Strategy & Journalism 2022 (v, conclusions & your role)
Blog: Having understood the four levels of analysis—grand strategy, strategic paths, operations and news battles—where does that all take us in practice from now on? What conclusions can I draw and what can you do to help?
1. Let's do the last thread of the series. Having understood the four levels of analysis—grand strategy, strategic paths, operations and news battles—where does that all take us in practice from now on? What conclusions can I draw and what can you do to help?
2. Go ahead if you have criticism or comments. It is always difficult to be critical of oneself from within the experience, so an external view is appreciated. Have I fulfilled your idea of independent journalism over the years? Where could I improve?
3. First, at the grand strategic level. I think that the main point would be editorial independence over these now almost 10 years. Not a single cent in public funds, institutional advertising, political money or corporate ad revenue.
4. Which is to say, for me at least, that editorial independence from the political or corporate side is part of the essence of real journalism, and I think I have been consistent in achieving it with my efforts over the past 10 years. Alongside me have been readers.
5. In terms of changes, I can think of two major ones at that highest level that have altered the project: the decision to publish everything in Spanish as well as in English and the decision to change from a corporate legal structure (SL) to an individual (self-employed) one.
6. The original idea for The Spain Report was to talk in English about the main issues that were changing the country for the world. Over the years, and going into the deeper details of all of the stories along the way, readers asked me to start publishing in Spanish as well.
7. The corporate structure, with all the paperwork and time involved, and the model of trying to create a serious but transactional media outlet with a paywall, didn't work. Or at least I couldn't make it work. So from 2018, it was me the journalist, in English and in Spanish.
8. The greatest long-term strategic alliance has been with readers. That way, everything fits into place. It has sometimes seemed tempting to see if Canon or Fuji or Land Rover or Paradores would help us with equipment or travel, but then we would lose that total independence.
9. The long-term grand strategy remains independent journalism with and for readers, because I think that has value, for all of us as readers, for society in general, and even for democracy and the common future we all share if we get to talking about that.
10. That is also my conclusion when attending a trial, or asking questions at a press conference, or reporting inside a Covid zone in a hospital. If we journalists do not strive to report and question, judiciously and critically, all the better for politicians and authorities.
11. In other words, the final conclusion, in the long run, still fits with the immediate conclusion and reaction in some of the real news battles, however difficult it may have been to get there or however many bureaucratic obstacles politicians tried to put up along the way.
12. And I think after these two years of pandemic we have all been through, my conviction that we have to go and see things to illustrate them is even stronger. In the tech and attention environment we have in 2022, it is not enough just to have data and graphs and documents.
13. We have seen it repeatedly (this Christmas too) with the Covid situation in hospitals: as much as the doctors I know in the hospitals I know tell us that they are again gettting slammed with cases, there are readers who don't believe it, because they don't believe the data.
14. Grand strategy leads us to formats: from now on, the way forward is more video reports and photos and dispatches from different parts of Spain, as the basis of everything else. We will need to invest in that to have the best equipment and be able to travel around the country.
15. The podcast also emerges from that level. We need more conversation, to listen to each other a little more. We have all become more distant and unfriendly, between polarised politics, the immediacy of technology and now two years of a historic anti-social pandemic.
16. Finally, at the grand strategic level, new in the past few months, we have the issue of cryptocurrencies. On an economic and political level, they are an interesting news story. At the project level, they must be seen as a long-term technology element. I shall explain why.
17. First, they offer us another option so that the reader who wants to support this independent journalism can do so. Bitcoin, ETH, or whatever currency he prefers. It is already enabled and helps us to buy equipment or trips or whatever we need for a story.
19. And then we have NFTs. Another element, another object of value, a reader can acquire to support this journalism. For our purposes, photos or videos are going to be the way, although there are people who are converting articles into NFTs as well.
20. On a purely journalistic level, the system already exists to verify the authenticity and originality of a published image with a journalist's ETH address. It offers us a level of verification as readers, in that constant tsunami of information, that did not exist before.
22. Then there are people starting to create Web 3 notifications and other elements. We'll have to see what happens to those parts. But the crypto whole is already much more than just Bitcoin or the geekier bits of recent years. We shall have to explore and experiment.
23. The most important thing you can do as readers at this highest level is two things: i) understand how the media game works, especially with regards to the political side and ii) sign up to guarantee this free journalism.
25. It doesn't matter how. We'll talk about this tomorrow a little bit in the continuation of this thread. If you prefer monthly subscription euros, that exists. If you want to send crypto, that works. If you like NFTs, the first ones will be there for you in a few days.
