Blog: Strategy & journalism 2022 (ii, paths and formats)
1. Let's continue. Next level down. Strategy and Journalism 2022. Yesterday we looked at “grand strategy”, the most fundamental aspects over the long term. Ultimate aims, values, identity, culture, alliances, capitalisation, underlying interests, antagonists.
2. It is at that level where, in theory, a journalist cannot join a political party as an advisor and still call himself a journalist; where, in theory, someone who says he is a journalist cannot stuff his column, report or talk with political spin. In Spain, it happens a lot.
3. That highest level is where interests are set: do you want to sell votes, sell ads or sell news and analysis to readers? You have to choose. You can't pretend you are a newspaper but then to collect all your money from advertisers and politically defined public subsidies.
4. If we do not have our ideas clear on that first level, then we see it unfold in the development of news matters: what is El Mundo doing wishing for the death of Bosé at Christmas? How does PRISA manage to fail with El País in Brazil? Why didn't TVE go and report from Kabul?
5. That what at the highest level then marks the how at the next level down. The strategy. And I would add here logistics, which is almost always forgetten. If you want to do X, how are you going to do X? In what way? In which formats? With what resources? What are your paths?
6. These questions about how are related to the answers you got at the grand strategic level: if we are Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin and we all intend to defeat Hitler before Japan, how are we going to achieve that? Where do we send the tanks and planes first?
7. If we are Jobs and Apple and we have set out to create a company with a vertical brand (devices + operating system + accessories) that does creative computing, how do we organise ourselves to create those products? What do we spend the money on to get there?
8. If we are the Prime Minister or the Health Minister and we have set ourselves the task of “beating Covid”, how do we organise the country, its resources and citizens to achieve our goal? What structural changes and investments are needed? Where should we act?
9. If on a superficial level we say that we are a newspaper or journalists but our real interests are party political, we will end up filling articles with propaganda and narrative frames that make our bosses look better with the politicians who are in charge.
10. If on a superficial level we say that we are a newspaper or journalists and that we are independent and sell subscriptions to readers but really 80% of our revenue comes from advertisers, we will end up filling our website with clickbait headlines and garbage.
11. In the case of this project, of my own effort, if at a grand strategic level, over the long term, the question is whether I still believe in authentically independent journalism (of course), at this next level down the question is: how then do I achieve that?
12. How do I acquire and use journalistic resources to cover some events and what formats do I produce with those resources for those events? What is the combination of resources and formats that creates the most value, in terms of both attention and income?
13. Today we have more possible formats than ever for doing journalism, to the point of creating confusion. Back to the question yesterday about Hemingway and the iPhone, in the Civil War there were only written chronicles and some photos, all delayed by censors and distribution.
14. This is what Porter describes in his thoughts on business strategy as the value chain. Out of all the possible options, which ones are you going to choose and which are you going to reject? How are you going to organise the logistics? Trying to do everything won't work.
15. Think of the examples you see in Spanish media: the superficial live shows on morning TV are not the same as an enlightenede print column or the nondescript repetitive TVE lunchtime news programme, all Covid and volcano and not at all harmful to the politicians.
16. And new technologies (grand strategic element) have allowed for the creation of new possible formats (strategic elements) over recent years. That gives us @civio or @jaimeobregon or @ibai, who all inform or entertain in some interesting way.
17. Correct. This is Porter's point, applied to one journalist. You can't be all types of journalist on all stories in all formats and places at once. Resources are always limited in some way. So we must choose some appropriate combination that creates some form of maximum value.
18. So little by little, as we move down the analysis, we pin down the question that governs the activity: Which formats create the most independent value with serious information that describes Spain, contributes something to democracy and leaves some memory for history?
19. At least that's what I end up with. If I were another media outlet, with other interests, I would end up asking which formats generate the most clicks for my advertisers or which generate more polarized controversy on social media to get people angry and vote for my party.
20. We have to mix the possible formats offered by technology with those that create most value for readers, contribute most to the public debate and also the reports or coverage that I have found most interesting and relevant and enjoyable over the years to do.
21. The choice of formats is linked to investment and logistics. If we are going to do a great podcast, we invest in podcasts. If we wanted to do live shots for some TV news shows, we would have to buy devices that help us to broadcast live images and sound.
22. When I reflect on these things, what comes to mind the most, and has resonated the most I think with readers over these years, has been the reporting on, the illustration of and the analysis of some of the great national events that have occured in Spain.
