Over the last few years, media companies have made many cut-backs in Spain, and lots of journalists have lost their jobs.
Furthermore, young journalists who have just completed their degree or who are not able to find employment in their profession end up doing very poorly paid freelance work, or unpaid internships in large companies. However, some journalists are finding a solution to this problem by setting up media co-operatives.
“This profession has lost value. There are lots of journalists doing freelance jobs for pennies, and even journalists who go to war are sometimes just freelancers who risk their lives in the name of the profession, with no insurance, and no protection,” says Pere Rusiñol, former associate editor of Diario Público.
This mainstream print newspaper, owned by the media mogul Jaume Roures, declared itself bankrupt in 2012 and fired 85% of the staff. But Mr Roures himself re-bought the enterprise and relaunched the brand with a digital-only offering.
Some of the journalists from Público have started working in a new media co-operative: Mr Rusiñol set up Alternativas Económicas with other journalists, mainly from El País, the highest-circulation daily newspaper in Spain, which also shed many jobs.
Alternativas Económicas is the the Spanish version of a well-known French monthly magazine Alternatives Economiques, which is also a co-operative. The two organisations share content, and even though the Spanish co-op is small and has a long way to go before becoming financially sound, its eight co-operative workers are confident. They have the support of 60 corporate partners who provided funds to help them start the co-operative; and in three and a half years they have attracted 2,050 subscribers, as well as close to 1,000 readers who buy the magazine on the high street.
Often it is the owners – in other words the banks – who ultimately decide what is news and what is not
Just like its French counterpart, the partners of Alternativas Económicas decided to create a worker co-operative, because they thought it was the best model in terms of the way it allows them to work and to preserve their freedom of expression.
“On the one hand, it means that we can decide what to put in the contents, rather than be told what to include,” said Mr Rusiñol, who is also the author of Papel Mojado (Waste Paper), a book about the newspaper crisis.
“This is often the case when large media companies are owned by the big banks, and is something we see happening in Spain today. Often it is the owners – in other words the banks – who ultimately decide what is news and what is not.
“The co-operative model helps us to ensure our independence.”
Another co-operative established after Público went bankrupt is La Marea, a multi-stakeholder co-operative owned by the journalists and the readers. It has 2,800 subscribers, and six workers who have worked hard to safeguard their jobs and to fight for independence.
Another way worker co-operative magazines preserve their freedom of expression and independence is through their advertising policies. La Marea has a strict code of conduct, and does not accept many ads. Alternativas Económicas also carefully chooses the companies that it allows to place ads in the magazine, and ensures that advertisements will never represent more than 30% of its revenue.
There are more co-operative initiatives in the journalism sector. El Critic is a Catalan daily digital newspaper established in 2015 by three journalists with a background in the mainstream media. The partners of the project call it “slow journalism”, because they only publish two long pieces a day (besides agency news). In one year they have built up a readership of more than 1,000 subscribers.
Spain is also seeing co-operation among co-operatives in action in the journalism sector. Andalucía’s freelance journalists got together to create “Se buscan periodistas” (seeking journalists). The company provides common services to all of the partners and is a way of getting together in order to jointly seek better solutions to daily problems, rather than the journalists having to seek solutions on their own.
- This article was original published by Cecop-Cicopa Europe. Read the original here.