1. Let's continue. We had one level left to analyse. We had imagined journalism over the long term, devised a strategy to deal with it and deployed some resources towards a specific news story. Now what? What resistance do we find out in the real world?
2. On this level, day-to-day, our plan smashes in to harsh reality, antagonists obstruct our path, we discover that the terrain at this precise moment of reality is not the map, things break frequently and surprising elements we had not previously considered appear.
3. And in our daily battles, in addition to trying to achieve our aim—in this case carrying out acts of independent journalism—on a path full of obstacles, we must find practical answers to the elements that we have identified at the higher levels of analysis.
4. It is done by comparing our actions to the standards we have set ourselves. On a day-to-day basis, in real life, on a grand strategic level, are we capable of doing journalism based on ethics and values? Or do we choose to wish someone die at Christmas in our newspaper..?
5. At a press conference during a moment of history, with real lives at stake and a microphone to ask something of an antagonistic politician, is there courage enough to ask real questions or are we going to toe the line because of the ad money the government pays our newspaper?
6. And this kind of contrast between strategic levels also offers us a very interesting framework for analysing stories: do the ministerial strategic narrative and the tables in the bureaucratic document actually describe reality on the ground in some corner of Spain?
7. The contrast or even straight clash of perspectives between different levels and areas is always fascinating. What are they saying in a (regional) ministry? What do the experts think? What is actually happening in the courtroom during a trial or the Covid area of a hospital?
8. Or at the operational level, if hypothetically they should be doing the best journalism with abundant public resources, to inform all Spaniards, why did TVE send so many to La Palma for the volcano and none to Kabul? Narrative and interests contrast with what actually happens.
9. The rise of Catalan separatism could be observed in this way. Years and years of over-excited propaganda on a cultural emotional level clashed with declaring independence, with taking away a whole chunk of Spain, in the real world. There was no Catalan Spring. Puigdemont fled.
10. One day (not today, otherwise we will go off on a huge tangent), we have to talk about all of this with a stock market metaphor. Attention, news, polarisation and the rise and fall of national events. Remind me at some point. Today we were going to talk about news battles.
11. The first battle is trying to find out what is going on and what we are going to try to report on or talk about at any given time. If, as normal people, we live with a tsunami of data and news in 2022, if we try to do some journalism, it only gets much worse.
12. If you follow the right people on Twitter and organise them a bit with TweetDeck, you won't go far wrong in catching the latest news on just about anything, from regular political issues to the latest big international story. Just a matter of searching and reading a little.
13. Then there is a kind of paid version called Dataminr, which is somewhere between TweetDeck and a Bloomberg terminal for breaking news. For newsrooms with money to burn: $15,000 per year per user. And it's still the same tsunami of constant global information.
14. I know that in Spain, TVE and La Razón have access to Dataminr but in both cases, looking at the results on a news level, either they don't use it or they haven't learned to take make the most of it. Following the fastest journalists on Twitter works better.
15. Then you can join the mailing lists of all kinds of press offices. Every institution sends out what they consider to be news for their party, ministry or agency. 90% of it is rubbish, propaganda with photos of ministers or the latest corporate half-thought.
16. There was a time when I thought it might be good to join all the relevant mailing lists, but with 15 regional ministries in 17 Spanish regions, plus all the national ministries, plus the political parties and their regional branches, I gave up. Theoretically, a good idea.
17. If I got serious and sat down and sent the emails, there might be 400 mailing lists that were somewhat relevant nationally. But then of course you have go through them all and read and select things. Maybe you'd be lucky enough to revise all 400 mailing lists once a week.
18. Then there are places that send out press releases without me remembering having joined that list, on topics that are clearly not national. But they strive to get their towns' activities known. Big shout out to all the elderly readers in Tacoronte (Tenerife).
19. Special mention should be made of court press offices in Spain. In contrast to the political ones, which are all propaganda, court press offices just tell you what's going on and help. Supreme Court, National High Court, regional high courts. That's how it should be done.