23. In fact, the first big story when The Spain Report began in 2013 was the train crash in Santiago de Compostela. Then Podemos and the abdication in 2014, all the elections in 2015-2016, Catalan separatism in 2017, the big trial in 2019, the pandemic in 2020-2021.
24. In each case, a complex issue of national relevance that could be reported on in detail, which could be investigated, in depth, for several weeks or even months and which little by little I learned, depending on which case, to illustrate with photos and video and audio.
25. Almost all of these stories had political components, had complex systemic components and had relevant consequences for the national whole, depending on the development of the matter over those months of uncertainty and confusion: no one knew what was going to happen next.
26. And on multiple occasions—the train crash in Santiago, the Gabriel Cruz murder trial or now the pandemic and the COVID areas in hospitals— the story had a component of harsh or even extreme human suffering, which makes us reflect upon life itself.
27. Since the Covid pandemic began in 2020, between one news item and the next, I have become even more cynical about politicians, to the point that it often seems like a waste of time, because they are not going to change. It seems more important to document bits of history.
28. From the point of view of creating real value, those moments have been when more readers have signed up as subscribers or patrons. National issues for Spain, coverage that lasts several weeks or months, complex situations that require detailed information and analysis.
29. And so, reflecting over time, several themes emerge, beyond “reporting on Spain”: complex systems, public consequences for all, political strategies, human suffering and struggle, harsh realities, the variety of perspectives, great national moments.
30. These are not definitive or exhaustive lists, but they do allow me to perceive a kind of outline of the path I am trying to walk down while I am on it. Just me, one independent journalist, trying to do something specific for you my readers, in some certain way.
31. Little by little, we are adding descriptions to the underlying idea. Journalism. Independent. Critical, even impertinent. Detailed. Analytical. Illustrative. Conversation, the public sphere. Complex systems. Struggle and suffering. Sketches of History. Perspectives.
32. We mix one question and description with another and we get a set of elements that make this journalism mine and somewhat unique at a strategic level. What format and investment in gear best suits us for the public conversation? What about to illustrate bits of History?
33. We can ask the same questions at the level of the distribution of articles or reports, and at the economic level. What formats or options help us the most? One web page or a bunch? Do we want a paywall with restricted access? A Substack newsletter? Bizums and #Bitcoin?
34. These are aspects that Hemingway did not control in the Civil War. He sent his chronicles every two weeks or whatever it was to his magazine and they distributed them to readers in print a few days or weeks later. That is how they came to understand events.
35. The Internet and mobiles and social media offer us this historic opportunity to be more direct, more connected, talk more about everything as it happens, practically in real time, with direct contact between a journalist and his readers. Gatekeepers are no longer needed.
36. For distribution, my conclusion is that there is no need for the paywall and restriction on a single web page. We must open everything up and take advantage of the Internet. Journalism must be public. It must inform the public debate. Politicians are delighted with paywalls.
37. On an economic level, the lesson of recent years is also to be open to the generosity of readers and the Internet. It varies over time. When we're doing the kind of reporting and analysis we have mentioned, it goes up. We advance. Together, it all adds up and works.
38. And at this strategic level, clear about the fundamental role of readers in guaranteeing the independence of the journalism that I propose, when we discover cryptocurrencies, they reveal themselves as yet another opportunity to explore in that direction, not a risk or threat.
39. NFTs specifically represent something to explore in 2022. Permanence, verification, authenticity. Many readers want to buy one. If we are already creating that value, well then here is another way to guarantee independent journalism.
40. For the formats of the journalism itself, I think all this, to conclude today's thread, leads us to three: i) the daily notes, threads and analysis with a video blog, ii) a podcast conversation to talk about everything and iii) video- and photo-reports on subjects over time.
41. All three formats take advantage of current technology to help us meet those information aims we have discussed. Reporting, current affairs, analysis, detail, complexity, public debate, and the illustration of bits of that first draft of the history of these years in Spain.
42. Now, if I compare that strategic vision that I have been describing yesterday and today with the current situation, I again see some under-capitalization when we talk about the equipment and travel that will be required to carry out the project in the coming months and years.
43. I have acquired quite a few pieces of gear since the pandemic began, cameras, microphones, recorders, etc. to start producing reports with acceptable quality for now. But we still need more, if we imagine me travelling around Spain to report on different stories.
44. Now we have outlined the strategic parts, tomorrow we can talk about the two other levels: the operational part and the battles part, the contact with reality. How all of this is translated into specific acts of journalism in the real world. Thank you for reading.