“I like countries that depend on institutions more than those that depend on heroes.” The phrase is from Ignacio Escolar, director of elDiario.es, and serves to explain the first ten years of a newspaper that was born in 2012, when the economic crisis was worst, in the midst of austerity, with journalism in a spiral of closures of headers, you are and layoffs. At that diabolical moment for the profession, a group of journalists decided to set up their own newspaper after making a diagnosis of what was really in danger in the profession.
Only those who resign themselves to being silent lose their voice
“The way of telling stories was not in crisis, the only thing that was in crisis was how to make journalism a paid job, not a part-time hobby, without the way of paying it contaminating the way the newsroom works. We do not innovate in the way of telling the news, we innovate in the way of doing it being able to be free. In other media they had less room for manoeuvre”, says a decade later Escolar in the Nueva Economía Fórum, a space for debate that invites personalities from politics, the economy and the media every week.
The elDiario.es model was born from this diagnosis, as well as the metaphor of heroes and institutions. “An independent media has nothing to do with showing more noses or being braver, the reason why it has gone well for us is because we have built a small institution, which defines itself as independent, but not because we are very brave, we are profitable and one of the peculiarities is that the owners are the ones who work there, we are 27 shareholders and most of the shares are in the hands of journalists”.
In this “small institution” that pretends to be elDiario.es and that has management bodies, the absolute majority of the Board of Directors is seated every morning in the meetings where news topics are decided. Apart from business autonomy, the second leg of the model is the financing of the medium, where half of the income, 10.8 million in the 2021 financial year, comes from the partners, 60,000 readers who have decided to pay for something they could read free.
“If your first client is the reader, you will have more incentives to follow that reader to a greater extent than if you depend on two or three advertisers, or on some administrations,” said Escolar, before an auditorium where the president of the Senate, Ander Gil, the Second Vice President, Yolanda Díaz, the Minister for Migration, José Luis Escrivá, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Alberto Garzón, the Minister for Education, Pilar Alegría, the Ombudsman, Ángel Gabilondo, the Deputy Mayor of the Madrid City Council, Begoña Villacís, the delegate of the Government against Gender Violence, Victorial Rosell, the secretary general of the Madrid PSOE, Juan Lobato, the regional spokespersons for Más Madrid Mónica García and in the City Council of the capital, Rita Maestre, the regional leader of Podemos, Alejandra Jacinto , along with the leaders of the Workers’ Commissions, Unai Sordo, and the UGT, Pepe Álvarez, as well as business executives and the media.
In the hall of the Ritz hotel in Madrid, Escolar recounted the beginnings of elDiario.es, when it was little more than a blog, with twelve people, including the commercial department, and “there were more sections than journalists.”
Today there are more than 200 employees, including 70 outside the central newsroom, editions in 15 autonomous communities (the next one to open will be Asturias, during the next two months) and a newsroom in Buenos Aires. “We have done it without taking on debt, we wanted to be prudent in management, because we knew that editorial independence is there,” remarked Escolar, who announced that in the coming weeks the company will present its accounts for the 2021 financial year, which will collect a gross profit of 1.5 million euros.
Throughout the hour that the conference lasted, where he was introduced by the director of Contents of Cadena SER, Montserrat Domínguez, the first head of Escuela on Tele 5 in 1998, who recalled how even then he insisted on the change that the Internet was going to suppose for journalism, the director of elDiario.es, reviewed the history of the medium, the plans for the future and answered the questions that the attendees were raising.
Regarding the editorial line of the newspaper, Escolar wanted to emphasize that elDiario.es “is progressive, but not partisan”: “All the world’s media choose what they talk about and that is deciding, if you talk about the climate crisis or of the results of companies, of the Stock Exchange or of the shopping basket, and that has to do with their vision of the world. The sin and the mistake that some media can commit, and it is possible that it has also happened to us, is to treat an issue in one way or another depending on who is the protagonist.
The guarantee, he said, is “to have autonomy to serve readers, who accept that they will read news that they will not like and that may be uncomfortable, but they know that it is the newsroom that makes the decisions in this way.” Throughout the exhibition, he thanked the partners who support the project, currently 60,000, after losing 3,000 in recent months as a result of inflation, and wanted to underline the difference between being a member of elDiario. es and be a subscriber to some competing media.
“We have always called it partners, because a subscriber is someone who signs up because they have no choice but to read it, our partners could read it for free, they pay us to exist.” And for that same reason he has explained that although he had offers to sell the masthead he has not done so and has no expectations of doing so. “I was forced to become an editor, so as not to have those economic interferences that were produced in the newsrooms. I don’t see myself in the expectation of selling elDiario.es, the reason is to make those decisions independently”.
He has chosen the news of Cifuentes’ fake master’s degree as one of the most complicated moments of this decade, when the leader of the PP denounced him and the journalist Raquel Ejerique, who uncovered the scandal, and asked for both seven years in prison for revelation of secrets.
Asked if he considers it necessary for parliaments to legislate on the press, the director of elDiario.es has warned about the use that can be made of these regulations in the future, as some authoritarian governments in Europe are already doing. School was blunt about the need to reform the press law, because the current one “is signed by that journalist who loved freedom called Francisco Franco.” The director of elDiario.es has recalled that that rule gave all the power to the directors since they had to be empowered by the dictatorship. “When democracy arrived, he removed the need for a director to have the approval of the Government, but he left everything else. “A democracy press law would be good,” he concluded.
Regarding the future, Escolar, who repeats that “elDiario.es’s best years are yet to come”, is optimistic and considers it “great news” that the main newspapers have opted for a payment model, because it leads to readers demand “better journalism and better information.” The director of elDiario.es has given up on the debate on paper or the Internet and has concluded that beyond sentimental reasons, it has already been shown that “a digital newspaper does the same thing but better, faster and cheaper”.
At the end of his speech, Escolar wanted to thank those who have made this first decade of elDiario.es possible: the founders and the newsroom that have worked all these years to produce quality journalism. He dedicated the closing of his intervention to those who make this journalistic project possible with his contributions: “Thank you, to the 60,000 members who allow us to be free.”