20. That, in my experience over the past few years, has been the case with all of them: national, Andalusia, Galicia, Navarra, Madrid, even Catalonia. All professionals. I don't remember any who didn't help. Judgments, orders, clearing up doubts, trial attendance, etc., etc.
21. And that's just the mailing lists. Then we have WhatsApp (examples here from Vox and the Canary Islands courts), which, depending on the institution or party, prefer WhatsApp to emails or offer Twitter, emails and WhatsApp, a complete 2022 propaganda plan.
22. We live in free democracies and technology nowadays offers so many options, so Twitter, emails and WhatsApp are not enough for some: they prefer Telegram. The same propaganda but through different channels. Here is central government office in Canary Islands:
23. Then just “trying to be informed”, the technology options of the 21st century offer us news possibilities beyond our human capabilities. It is impossible to read everything from all newspapers, news wires, press offices, WhatsApps, political parties and so on.
24. In terms of our analysis, we have technologies that allow us to access loads of information from all corners of Spain, almost instantly. At the same time, thousands of propagandists work all day to fill our heads with their favorite frames and narratives.
25. And so far, apart from signing up for a few interesting mailing lists, we haven't done anything, not even picked up a phone. In exchange for a little effort and several hours of reading, we have a somewhat broader, somewhat less incomplete view of what is happening in Spain.
25. The first daily news battle, a constant one, is just to try to get some idea of where attention is being directed at different levels, where we might turn our attention to and, in my case, see where I might be able to have some news impact.
26. Hundreds of possible topics every day, at multiple levels across Spain, covering twenty different sectors. And everything can also be approached from the perspective of multiple actors, who at the same time each have their own partial vision of the whole and of others.
27. Sometimes, especially with the courts, news arrives in the form of an email with an attachment. In that case, we add even more hours of reading. The Catalan separtist judgement was almost 500 pages. There are shorter novels. Took about a week to go through it.
28. The daily battle in those cases is synthesis so that as readers you can understand the essence of the issue, always with the right details (153,000 words, legal) and the correct context (the years of Catalan separatism and the months of the trial) in some digestible format.
29. And although we are still dealing with just a first level of diving deeper into the multiple layers of a news story, the structural elements that we have previously identified already appear: technological opportunities, the news tsunami, the antagonistic propagandists.
30. The constant questions when evaluating everything are: is this news? Is it relevant for adding anything to any of the multiple streams of national attention right now? Does it provide any additional details? Are that twist and those details true? How do we know they are true?
31. As we have seen with Covid every day from the beginning, data and statements are not enough to understand the situation. The data are not complete (they always come after) and the statements are always political (antagonistic if what we are looking for is truth and reality).
32. Or if we are looking at a trial, each party (prosecutor, defense) has its own version of what happened and they are all versions that point towards the outcome that party is seeking (conviction, acquittal). It all needs to be cross-examined with evidence, witnesses, experts.
33. Now, on a day-to-day basis, in the middle of the news battle, what you see on TV or Twitter in headlines or the lunchtime news in Spain is mostly statements by interested parties. If media or journalists do it better, they check with experts and evidence and witnesses.
34. Fortunately, those same technologies that allow us to know so much about other corners of the world. even while they flood us with their tsunami of news, also allow expert sources to contact journalists when there is an important story at hand.
35. It happened from the start with the train crash in Santiago. Renfe engineers and train drivers. It happened with the Catalan separatist trial. Prosecutors, lawyers and judges. And it happened with Covid. Doctors, nurses, different civil servants, bar owners, etc.
36. Thanks to them, I learned first-hand how trains and control systems worked with the AVE, or how a trial works at the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Spain, or how a hospital actually works in the midst of a historic pandemic.
37. Different experts wanted to bring their kind of in-depth knowledge, which in each case informed not only the direction of the reporting but also the analysis and questions to politicians, and today it is easier than ever for them to talk to journalists.
38. From a direct message or WhatsApp, to Signal or phone calls, emails or then meeting in person to talk about things and see how some issue works, I have always I think matched their desire for precise explanation with the confidentiality they have requested.
39. That was the case in April 2020 during the first wave, when a worker at a civil registry in northern Spain contacted me to explain there were thousands more dead than the government was announcing and the government did not know how many there were.
