El País Reloaded: “How to Do Journalism, and Why”

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“The global newspaper in Spanish.” The
New York Times has had so little to do with with actual life in New York more than 10 blocks on either side of Times Square for so long now that you half expect them to roll out a new brand as well. How about The Metrosexual Times? More truth in advertising, that, I sometimes think. Not that there is anything wrong with trying to be a global paper, mind you. I just tend to think that trying to sell it as “hyperlocal” is semantic sleight of hand.

This book had its origins in a narrow question: What’s new about the digital expressive space, and what’s not? … What’s next for text? –Richard Lanham, The Economics of Attention

Riding in a Stutz Bearcat, Jim
You know, those were different times!
Oh, all the poets they studied rules of verse
And those ladies, they rolled their eyes
–Velvet Underground, “Sweet Jane” (1969)

De cómo y para qué se ejerce el periodismo: The editor of the global Spanish-language daily explains the revolutionary changes occurring there!

Ever since reading the defense of the Innovation International newspaper consulting group by one of its clients — the incredible gabbling, logic-chopping Ali Kamel of Globo (Brazil) — I have been interested in the list of “ideologically diverse” publications he mentioned as examples of the group’s work, including Libération (France) and USA Today.

See

As I said, at first glance, what all those publications seem to have in common is that they maintain “news bureaus” inside Second Life, and “report” what goes on there as if it really mattered in the scheme of things. See also

Javier Moreno writes:

DESDE QUE HACE BASTANTES meses comenzamos los esfuerzos que culminarán el próximo domingo en el primer gran cambio que EL PAÍS experimenta en sus 31 años de historia, hubo una pregunta que se habría de repetir luego en tantas reuniones que acabó por convertirse en el primer gran escollo que parecía necesario solventar antes de poder avanzar. Primero, con timidez, asomó en citas internas, de la casa, donde esbozábamos ideas aún nonatas y garabateábamos borradores que todavía no lo eran; pero después devino en un crescendo al que se sumaron, a ambos lados del Atlántico (por eso somos el periódico global en español), tantos amigos, lectores y colaboradores:

Ever since we initiated the efforts that will culminate this Sunday in the first big change to EL PAÍS in its 31-year history, several months ago, a question has been repeatedly raised in so many meetings that it seemed to have become the very first issue we needed to address before going forward. Timidly at first, it showed up in internal communications, as we sketched ideas still in embryonic form and dummied up page designs that had yet to get off the drawing board. Later, I heard a crescendo of voices on both sides of the Atlantic (we are, after all, a global newspaper in Spanish), from so many friends, readers, and contributors:

-¿Y para qué cambiar?

“Why change?”

Cuando logramos formular la respuesta, ya estuvo hecho casi todo. Hubo un día en que por fin atrapamos los perfiles de ese anhelo en una frase muy sencilla: cambiamos por responsabilidad; por responsabilidad con nosotros mismos, en primer lugar, como periodistas; por responsabilidad con nuestros lectores y, por extensión, por responsabilidad con la sociedad a la que nos dirigimos y con la que ya contrajimos ese compromiso hace 31 años, cuando el periódico vio la luz por vez primera.

By the time we managed to formulate a reply, the redesign was almost completely done. One day, we finally boiled down the various aspects of our desire for change into a simple saying: We are changing because it is the responsible thing to do; out of our responsibility to our readers and, by extension, out of our responsibility to the company we manage and with whom we undertook this commitment 31 years ago, when El País first saw the light of day.

El diario -independiente de la mañana- que salió a la calle entonces era un feroz compromiso con la sociedad de aquel momento, con las libertades, con la democracia, y con el cambio que se estaba produciendo tras 40 años de una dictadura insólita en Europa occidental. Y ése fue su éxito: su independencia insobornable, su capacidad de entroncar con los anhelos y con las aspiraciones de la centralidad de la sociedad española de 1976. Esto es, su capacidad de constituirse, a la vez, en referencia del país al que se dirigía y en foro público donde conformar la opinión pública de la nación, un elemento imprescindible de la democracia tal como la hemos entendido hasta ahora.

The independent morning paper that hit the streets in those days had a fierce commitment to society as it existed at the time, to freedom and democracy, to the changes that were occurring after 40 years of a dictatorship that was unprecedented in Western Europe. And therein lay its success: Its uncompromisable independence, its ability to engage the desires and aspirations of mainstream Spanish society in 1976. That is, its ability to serve as a reference for the nation it was addressing and a public forum in which public opinion was formed — an indispensable element of democracy as we have understood it up to the present day.

