Cooperatives, journalism, and freedom of expression in Spain
23 Jun 2016
Over the last few years, media companies have made many cut-backs in Spain, and lots of journalists have lost their job. 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. Indeed, some find themselves doing unpaid internships in large companies. However, some journalists have found a solution to this problem by , working together within cooperatives.
“This profession has lost value. There are lots of journalists doing freelance job 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, a mainstream print newspaper that has closed its doors.
Owned by the media mogul, Jaume Roures, Público declared itself bankrupt and fired 85% of the company staff. But Roures itself re-bought the enterprise (the company is still alive and today publishes only digital news). Some of the journalists from Público have started working in a new media cooperative. Rusiñol set up Alternativas Económicas, the Spanish version of the very well-known French monthly magazine, Alternatives Economiques, together-with other journalists, mainly from El País (which has also shed many jobs).
Both companies are sharing contents and even though the Spanish cooperative is small and has a long way to go before becoming financially sound, , the eight cooperative workers are confident. They have the support of 60 corporate partners who provided funds to help them start the cooperative; 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. Working cooperatively Just like French cooperative, the partners of Alternativas Económicas decided to create a worker cooperative, because they thought it was the best model in terms of the way in which 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, which is often the case of the large media companies owned by the big banks, which is what 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”, continues Rusiñol, who is also the author of Papel Mojado (waste paper), a book about the newspapers crisis. “The cooperative model helps us to ensure our independence”. There is another cooperative which was established after Público went bankrupt, La Marea, a monthly newspaper that is a mix between a worker cooperative and a consumer cooperative (the readers). They have 2,800 subscribers and six workers who have worked hard to safeguard their jobs and to fight for independence.
The second condition of these worker cooperative magazines to preserve freedom of expression and independence is their advertising policies. La Marea has a strict code of conduct, and does not accept many ads. Alternativas Económicas also carefully choose the companies that they allow to place ads in the magazine, and assume that advertisements will never represent more than 30% of their revenue. There are more cooperative initiatives in the journalism sector. Another example is “El Critic”, 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 agencies news). In one year they have built up a readership of more than 1,000 subscribers.
Freelancers Finally, 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.