in Spanish), in 2017, 55 percent of the population over 12 years of age read newspapers. This was a decrease of 1.7 percent with respect to the rates obtained in 2016, and 12.1 percent regarding the results from the survey in 2014. The population group that mostly reads newspapers is that of people between 26 and 40 years of age at 61.3 percent, followed by the segment from 41 to 64 years with 60.6 percent. By age group, those who read least are people between 12 to 25 years with 43.9 percent followed by the segment of over 65 with 53.3 percent. With regard to the frequency of reading newspapers, 27.4 percent did it once a week, 37.7 percent did it several times a week and 21.5 percent did it daily. Around 17.7 percent said to read the newspaper in digital format.
Regarding the educational level of the newspaper-reading population, it is relevant to note that the group with the highest level is the one that consumes less printed media. As the survey shows, just 9.3 percent of the population with university-level education or higher read newspapers, while the population that mostly reads newspapers has a secondary education level with 25.32 percent, followed by the segment combining people with preschool or basic primary education with 14.27 percent.
This high consumption of print media by the less educated population is explained by the fact that 5 of the 10 newspapers with the largest circulation are characterised by light content, short texts, lots of graphic information where local topics predominate along with judicial facts. However, it is also important to highlight that people living in rural areas tend to consume radio and TV products instead of printed media. A huge percentage of the population who enjoy local news and local references finds such information on local, regional and community radio stations.
These are the most widely read print media in Colombia, according to the General Media Study (2016):
- El Tiempo
- ADN Bogotá
- Q’hubo Medellín
- Al Día Barranquilla
- Q’hubo Cali
- Q’hubo Bogotá
- El Espectador
- Q’hubo Cartagena
- El Colombiano
Q’hubo newspapers, which circulate in Medellín, Cali, Bogotá and Cartagena, as well as Al Dia, are characterised by their sensationalist and yellow focus, with subjects based on judicial issues of their localities, sports and entertainment. In addition, the publications ADN and Publimetro are free and circulate in Bogotá, highlighting information about the context of the capital. On the other hand, the newspapers El Tiempo and El Espectador, despite having national coverage, have their centre of action in Bogotá and publish information that gravitates around issues of the capital.
A first conclusion that arises is that half of the 10 most widely circulated print media are concentrated in Bogotá. There is some centralisation of information that favours the capital of the country in lighter content media and more formal content media. Also, it is observed that the average Colombian prefers a local/regional information to a wide national/international one, which is presented in all media with popular and sensationalist focus or in newsletters with free circulation.
The newspapers with the largest national circulation are related to the following companies:
- El Tiempo (National), the most widely read newspaper in the country is owned by Casa Editorial El Tiempo, which also manages ADN. Its owner is the businessman Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo;
- Q’hubo (Local) belongs to the company Grupo Nacional de Medios and its majority shareholder is El Colombiano also listed among the 10 most important newspapers in the country, and is managed by Gomez & Hernandez Families, Lloreda Family and Galvis Family, media entrepreneurs in a regional level;
- Al Día (Local) belongs to El Heraldo, owned by the Manotas, Pumarejo and Fernandez Families;
- Publimetro (Local) belongs to Metro Internacional | Publimetro Colombia;
- El Espectador belongs to Caracol TV/El Espectador Comunican and its owner is the businessman Alejandro Santo Domingo;
- El Colombiano, largest shareholder of Q’hubo, belongs to the Gómez and Hernández Families.
On the other hand, according to a study done by Cifras y Conceptos (Figures and Concepts) in 2016 the print media most used among nationwide opinion leaders to keep up with current issues were the following: El Tiempo by 27 percent of opinion leaders nationwide, Semana by 20 percent, El Espectador 19 percent, El Colombiano 4 percent, Portafolio 3 percent, La República 3 percent, El Heraldo 3 percent, El País de Cali 2 percent, Dinero 2 percent, La Patria 1 percent, La Opinión 1 percent, Vanguardia Liberal 1 percent and El Universal 1 percent.
By expanding the number of newspapers that have the greatest circulation at the national level, it is observed that the regional press predominates, where the principal media are concentrated in urban areas or in the administrative capitals of the country. Minorities such as the indigenous communities of Colombia do not have fair representation in the media. The responsible of disseminating information in the print form and digital newsletter are the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC in Spanish), the Emberá and Wounaan Regional Organisation (OREWA in Spanish), which have a little scope and do not go beyond the indigenous contexts. There is also the magazine Actualidad Étnica that covers Afro, indigenous, Sinti and Roma communities. However, this magazine only comes by subscription and is sold in the capital of the country, which does not make it precisely accessible to all minorities. It is also worth mentioning that there are some newspapers that have sections focused on issues of conflict, violence and human rights. For example Colombia2020 (El Espectador, funded by the EU), El Colombiano (Medellin), and Diario del Huila.
The peace agreement recently signed by the national government enhances the enormous challenge of integrating the FARC into the information landscape of Colombian media. Part of the agreement includes the possibility that this new political group, now called Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common), might participate actively in civil life and expose its proposals of government to society. This fact has vital importance, if it is considered that, back in the 1980s, the previous attempt of the group to form a political party called Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union) with the majority of its members joining civil society and beginning to do politics, ended in their murder causing the extermination of this movement.