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Bad news for democracy

The closure of the daily ‘Público’ is a blow to pluralism in the Spanish media

The absence of investors interested in refloating Spain’s youngest national-circulation newspaper, Público, has obliged the four-year-old publication to shut down its presses, though it plans to maintain its digital edition. Though the closure had unfortunately been expected ever since it called a creditors’ meeting on January 3, it is very bad news for pluralism in the Spanish media, already hard hit by the crisis; and, by extension, for democracy.

In a little more than four years, Público achieved a circulation that is respectable enough in view of the low rates of newspaper readership in Spain. The publication had succeeded in covering the demand of a sector of the population that responded to its fresh, authoritative and critical style: a type of journalism that enriched the Spanish media scene.

Born at the end of 2007, almost from the first moment Público faced a market saturated with daily publications and, above all, came up against the general dearth of advertising revenue that has been pinching the media, especially of the printed sort, throughout the world over the past half-decade.

The Spanish Federation of Associations of Journalists (FAPE) calculates that since November of 2008 at least 4,827 Spanish journalists have lost their jobs, and that some thirty television channels, magazines and newspapers have been forced to close down. Similarly, the annual report of the magazine American Journalism calculates that the newsroom staffs of newspapers in the United States are now about 30 percent smaller than they were 10 years ago, and that the average reporter’s workload now includes a variety of multimedia tasks previously unheard of.

Quality journalism is in danger everywhere because it requires enormous resources, which are indispensable if a publication is to have a voice of its own. Público began its career with a growing staff of journalists which, owing to financial difficulties, later had to be reduced to the 110 professionals who have lately been manning its newsroom. The printed publication’s heavy losses have finally put an end to a project that now appears difficult to sustain in a digital format alone, given the still minuscule advertising market on the internet.

Printed diversity

The closure of a newspaper goes far beyond the dramatic human situations it causes for the individuals employed by it. A well-informed society needs the diversity and seriousness that the printed media alone can offer. Yet this is the sector most fiercely attacked by the crisis, because the financial pinch coincides with a technological revolution to which the printed media have not yet fully adapted.

A weakened system of news media, eroded by financial losses and staff reductions, renders all democracies the weaker, because it means that information is produced by organizations submissive to the public powers whose watchdogs they ought to be.


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