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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Argentina’s The Bubble wants to spread English-language news model across Latin America



Many of the writers at Argentine digital news site The Bubble have spent time helping to fill the pages of the 140-year-old Buenos Aires Herald, Latin America’s oldest English-language newspaper. In recent years, both publications, The Bubble and The Herald, have worked from Buenos Aires to inform the country’s English-speaking community about politics, culture and the economy. But that’s where the similarities end.

English-language digital news site The Bubble started publishing in Argentina in 2013. (Screenshot)

While the 140-year-old Herald was traditional and formal, The Bubble delivers the news with a young, sometimes irreverent voice.

And while The Herald announced its closure this July amid decreasing revenue and changes in ownership that generated controversy, The Bubble is planning an expansion to at least two other Latin American countries in the next year. 

The site is the brainchild of Spanish journalist Adrian Bono and U.S. economist Emily Hersh. The two created The Bubble in 2013 while Bono was editing at The Herald and Hersh kept a blog on the economy of Argentina, NotParis.com – a commentary on Buenos Aires’ popular moniker, “The Paris of South America.” Both had been living in Argentina for several years.

“I felt that there was a huge audience in Buenos Aires and Argentina of English speakers that didn’t feel like The Herald talked to them. So, I thought that it was important to find a way to reach that audience, usually a younger audience that didn’t necessarily read the news every day,” Bono said. “I felt that it was important for them to have a way of being informed about what was happening in the country.”

The journalist explained he came up with the idea for the site during a conversation with two young men from the United States. They had been living in Argentina for two years, did not speak Spanish and said they were not interested in politics. As Bono tells it, the presidential elections were about a year away and one of the Americans said he did not know the president’s name. When Bono told him it was “Cristina,” the young man was surprised. He was not aware the president was a woman, much less her name.

Bono – who said he does not believe the young man represents the average American – started thinking how he, as a journalist, could reach the foreigners living in the “Palermo bubble,” referring to an area of town popular among young immigrants.

The audience Bono wanted to reach was more interested in reading Vice or Gawker, as opposed to traditional media outlets. And so, from the beginning, The Bubble has delivered “news with a touch of snark.”

Adrian Bono started The Bubble in 2013. (Courtesy photo)

“We felt that through that snark, people would be interested in reading us more,” Bono said. “The ultimate goal was to make sure that people knew what was happening in the country politically and economically.”

After almost three years at The Herald and three months into working on The Bubble, Bono left to pursue the site full-time.

They started with a team of ten writers living in Buenos Aires. Now, they count on 30 contributors in their 20s and 30s and operate from an office shared with Spanish-language news site Infobae in the trendy Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. Daniel Hadad, founder of Infobae, is a minority investor in The Bubble Argentina, but Bono said that the companies only share infrastructure and that Infobae posts stories from The Bubble, but the companies do not cooperate editorially.

The Bubble also gets help from journalism students placed through agreements the site has with universities in the United States and United Kingdom. The site covers politics, sports, the entertainment industry, economy, restaurants and more.

Both Bono and Hersh emphasized that The Bubble focuses on providing context for readers new to the political and economic realities of the country. To do this, they create "explainers" that provide background to take the reader out of the “information bubble.”

In addition to news articles, the site publishes videos on light topics, such as which Alfajor brand is preferred on the streets of Argentina, to more serious interviews with political candidates. The writers compile guides for live music and events around the city, and columnists muse on politics and economics.

The site also offers a weekly newsletter called The Half-Caff, which Hersh explained provides context while still keeping it light. And on Friday evenings, readers can download episodes of The Bubble Podcast, hosted by former Bubble editor-in-chief and current Argentina correspondent for The New York Times, Dan Politi.

When Bono and Hersh began the site, the target audience was the English-speaking expat community and millennials between the ages of 18 to 34. Though that demographic makes up close to 70 percent of their readership, Bono said they are also attracting a large number of Argentineans who also speak English and like the site’s perspective.

Once the readership of The Buenos Aires Herald started fading, Bono said they began to attract an older audience in their 50s and 60s, which makes up about five to 10 percent of their current audience. He expects those numbers to go up now that The Herald is gone.

In its best month, he said the site attracted 350,000 unique visitors.

Economist Emily Hersh is also co-founder of The Bubble (Courtesy photo)

The Bubble does receive some flak for publishing in English in a primarily Spanish-speaking country, as evidenced by the FAQ portion of its website, which is mostly a playful back-and-forth concerning writing about Argentina as foreigners and whether or not the staff is part of the CIA.

“Some people think that writing in English means that you write or you represent either the United States or the United Kingdom. And that’s got nothing to do with us,” Bono said, adding that as the world has gotten smaller, they want to offer content about Argentina for the global community.

To stay afloat, The Bubble brings in money through advertising, as well as events for readers and the international community in Buenos Aires. They host trivia nights, wine tasting, happy hours and other networking events. Bono explained that they’re now exploring more professional events including panels, debates and conferences.

The Bubble is currently in a transition period as they close a new investment round. They are re-evaluating content, re-inventing their brand and planning an expansion across Latin America.

Bono said The Bubble – a U.S. company with an Argentina operation – plans to launch a Mexico operation in the beginning of 2018 and move on to Brazil by mid-2018.

“Our goal is to become the gateway to Latin America,” Bono explained, adding that they will cover issues as big as transnational corruption scandal Odebrecht to as local as political primaries.

“I see The Bubble as the go-to source for English-language information in Argentina and hopefully, in the next couple of years, in South America,” Hersh said. “As [people] have seen our company and our products mature, they realize that our tone may be young, but our command of the issues is not.”

Moving forward with plans to reach more of Latin America as part of the newest generation of English-language publications reporting on the region, Bono acknowledges the legacy left by one of the oldest, regarded for its reporting on forced disappearances and other human rights abuses during the country’s “Dirty War.”

Bono recounted an event with a reader while on assignment for The Herald in the aftermath of former President Nestor Kirchner’s death. An older woman he was interviewing asked which publication he represented. When he said The Herald, the woman teared up and hugged him.

“She said, ‘I’ve never read your newspaper because I don’t speak English, but I will never forget that it’s because of you that so many people are alive these days,’” Bono recounted. “In a few words, that’s the legacy of the Buenos Aires Herald. It was Robert Cox and a very brave team of journalists that stood up against the dictatorship when no one else was doing it.”



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