Spain: Media Start-Ups Struggle

February 2, 2015 • Media Economics, Research • by

More than 450 new media platforms, publishing everything from news and sports to technology and arts, have launched in Spain since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, but only a small proportion of them are making a profit, according to a recent report.

Many of these start-ups were launched by experienced journalists who lost their jobs in the recession. Others were started by media graduates who failed to find a first job in the industry due to financial cuts, and so started their own projects.

The report into journalism in Spain: Second Research about Media launched by Journalists (1) by Asociacion de la Prensa de Madrid (APM), concludes that economic success, or even sustainability, remains an aim rather than a reality for most start-ups.  The report, which is based on details provided by 120 of the 450 new platforms, found that most (nearly 60%) of the surveyed companies were barely surviving, earning between Euros 1 and 50,000.  Only 13% of the start-ups surveyed earned more than Euros 100,000 in 2013.

The scarcity of resources attracted by new media operations is not specific to Spain. According to 2014 research, The State of Hyperlocal Community News in the UK, new media platforms in Britain earn similarly low revenues and many start-up employees are forced to combine different jobs to earn an adequate income.

The most successful start-ups have a clear business approach

The report by APM, a professional organisation for Spanish journalists, found that the most successful start-ups were those with a clear business approach and well-integrated editorial and commercial teams. These operations usually aim to achieve a mix of revenues, including from advertising, corporate or editorial services, sponsorship and sometimes different crowdfunding actions.

Editorial and technology innovators

One of the most recent Spanish start-ups is Contexto. It is backed by a group of experienced journalists with a combination of journalism and technological skills.  “We are not in the breaking news model”, said Miguel Mora, editor-in-chief and former journalist with El Pais newspaper: “our proposal is a sort of slow journalism, where the context, the background of news is the most important. We provide information about current and relevant events,” Mora added.

Contexto, which is currently operating in beta, will be launched at the beginning of March.  Its economic model is based on shareholders who will contribute their time, as well as initial finance, a crowdfunding action, and some paid news and sponsorship agreements.

Many of the new Spanish media platforms are experimenting with new editorial models, but they are also tech innovators. Recently Miguel Hernandez University, in Elche, south east Spain, released research: The Journalism Innovation Ranking 2014, which selects and ranks the most innovative Spanish media.

Ranked first was Civio, an NGO which fights to improve democracy using open technology, background and journalism tools, specifically data journalism tools. Among its projects are Tu derecho a saber (Your right to know) about institutional transparency; Quien manda (Who is in charge) which maps Spain´s public and private power; or El Indultometro, a platform that monitors official government pardons.

David Cabo, Civio’s director, said that while technology was important, stories come first: “Technology is an important part of our projects, but it’s always at the service of journalism, which sets their direction and scope. This wasn’t always the case: we had a more technical approach when we started, but we realised that people didn’t engage with the raw data we were visualising and publishing – about budgets for example – and that we needed to use stories to guide readers through the complex topics we work on.

“The key benefit of technology for us is that it enables us to go further, gathering comprehensive data sets that can then be analysed as a whole, moving beyond anecdotes or cherry-picked facts,” Cabo said.

Spain’s legacy media damaged by the recession

Spain’s new media platforms have been launched as the country’s legacy media is in the middle of its own crisis. Since 2009 the media industry’s turnover has decreased by 27% to 5,200 million euros, according to APM´s annual report. Since the beginning of the crisis 11,875 jobs have been lost across the industry, and at least 364 media outlets – including TV channels, newspapers, magazines and online platforms – have closed. Figures from the second part of 2014 showed that the situation has started to slowly improve for TV companies, but newspaper, magazines and radio businesses are still cutting back.

The main consequence of this situation is that working conditions for Spanish journalists are deteriorating. APM´s report shows that 85% of journalists have suffered pay cuts in the last four years and 81% have been pressured to make substantial changes to their stories as legacy media has become more vulnerable to political and commercial pressures.

(1) Asociacion de la Prensa de Madrid: Informe anual de la profesión periodística, 2014. Madrid (Spain), December 2014, 109 pp.

Pic credit: Des Byrne Photos / Flickr Cc

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