Today provides another illustration of the long, slow death of Spain’s print media: the publication of the Falciani list, otherwise known as SwissLeaks, carried out by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and that affects thousands of individuals and businesses around the world, including of course Spain, which ranked 12th in terms of the number of HBSC’s Swiss bank account. The scandal is front page news in the international media even though the list was obtained in 2009, because of the importance of the information contained therein.
The Guardian and the BBC lead with the story on their websites, as does Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Bloomberg, along with news organizations around the world. But in Spain, it has been tucked away on the inside pages of the print versions of the main dailies (here’s a study about the coverage carried out by ElDiario.es, in Spanish), or way down the bottom of their websites. The one site that has run with the story is the online El Confidencial, an online newspaper. So what’s going on with the traditional media? Ah… it turns out that the Falciani list includes the names of many people that, in return for money, they have agreed not to embarrass.
The decline of Spain’s print media is a pathetic spectacle. Unable to adapt to the internet, its newsstand sales continue to decline, attractive only to an ever-older readership, and are distributed only in waiting rooms, the business class of some planes and trains, while for reasons that are hard to understand, television and radio news also continues to show the front pages of these walking antiquities, as though they in any way reflected most people’s news intake.
The collapse in their print sales have hit these newspapers hard, and the spending cuts they have imposed have prompted a mass exodus of their talent, with the corresponding decline in quality and coverage. In short, they can no longer afford to undertake investigative journalism, and are reduced to publishing ever-more extreme opinion pieces in a bid to hold on to their hardcore public, while any genuinely interesting comment is now to be found online.
The upcoming launch of El Español by Pedro J. Ramírez, the most interesting figure in Spanish journalism, and who finally left El Mundo, the paper he founded, after it was made clear to him that he could no longer publish anything that made the government uncomfortable, further highlights the decline of print media. This purely digital publication has attracted record crowdfunding for a media project (1,160,000 euros, with 19 days left). The success of the project reflects the widespread awareness in Spain for serious media alternatives.
Spain’s traditional media have responded to the collapse of their business model by selling themselves to the highest bidder, publishing barely disguised advertorials, and leaving out anything in their stories that might annoy their advertisers or the government of the day, and getting rid of their editors if necessary. If you really want to know what the Falciani list has to say about Spain, then you’ll have to use Twitter, where #SwissLeaks has been the trending topic throughout the day, or to online publications which, despite their limited resources, are increasingly attracting serious journalists committed to their profession.
Traditional sources of financing for Spain’s print media are undergoing a similar phenomenon: the only reason that anybody would advertise in a newspaper is either because they wanted to reach an ever-shrinking demographic, or in return for favors. There are companies that pay not to appear in the media, and there are others that agree to advertising campaigns to avoid certain coverage, as well as the shameful practice of sharing out institutional advertising by regional and national governments, again in return for newspapers turning a blind eye to corruption and to receive positive coverage.
This is what our traditional mastheads have been reduced to: if they are not negotiating with the government for payment from aggregators, or getting rid of Google News in Spain (the only democracy in the world to do so), then they’re simply selling the front page to the highest bidder. If anybody outside the country wants to get a real idea of what’s going on in Spain today, they should forget the traditional media and start searching the internet and the new generation of genuinely digital publications.
This is the sad reality of the decline of Spain’s traditional print media, and one that looks set to continue for some time yet.
(En español, aquí)