Por eso no creemos que el periodismo esté en crisis; y si nos hubiéramos de preocupar por el futuro de los periódicos, mejor haríamos en hacerlo por el futuro de la democracia misma. Por eso cambiamos. Un periódico es, entre otras muchas cosas, una mirada compartida con sus lectores a lo largo de los años. Y para seguir desempeñando esa función con éxito en los próximos 15 o 20 necesitamos conectar con las generaciones que se convertirán en el eje central de este país en ese periodo de tiempo. A todos los niveles: un nuevo discurso narrativo; otra manera de contar lo que sucede; cómo se les ofrece y qué se les ofrece; un nuevo perfil de la modernidad, que ahora tiene poco que ver con la que se impuso hace tres décadas; Internet. Asumimos la responsabilidad de todo ello porque queremos seguir siendo el espacio público para la formación de un consenso en torno al proyecto democrático: hemos venido a serlo desde 1976. Muchos otros han renunciado; ninguno puede aspirar a él desde la posición de primacía de EL PAÍS en España y en el universo que se expresa en español a ambas orillas del océano Atlántico.

For that reason, we do not agree that journalism is in crisis; and if we are going to worry about the future of newspapers, we would do better to worry about the future of democracy itself. For that reason, we are changing. A newspaper is, among many other things, a vision shared with readers over a period of years. In order to continueto play this role successfully in the next 15 or 20 years, we need to connect with the generations that will become the central axis of this nation during that time. At all levels: A new narrative discourse; another way of narrating events; what they are being offered and how it is being offered; a new profile of modernity, which today has little to do with the modernity of 30 years ago; the Internet. We are taking responsibility for all of that because we want to continue to be the public space for the formation of a consensus around the democratic project, as we have been since 1976. Many others have given up on this; no one had aspire to it from the same position of leadership that EL PAÍS enjoys in Spain and the Spanish-speaking world on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

I mean, from what I can observe of contemporary Spanish political culture — José Aznar screaming things like “ETA did 11-M” and “Latin American social movements are the moral equivalent of Al-Qaeda as threats to Western Civilization” — the more I think that, rather than importing their political culture, unboiled through our global content pipelines, we should quarantine those people on their little peninsula until they learn how to communicate calmly and rationally like civilized members of the reality-based community.

It doesn’t seem to be a phenomenon confined to the ideological left or right, but rather a private duel between small, shrieking partisan-political minorities at the extremes.

Shrill minorities who own gazillion-jigawatt megaphones and make life unbearably noisy for the rest of us — we who are simply out to count our beans accurately and get on with life without being constantly bombarded with the brain cell-killing rhetoric of hysterical virginity.

No estamos hablando de que las fotos sean más grandes o más pequeñas; no estamos toqueteando unos detalles en los márgenes para ver si las páginas quedan un poco más modernas; no pretendemos más vistosidad como puro efecto pirotécnico. Nos estamos jugando cuestiones fundamentales para la España de los próximos 20 años. Y tenemos una idea muy clara de qué país queremos, porque ser independientes no implica cargar con la losa de la indiferencia o la equidistancia: aspiramos a una sociedad abierta, liberal, moderadamente progresista, lo que muchas veces ha venido a identificarse con las posiciones del centro izquierda de este país, aunque a propósito de sonadas trifulcas con Gobiernos socialistas los más tontos o los más interesados hayan realizado muchos aspavientos de incredulidad que, de ser sinceros, tan sólo muestran un grado supino de desconocimiento de cómo se ejerce el poder, de cómo se ejerce el periodismo independiente, y de cómo se relacionan ambas cosas entre sí. Y así pretendemos seguir, igual de beligerantes, de independientes y de incómodos para todos los poderes como, con el apoyo de nuestros accionistas, ejecutivos y redactores, hemos venido siendo desde 1976. Ni más, ni menos.