26. Let's continue. Once you understand all this as a reader, examples surface every week of how the media is doing wrong by their readers and what they should be doing with their questions, articles and reports.
27. At the level of strategic paths, the how of trying to achieve the goal of independent critical journalism in the best formats for readers, with the technologies we have today that they did not have 100 years ago, what have we learned over the past few years?
28. Both aspects are relevant: the journalism part itself and the value creation part. It's all related. In theory, the better I choose the stories, the better I report or analyse, the better I package everything, and the better I convince the readers, the better everything goes.
29. As we were saying the other day, for example, I'm not going to do a whole TV news show every day. No matter how many tools and computers I had, it would never be possible. Neither could I produce a whole daily print newspaper, for the same reason.
30. Although looking at the quality of some news programmes and newspapers, if the businessmen were smarter, they would buy more computers and apps and artificial intelligence and could do the same product with a quarter of the current workforce.
31. New data options allow for new formats in 2022. Look at what @civio or @kikollan or @JaimeObregon are doing in Spain. That didn't exist in Hemingway or Cronkite's time. Data give us a greater perception of the whole...over time.
32. As we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic, real-time data is chaos, and more so in a Spain divided into 17 regional governments, all trying to hide problems. Basic maths appears to be difficult, as is expecting simple Excel or pdf documents with the right data.
33. Part of that is a lack of political will, another part is the usual bureaucratic reluctance to do much at all and then there were parts where the entire system was simply not designed to collect the public data that seemed necessary for reporting stories.
34. Data help us to fit a situation into a context over time, be it the Covid situation or immigrant or the murder of women or an election campaign. Sometimes, they point towards heightened alert; at other times, that we should not exaggerate so much.
35. But even in the best of cases, and even though data sometimes kill preferred narratives, they are only a later summary of some part of reality. They arrive days, weeks, months or even years later. They are not reality.
36. Sometimes they even serve as a kind of news dummy, to suck on and reassure ourselves on a rational level that we understand what is happening but that on an emotional level we don't want to pay too much attention to because raw reality is too much to deal with.
37. The tens of thousands of Covid deaths in Spain, for example, or the hundreds of thousands (??) who have spent time on an ICU ward since March 2020. Lots of statistics and statements, but has the media really illustrated all of that human suffering well?
38. The same with immigrants or murdered women or election campaigns. The data help us to understand the context but are never the whole or the human drama that each individual case entails, with the profound meaning it has for the person who has to suffer it.
39. I say all this because I perceive it from one news story to the next and it influences the issue of the choice of formats. The analytical, rational, logical, data part is all well and good but we must not be satisfied with the result if we forget the human emotional part.
40. If so much immediate technology, so much political polarisation, so many possible pieces of data for such big historical issues lead us to overrationalise certain important stories, the answer must be more human proximity and more listening to each other.
41. If I do my part well, you get to see people affected by the news in their own problematic surroundings, hear their story in their own words and even talk to them about their actual reality, contextualised with the right data. What used to be known as journalism.
42. Over the years, formats have been a great ongoing experiment. One that of course began to be very successful was Twitter threads, both for the whole Catalan separatist trial, and later during the first months of the Covid pandemic.
43. Sometimes, like this past summer with the live streams, there have been format experiments that haven't worked so well. At least for now with the technologies we have at hand. We shall leave that one noted down for some possible future moment.
44. In terms of reporting formats, the conclusion is not one but a combination of three: i) threads and links and daily analysis, a newsletter and video blog; ii) an ongoing podcast conversation; and iii) more video reports and photos and trips to illustrate reality up close.
45. I think that combination gives us an answer (there could be others) to the question of what we would have liked as readers to receive from Hemingway or Buckley in the Spanish Civil War if they had had iPhones and Twitter. Back then, they only had words and some photos.
46. Would we have liked to receive Hemingway's tweets about the battle for Madrid those days? Obviously. His photos of what he had seen, some short interviews with generals or militiamen? Of course. His analysis of that day in the context of the whole war? Definitely.
47. Or in the years of the Second Republic, before the war, would we have liked to get emails with Buckely's dispatches and photos and videos describing Spanish society, its peoples and villages and the socio-economic and political differences in the 1930s? Of course we would.
49. But since it is 2022 and not 1936, we must do the same analysis for the distribution and commercial parts. We don't need to wait three weeks for the next dispatch in the magazine, nor does the magazine now have to act as a filter between journalist and readers.