40. That does not mean, far from it, that all those experts want to go on the record in public, with their name and position, to say something about a story. No. Most want to explain how something really works, but without being in the article or video themselves.
41. Sometimes, depending on the level of involvement in a topic or the effort I've made, it can be frustrating when people don't want to go on the record. Telling the truth in front of everyone is often difficult for them, and there are always bosses or colleagues looking on.
42. I had that conversation with more than one doctor or nurse in a Covid area. Months of pandemic, we finally get in with a camera to record their struggle, and some didn't want to say anything. Others explained off-the-record for me to report, and others spoke up. Such is life.
43. So at this point we have several recurring factors in the everyday struggle: the news tsunami, 21st century reporting technology, sources that explain interesting news things but are sometimes reluctant to go on the record, and time. Everything takes quite a long time.
44. Time to observe, time to read, time on calls, time to establish relationships and discuss news topics, time to visit places, time to record, time to write and edit and polish. Any tool that saves us time, then, is most welcome.
45. Time is always tight, because of that combination of constant news streams and information overload to try to process and if you start talking to sources and visiting interesting things, your day disappears in a moment without having written or edited anything at all.
46. And it doesn't matter if you are doing a more intellectual analysis of political issues or shooting video scenes in a hospital or attending a trial, there is always too much information and too little time. And I must respect your time as readers as well.
47. So another possible definition for day-to-day journalism is: in a few hours, condense extravagant amounts of real information (if original, better) on some relevant news topic to some easily digestible format for readers, with something approaching professional quality.
48. If we mix that with the other elements we have identified earlier: huge amounts of information + verified + getting the news subject right + a good format + professional quality + levels of context + sources and data + systemic aspects + values and ethics. All in 500 words.
9. This is a good example of what we have been saying for the past few days. Journalism, independence, free criticism of political power. The Prime Minister's face, at a tough moment in parliament, with a very large headline: “A man without shame”. Unthinkable in Spanish media.
50. Day-to-day news battles and moments. Each newspaper or journalist brings their own values, ethics and strategy to the game and if we know how to interpret the front pages, headlines and articles a bit, we see who takes it seriously and who doesn't.
51. Then we have the political part. Politicians are antagonists to journalism, although from time to time, perhaps once every generation, there is some honorable exception. One of them is forced by some extreme situation to assume a certain normal amount of decency.
52. And as in all good novels and films, the more our journalist hero enters the enemy's cave, the more antagonistic resistance and obstacles appear along the path as we try to document and ask questions about reality.
53. It seems simple from the outside to tell the truth about some reality that affects us all as a society or nation but in practice, in the daily news battles, it is not. What will my boss say? What will my neighbor say? I'm not going to tell you or I didn't tell you that.
54. The superficial sympathy of political press offices turns to cold distance when you insist on asking things they don't want you to ask. This is how their political game works, following the official line is rewarded, but that is not how half-decent journalism works.
55. In other words, you have to interact with others every day but politicians and their advisers try to take advantage of the norms of normal social relations to win over the journalist and dissuade him from asking about public issues that might make them look bad.
56. And it is that social pressure, a real part of each person's specific socio-economic situation, with their job and relationships, that "what will my boss say”, that pressures sources into not saying something on-the-record they know is really important to us all.
57. The penultimate stage of this chapter, even assuming we have managed to record some Covid areas or ask difficult questions to politicians on their home turf, is the effort to edit and compose and distribute the report or the news story. It doesn't do it by itself.
58. If you want to, once you have an hour of press conference or several hours of interviews and videos, you can spend another day or two or three or five on selection, editing, cutting and exporting formats. And a 500-word column takes a lot less than a 10-minute video report.
59. The last battle in day-to-day affairs is the commercial one: to sell, to convince. To convince you the readers. That independent journalism is possible and that it has value for everyone. With readers as garantors, anything is possible. Without them, the free press dies.
60. Tomorrow we will do one final thread in this review series, to see if we can draw some conclusions by comparing everything I have explained with what I have actually done over the past two years. In theory, the path forward will then be clearer.