We are not talking about such things as making the photos bigger or smaller; we are not touching up a few details in the margins to see if we can make the pages look a little more modern; we are not after aesthetic embellishments purely for the sake of generating fireworks. We are posing fundamental questions to the Spain of the future, over the next 20 years. And we have a very clear idea of the Spain we want, because independence is not the same thing as indifference or equidistance: We aspire to an open, liberal, moderately progressive society, which we have often identified with the positions of the center-left in this country, even as the dreamed-of triumphs of the more idiotic or most self-interested of the socialist governments have degenerated into incredible episodes that, let us be honest, have only demonstrated a complete ignorance of how to exercise power, of how to exercise independent journalism, and of how to relate the two. And so we mean to continue being just as belligerent, independent and discomfiting to the powers that be, as, with the support of our shareholders, executives, and editors, we have been since 1976. No more, no less.

Our changes are not cosmetic and superficial, but deep.

On the other hand, our essential mission remains unchanged, despite changes in the details of how we do things.

The (patent not pending) NMM “glittering generality” meter pegs off the scale to the point that the needle flies off with a loud pop! and twang! — seriously startling the cat that was sleepily shedding hair onto my purple velour interview couch here at NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS Central Studios, South.

Glittering generalities are emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. The appeal is to emotions such as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are typically used by politicians and propagandists.

I mean, what I am more curious about is not “Why change?” but rather “Why these changes?”

For example, why did the Wall Street Journal think it would be good for its brand to roll out a new section called “The Buzz”?

buzz noun a confusion of activity and gossip

Main Entry: 2buzz
Function: noun
1 : a persistent vibratory sound
2 a : a confused murmur b : RUMOR, GOSSIP c : a flurry of activity d : FAD, CRAZE e : speculative or excited talk or attention relating especially to a new or forthcoming product or event <one of the few new shows that’s getting good buzzTV Guide>; also : an instance of such talk or attention <their first CD created a huge buzz>
3 : a signal conveyed by buzzer; specifically : a telephone call
4 : HIGH 4

If I wanted confused murmur, excited talk and rumors about fads or crazes, or to feel like I’m totally high, dude, I would read Reuters blogs for free.

What I tend to pay good money for, on the other hand, is to have my information purified of imaginary news and nonsense, and made as complete as humanly possible in the time alloted, before I consume it.

So in order to evaluate an answer to that question — “why these changes in particular” — I would actually need to know what some of those changes actually are.

Have you revamped your editorial manual, for example?

Can I have a copy to compare with the old one? I sort of collect those, the way some people collect stamps.

The New York Times 3.0, for example, to its great credit, published those down and dirty “here’s how we do things” documents by Bill Keller. You might not agree with all of them, but you at least have a very practical, detailed, no-nonsense account of where Times editorial management is coming from, and why. You can hold them to account for the commitments they have publicly made.

And a lot of other news organizations are following suit.

So here’s a question for El País: What have the virtues of “belligerence and independence” to do with promoting the notion that Second Life is an actual parallel virtual universe, with a real virtual economy, and actually matters to 99.99999% of the global naked-ape six billion in the grand scheme of things?

Or better, that actually matters more than other massively multiplyer online role-playing games? See

Because, I ask you: Doesn’t the whole notion that Second Life has a “real economy” fly in the face of just about every precept of just about every school of the dismal science since the dawn of time?

In Second Life, you cannot die, and many other laws of physics than mere entropy are also conveniently waived. Like gravity. Purely optional, gravity.

I myself found a place in Second Life where you can arm yourself to the teeth for absolutely free. The weapons have an inexhaustible ammunition supply.

My alter ego, a massively obese and naked bearded lady — she has not been much of a hit on any of the pornographic but decidedly unsexy “orgy” islands I have scouted in passing, I can tell you that — can now switch rapidly from her AK-47 to her Uzi to her AR-15 with grenade launcher to even deadlier hardware.

The catch being that most Second Life environments simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of bullets, so you cannot actually cause mayhem or property damage.

Only cognitive dissonance. Which, I take it, is the point that anonymous merchant of death might be trying to make.

The point being: If time is money precisely because life is fragile and short, in what sense can an economy based on the fictional premise that we can all live forever — and fly, and adjust our waist size without dieting (because in Second Life, there’s no need to eat) and so on, and therefore have no need of insurance or risk management of any kind — be called an “economy” at all?


My Second Life avatar in the lobby of Globo’s G1 news portal. Someone down the block is screaming, “Hey, anybody want a job?” No takers. Why bother? In Second Life, there is no hunger or death? And no one is working the G1 desk, either. I later morph into a naked bearded female circus freak, armed to the freaking teeth. Then lose interest entirely in what feels more like a badly-animated gibbering-zombie movie than anything else?

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