Buenos Aires Times

culture ICONIC SPORTS MAGAZINE CLOSED WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT

El Gráfico: 99-year print run comes to an end

Publishers blow final whistle on influential publication that helped to shape and define this nation’s love of football.

Saturday 20 January, 2018
A selection of El Gráfico’s front-pages from over the years.
A selection of El Gráfico’s front-pages from over the years. Foto:GOOGLE

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The acute economic crisis that has enveloped Argentina’s media industry has claimed a new victim. On Tuesday the 20 journalists, designers and administrative staff that prepared seminal monthly sports magazine El Gráfico were informed that the publication would be closing with immediate effect, and that they were losing their jobs.

Only the online archive, testament to 99 years of memories and iconic front covers, will remain of what was once one of the most respected sporting publications in the world. Its disappearance means another of Argentina’s most venerable titles has been printed for the last time, following the closure in 2017 of the Buenos Aires Herald after 140 years on newsstands and the 112-year-old La Razón

Parent company Torneos – you may remember the name from the ‘FIFAgate’ scandal and former CEO Alejandro Burzaco’s admission that he paid multi-million dollar bribes for television rights – put the decision down to “a global context of decreasing consumption of print media,” while promising that the archive would remain active while they “analyse alternatives” that would allow El Gráfico to continue.

The decision is the final death knell for a magazine that had suffered a slow, decades-long decline, but which continues to hold a special place in the hearts of sports fans not just in Argentina, but across the world.

NATIONAL INSTITUTION

Founded in 1919 as a slim publication depicting the comings and goings of Buenos Aires high society, El Gráfico was converted six years later as a weekly sporting publication, and quickly became one of the widest-read of its type in the country. 

As well as detailed, varied journalism the magazine became known for its liberal use of photography and artwork, uncommon at the time: the gorgeously illustrated portraits of famous sporting stars depicted on the cover became a national institution, while its use of popular footballing parlance and extensive coverage of the weekend’s action made it an enduring success with readers.

British journalist and author Jonathan Wilson made extensive use of the Gráfico archives to research his recent book detailing the history of Argentine football, Angels with Dirty Faces, and on Tuesday, he  joined the clamour of voices in mourning the magazine’s passing.

“It’s awful news, one of those things you see on Twitter that feels like a kick in the gut. El Gráfico is a huge part of the history of football,” Wilson explained to the Times. “There has probably never been a magazine as important or as influential as it was in the 1920s, when it helped shape the Argentinian game, helped define what it meant to be Argentinian.”

“I lived with the magazine for three years when researching Angels: that book couldn’t have been written without it. It offered opinion and stories, plenty of colour, but you knew you could trust it: it was exactly what a sports magazine should be,” he added.

UNFORGETTABLE

That golden age reached its apogee in the 1950s and 1960s, under the direction of mythical football journalist Dante Panzieri. But as the years rolled by El Gráfico began to lose its privileged place on the coffee table of every self-respecting football fan, partly through external developments and partly through its own errors.

The magazine’s reputation took a heavy hit in the 1978 World Cup when it urged people to get behind “everyone’s party” and support the murderous dictatorship of Jorge Videla against the “insidious liars” who denounced human rights violations. Videla was even interviewed in the days after Argentina’s final victory over Netherlands, El Gráfico’s editors dubbing the de facto head of state a “man of sensitivity” who “knows what he is talking about.” 

Yet unforgettable editions of the magazine continued to roll out. An incredible 880,000 copies of El Gráfico, a record for a single edition, were sold in the aftermath of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup victory with a beaming Diego Maradona wielding the Jules Rimet Trophy on the cover.

SQUEEZED INTO SUBMISSION

But the mass live screening of Primera División games that began from the 1990s onwards meant that the magazine no longer held an essential role for fans eager to catch up with the weekend’s events. Another body blow was the foundation of sports daily Olé; a simpler, cruder product for sure, but a more immediate source for football news than the weekly El Gráfico

Circulation began to drop and after Torneos completed a buyout of the magazine in 1998 a period of editorial neglect began that culminated with a move to the monthly format, accompanied with sporadic glossy specials to boost output and a staff reduction of 90 per cent. 

Now, squeezed into submission between live television and the cascades of information available on the internet and social media, El Gráfico has breathed its last. But its essential place in piecing together the history of Argentine football, one Monday at a time, will never be forgotten and its influence in sports journalism will live on long after the final edition disappears off newsstands.

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