Print media have existed in Guatemala for more than two centuries, but it was not until the democratic era that they gained mass circulation. Gustavo Berganza, cited by Plaza Pública explains that, unlike other countries, the Guatemalan media are not owned by the country's elites. "The media in Guatemala belong to (families), an emerging middle class sector, which through government connections or success, as some exceptions, managed to build their media emporiums," he said.
The three most important printed media of today, Prensa Libre, Siglo XXI (recently defunct) and elPeriódico came to share links at different times. La Hora was founded in 1920 by Clemente Marroquín, father of Oscar Clemente Marroquín (current director of La Hora), father of Gonzalo Marroquín (former editor of Prensa Libre and founder of the new magazine Crónica) and uncle of José Rubén Zamora (founder of Siglo XXI and current president of elPeriódico).
These newspapers, with the exception of Prensa Libre which has a wider market sector, are aimed to an audience of medium-high and high socioeconomic strata with a higher educational level, residents of the capital city and the different urban areas of the country. In the political spectrum, these printed newspapers were historically placed in a pro-business segment; some of them included in their board of directors members of the main guild of businessmen in Guatemala Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations - CACIF).
It is important to note that the coverage of these print media focuses on politics, corruption and economy. elPeriódico mainly focuses on the capital city and its surroundings, Prensa Libre specialises in urban centers across the country, which lets it also focus in communitary matters. Recently La Hora - with traffic exclusively to the capital city - extended its editorial line to give special coverage to migration topics. Currently it publishes the supplement La Voz del Migrante (the voice of the migrant).
The segment unattended by traditional print media began to be covered from the mid-1990s, when the newspapers Al Día and Nuestro Diario were born. Unlike the previous printed newspapers, these two projects were aimed at a popular audience (with low levels of income and education) nationwide. The editorial line was distinguished by larger photographs, less amount of text, with priority to red notes and photo galleries of models and hostesses. Al Día – owned by the News Corporation as well as Siglo XXI – opted for a Sunday supplement called La Matraca, known for the caricaturing of the characters of national events and political satire and at the time became very popular in its market segment. Although Al Día was born first, the then director of the media, Luis Enrique González, explained in 2013 to Doses that a bad investment did not allow them to expand. Nuestro Diario, on the other hand, grew so much that it became the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country with a print run of up to 300,000 copies per day, far exceeding the copies that Prensa Libre (125,000) and elPeriódico (30,000) printed at their best period.
Due to the characteristics of its audience, Nuestro Diario focuses on publishing crime stories, but also on topics related to migration and social issues from a local point of view. All print media have based their business model on the sale of advertising on their pages, paid for by different types of clients such as large companies, foundations, government, political parties and officials’ proclamations. However, this model has become less and less viable for different reasons.
In 2018, the advertising budget allocated to print media by many companies had a substantial decrease, due to two reasons. On the one hand, companies consider print media less effective and prefer to pay for advertising on social networks, thus achieving more accurate metrics on the scope of their ads. On the other hand, in Guatemala there are deputies and businessmen who celebrate "the financial stranglehold to which they have subjected various media," as tweeted in December 2018, by Iván Velásquez, head of the CICIG, in the midst of a political crisis in which the government of Jimmy Morales began a struggle to undermine this commission. These statements were supported by columnists and publishers of different print and digital media.
Between 2017 and 2018 there were two attempts to enter the print media market. A news corporation, and one digital native media sought to expand into physical space by producing a printed edition of their publications. These media were Soy502 (by the same corporation that owns Nuestro Diario) and Publimetro (owned by the same corporation of radio Emisoras Unidas), who decided to create a new product aimed at a popular audience, which was called Diario El Popular. The strategy for these two new printed media was to go out into the streets of the capital city and nearby areas to give the newspapers for free, thus ensuring the scope of their publications and avoiding rejection percentages in stores where the daily edition is not sold. The model was attractive for some time, but in November 2018, the Publimetro Corporation decided to close the El Popular project.
Another income cut for print media (and media in general) will be given in 2019 as a result of the amendment of the Ley Electoral y Partidos Políticos (Electoral Law and Political Parties - LEPP). After the changes approved by Congress in 2016, political parties will no longer be able to pay for advertising in the media and the media will not be able to make donations or advertorials in favor of political parties. All the ads will be controlled and funded only by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal - TSE), at 20 percent of the usual rate of the media. After specific law reforms, media that wish to publish advertising paid by the government have to enroll to the TSE. As of early 2019, most media outlets opted not to. Because it comes from state funds, the budget for the electoral campaign that the media will receive will be drastically reduced in comparison to past elections. It is expected that this reduction in income will have a strong impact on their finances.
Among the different crises of print media, the only one that so far has ended in the bankruptcy of a corporation is the one that happened to Siglo XXI and its other media products, which existed for more than two decades and it went bankrupt after ex-president Roxana Baldetti bought shares of the company. After being accused of various acts of corruption, the investment in Siglo XXI stopped to the point that the print media, together with the popular newspaper Al Día, were closed.