Argentina still leads the way with its history of English-language newspapers.
Just over a year ago I would have argued that the English-language press “is alive and well and printing in Argentina.” That claim of sorts has had to be downsized since then, as is obvious. Hence, refuge for an argument must be sought in the Buenos Aires Times and, beyond that, the amazing life of publishing in English throughout South America.
Argentina still leads the way with its history of English-language newspapers, namely The Standard, which folded in 1959, two years short of a century since its launch by the Mulhall brothers (Edward and Michael), and the Buenos Aires Herald, closed by its fly-bynight millionaire proprietor in 2017, 140 years from its founding by William Cathcart, a Scot about whom we know little, other than his origins in the Monte Grande colony. Another now deceased journal that survived just over the century was the fortnightly Review of the River Plate, started in 1891 and which ran up to the mid-1990s. Its last editor was the formidable Old Etonian, Archie B. Norman, who kept its format and frequency to the very end.
There were not many titles that could compete with such a record, but there are dozens of papers all over the continent. Particularly entertaining was the idea of Punta Arenas, Chile, where there were nine different papers between 1900 and 1939. There were such names as The Gold Fields Gazette & Patagonian Advertiser, The Magellan Times, Punta Arenas Mail, and more, trying to cash in on the small English-speaking community and the much-larger number of ships crews and agents operating in the trade routes between Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It sounds fascinating, but an old hand who ran the US-owned United Press agency in Buenos Aires and wrote the weekend round-ups for the Buenos Aires Herald, Bill Horsey, described Punta Arenas as deadly boring and cold.
However, it must have been a fascinating age. Anecdotes used to abound in Eng-lang newsrooms. One was about whom was a Herald editor for many years, Norman Ingrey. He had been a China hand in the 1930s and then in Peru, until he came to the Herald in the 1940s. While in Lima, on the weekly Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times (or with one that had the more interesting name of South Pacific Times, published in Callao) he was well known on the Pacific coast as an expert on China and his writing catered to an established resident Chinese business community. He had photographs available whenever a pre-Mao political figure was in the news. It was learned much later that Norman’s abundant picture file had only one oriental face, that of his houseboy wherever it was he worked in China.
Norman Ingrey retired as editor of the Herald in 1969 when the paper’s majority shareholding was bought by the Evening Post Publishing Company, of Charleston, South Carolina. Robert Cox became the editor that year, and survived up to his departure in December 1979.
There were English-language papers everywhere in the Spanish- and Portuguesespeaking Americas. From Mexico south, including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, English-language journals were available in 22 countries. Brazil had about 30 titles, Argentina nearly 70, which included Irish and Welsh.
In his survey, The English-Language Press in Latin America (1996), Oliver Marshall, the compiler and author, wrote that, “The simple reason why so many English-language newspapers and periodicals were produced in a region where only a very small proportion of the population read English is that there was a market both for English-language news and for advertising. In most instances, English-speaking communities were closely knit to the point of insularity, the language often being retained after several generations of residence in Latin America. Far from their English-speaking origins, members of what were often socially or geographically extremely isolated communities were eager for both local news and the news from ‘home’ (the term applied to Britain or the USA even by people who had set foot in neither country).”
In the age before television and all that followed through to the Internet and when often the short-wave BBC or VOA programmes were not easily received or tuned, the local papers were essential. In my own home, south of Buenos Aires, three papers arrived each morning, possibly to be sure of the reportage and social calendars. For community news The Standard was essential. The Buenos Aires Herald defied succeeding governments and brought far more political coverage. And also La Prensa, some times Socialist and always Establishment. The three were bought each morning. And the evening paper delivered to the gate was Noticias Gráficas. I don’t remember my childhood very well, but I do hold a strong awareness of the big photographs and huge headlines. I loved the evening papers. They flaunted the goriest of murders, a thrilling and chilling feast of blood in black and white when parents were not looking.
The English-language press was part of a wide spread of international communities, never really migrants in great numbers, but many of the publishers were strong in intellectual experiences of a devastated Europe, and of vigorous political feelings.
A travel writer in those distant days, one Derek Drabble – a London-based member of the Drabble family in Buenos Aires Province and after whom a now-inert railway station is named – wrote in his book, Passenger Ticket (1934), “Basques and Neapolitans and Poles… an inchoate agglomeration, and their newspapers sold in Paseo Colón give a clue to the creation of a people. This was the porteño world of Buenos Aires (the newsboy has the Correo de Galicia and Terra and the L’Italia del Popolo, and the Austria Presse, and Jugo-Slavija, and the Magyarsag, the Kurjer Polski and the Slovenski Tednik, Ukranian papers, Czecho-Slovakian and Serbian papers, Japanese, German Jewish papers and German Nazi papers, and Arab papers)…” and the English-language papers on all the city stands. The first of these, The Southern Star, was printed in Montevideo in 1807, during general John Whitelock’s ill-fated landing.
The troops failed, but the papers, the English press, has been with us ever since.