50. Right, economic or commercial options. We have already ruled out ads and political money at higher levels, as they are not compatible with the aim of doing independent journalism with certain standards and seriousness, instead of propaganda of some kind.
51. I have come to another conclusion over the past few months that is probably at the grand strategic level in terms of its implications: paywalls aren't the future. Journalism must inform the public sphere. Democracy dies in darkness but also behind a paywall.
52. If we think about it in terms of the antagonists of journalism, of the publication of the truth about some real issue, it is obvious: for politicians and big companies, it is better if news and critical analysis are hidden behind a paywall. Let it not be known (so much).
53. Paywalls are an obstacle to the historic opportunity and connection the Internet offers us to bring truthful, verified and illustrated reporting to the new global public sphere full of debates and issues that often cross borders in our 21st century.
54. They are a logical answer to the business problem—remember how Spanish media all put up new paywalls when COVID started—but they clash with that long-term mission for journalism and the opportunity current technology offers us.
55. And from a sales psychology point of view, they work as far as they work, in a limited, transactional sense: churn out so many articles for so much money from each reader each month. It is a model the accountants find easy to count. Most media mix them with ads.
Published: Jan 18, 2022, 1:55 pm
56. With the previous version of The Spain Report, up to 2018, I had created a paywall myself as part of the website, and it worked as far as it worked, but never at the level of the larger media outlets that are always cited as examples for this strategy.
57. We are in the 21st century but the history of journalism as we know it cannot be dissociated from modernity and the democratic model that began to emerge during the Enlightenment three hundred years ago. Both the public sphere and technology have evolved over time.
58. Three centuries ago, it took days to break news between two cities. When Kennedy was shot dead in 1963, Cronkite interrupted a live but black-and-white TV program to hold up a printed photo wired from Dallas to the camera and the nation.
59. By the time of the Gulf War in 1991, CNN could talk live to its correspondent via satellite phone from Badgdad and break the news to the world. In 2015, it took a few seconds and a tweet from a journalist's mobile phone in Paris to tell everyone the terrorists were attacking.
60. So where does all this lead us, to what conclusion in practice, as journalist and readers? What are the history of journalism and technology and the public sphere suggesting to us, along with the experience of recent years with formats and paywalls and so on?
61. The Patreon experience since 2018 has been interesting. It has worked, mostly, but it is not a good page for publishing articles. Trying to synchronise with The Spain Report has been a mess. As a US page, you have to look at the issue of commissions and exchange rates.
62. Between Patreon's commission for being Patreon and the exchange rates and so on to bring it from Patreon to the bank account in Spain via PayPal, about 15% is lost, depending on the month. Would be better to spend that money on more journalism, if we can fix that problem.
63. That is why I spent a lot of time this past year rewriting the direct monthly subscription engine on The Spain Report with Stripe. All in euros, you choose how much and how often, and it's all already synchronised on the back end with article sending.
64. Another problem with the Patreon model, although it seems to work for those who are making non-journalistic content, is the focus on creating “something else” for patrons. It makes sense, in general, a way to thank you for your support, but in practice...
65.... in practice, it doesn't fit the demands on time or the data tsunami in today's journalism, as we have said in the previous threads, nor does it fit with participating in the public sphere. If there is journalism, it must be public, be read and be seen.
66. With so many hours every day for months reporting on the Catalan separatist trial or the same at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, there was no time to read all the WhatsApps readers sent, never mind create even more content. Journalism is the product.
67. Amid the chaos of the first weeks of the pandemic, readers started just sending Bizums directly, without Patreon, without subscribing, without anything, just money to support journalism. In 2021, we discovered there are readers who want to do the that with #Bitcoin.
68. The same thing happened, in terms of time, during the trial in Almeria with the daily dispatches, or with the video reports from the hospital last year. Hours and hours and hours listening and recording and making notes and editing, before sending anything to readers.
69. So when I write here that “readers guarantee this journalism”, I mean it in both senses: in the practical, day-to-day sense, travel and equipment, and in the democratic sense, you ensure that everyone can read the news and analysis that are produced.
70. So now we have: Spain + independent journalism + independence from political power + readers who guarantee it + 21st century technologies + newsletter, podcast, video reports + direct subscriptions on The Spain Report + Bitcoin/cryptos/NFTs.
71. And I think we can stop this review there. That's the plan and it comes from that experience and reflection. Your role as readers is key. You are the guarantors of it all. The more support you give, the more journalism I can do. Thank you for reading.