A Brief History of the Athens News

By John Psaropoulos

The Athens News was founded in January 1952 by Yannis Horn, the son of journalist and playwright Pantelis Horn and brother of the acclaimed actor, Dimitris Horn.

"It seemed that Greece - whose tourism was increasing daily - was the only country that could not provide, in a language that foreigners could understand, the news of the day and the information necessary for those living in Greece," Horn said in a 1997 interview.

Horn's idea was to sell the newspaper to tourists, predicting - accurately - that the fledgling hospitality industry would skyrocket. (Greece received 16 million visitors last year, according to the tourism ministry.)

Far left: The front page of the Athens News on 24 May 1973,
when Yannis Horn was taken into custody by the police.
Left: Horn's baiting of the political establishment with
a hoax text in 1974
"I was told at the start that the paper would sell 50 copies a day and that it would fold," Horn said in the interview. "The fewest copies that it sold were 800, at the beginning. And the paper was terrible. Many people bought it to laugh at it."

Under such humble circumstances the newspaper persevered, with antiquated printing presses that broke down in the middle of the night, or distribution that failed. "Yannis sometimes had to get up in the wee hours to help with his Morris Minor to take the newspapers to the central kiosks and hotels," Horn's wife, Stephanie, recently wrote in a memorandum to this newspaper.

The newspaper's first offices were in a rented space on Mitropoleos Street, off Syntagma, across from a public urinal. Stathis Efstathiadis, the veteran diplomatic correspondent for To Vima, got his first job there in 1952. He remembers an insufferable stench wafting across the street in the summer.

Yet the Athens News survived its teething pains to be, for 49 years, continental Europe's only English-language daily. Its glory days would come with its challenge to the 1967-74 dictatorship, which made it a focal point for foreign correspondents in Greece. The Associated Press once called it "The Greek Gadfly".

It was a well-deserved description. On 20 March 1974, the newspaper printed a box of Chinese script on its editorial page, under the headline, "The Political Situation in Greece Today". Curious, the foreign ministry sent it to Athens' only Chinese restaurant at the time, the Pagoda, for a translation. The Pagoda's Chinese-American owner couldn't help. Years later, Yannis Horn learnt that the text was an article about Taiwan's economic progress.

Nonetheless, he was outspoken in English, too. In a July 1972 editorial, Horn said: "There is no democracy when all questions may be brought up by those in power, but no opposition objections can be heard. When they are voiced, the arrest or deportation or imprisonment of those who actually dared serves as a warning to the rest to keep prudently silent."

"The reason that the Athens News was able to present some formidable news items and comments was that the junta allowed this small liberty so as to be able to tell foreigners that the regime was democratic," Horn said. "This lasted a few months until the Athens News overstepped the junta's mark."

In November 1971, Yannis Horn was charged under the new press law with publishing an untruthful headline, "Agnew greeted by bombs and recruited school children". The headline referred to a weeklong trip by Greek-American US vice-president Spiro Agnew (Anagnostopoulos), whose visit was preceded by bomb attacks. He had been greeted at Athens airport by bussed-in crowds of schoolchildren, to give the false impression that Greeks adored him.

The charges resulted in a seven-month prison sentence, a 10,000 drachma fine and a deprivation of a fortnight's worth of customs-free newsprint. After lengthy appeals, Horn was finally arrested on 23 May 1973, and served three months of his sentence before early release due to a heart condition.

In 1993, Yannis Horn handed over the Athens News into the care of the Lambrakis Foundation. Its chairman, Christos Lambrakis, had, like Horn, relentlessly fought the dictatorship and been instrumental, through editorials, in seeding the November 1973 student revolt at the Athens Polytechnic. The violent suppression of that revolt was the beginning of the end for the colonels' regime, which henceforth lost any remaining shred of popularity in the social mainstream.

Lambrakis took the decision to turn the Athens News into a weekly in March 2001, partly as a response to the onslaught of the daily international press reaching Greece's news-stands, and partly in order to concentrate its quality into one edition per week. The newspaper's editorial integrity, under the auspices of the Foundation, has remained intact.

Whereas the Athens News of the 1950s and 1960s had served non-Greeks visiting Greece, the weekly Athens News has focused increasingly on the needs of Greece's permanent expatriate population and foreign-educated Greeks who want an unbiased news source. It has dwelled strongly on the substance of the social, economic and environmental issues Greece faces today, rather than the politics of those issues, which traditionally dominate in the media.

Today the Athens News enjoys a loyal readership of an estimated 50,000 people - 30,000 through its weekly print sales of 10,000 copies and a further 20,000 through its online edition, www.athensnews.gr. Since 83 percent of online readers are situated outside Greece, the newspaper can truly be said to have embarked upon its internationalisation.

(Posting Date 15 April 2008)

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by this writer in the News & Issues and other sections of our extensive, permanent archives at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com./contents.html
. The author is a journalist and writer for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying this article may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publication by visiting the website http://www.athensnews.gr.

All articles of Athens News appearing on HCS have been reprinted with permission.

2000 © Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.