Damián Osta doesn’t fit the profile of the region’s media tycoons, but he had a vision equal in ambition to any of them. “I wanted to create a newspaper that I would want to read,” says the 37-year-old Uruguayan entrepreneur.
Osta, a native of Uruguay’s La Florida department, moved to Montevideo 18 years ago. But in the partisan world of the Uruguayan press, he was an outsider. He and a group of friends met over drinks in 2003 at a café called El Mincho to work on the outlines of a new media vehicle that was not tied to a political party or corporation. The result: la diaria—its name pointedly in lowercase because Osta says it is “less pretentious”—is now the second most-read daily newspaper in Uruguay, according to the firm Equipos Mori.
Osta is not surprised by his success. “I knew that overall, society was ready for a change when we started,” he says.
La diaria operates as a cooperative with controlling shares held by the 120-member staff. The paper was given a head start by a $5,000 donation from the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, whom Osta met at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and Hjelpemiddelfondet, a Norwegian organization founded by Uruguayan Carlos Caballero, which donated used computers, telephones and other equipment to get the paper off the ground.
La diaria’s commitment to complete economic independence started before the first edition hit newsstands in March 2006. Osta and his partners refused to accept the conditions of Montevideo’s powerful street vendors’ union, which demanded their traditional cut of half the newsstand price. Osta and his partners opted instead to distribute the paper themselves. But without street sales, they were forced to rely on subscriptions from readers in the capital.
From just 1,200 subscribers, la diaria has grown its readership to a subscription base of 7,500 across the country, which funds 75 percent of the paper’s costs. While la diaria covers all political parties and views, it has editorially endorsed left-leaning policies and candidates. How does that jibe with Osta’s vow of non-partisanship? He’s unapologetic. “A newspaper is by nature an intellectual business,” he says, “and as such has some editorial orientation and a political vision of reality.”
Next, Osta hopes to expand the paper and its ideals to different platforms, such as television. Osta and his partners have already created the café la diaria—a salon where readers can come together and discuss both current events and cultural interests. The café’s monthly calendar features performances by local musicians, as well as photography and art expositions. “It’s where our readers [can] experience the best cultural highlights the country has to offer,” says Osta. “It’s really become a central cultural meeting point in the city.” In Uruguay’s clubby media world, that’s a singular accomplishment.