El Pais: A Window into the Future of Journalism

El Pais is the leading Spanish newspaper, founded in 1976. I visited their newsroom in Madrid last Friday and met with the senior editors. What I found was a business in transition, seeking both a global and digital audience, grappling with the steep decline in advertising by aiming for more niche markets. Here are the most interesting parts of our discussion:

  1. Spain is the Center of the Fake News Plague — The Russians are very active in putting out fake news related to the Catalonian independence movement. An example: a story from RTL, the Russian media company, ran with the headline, “An Independent Catalonia Would Recognize Crimea.” The Russians found a low level former Catalonian bureaucrat to be the talking head. Then the headline was promoted through social channels, especially Twitter. A retweet campaign was initiated from a server farm in St. Petersburg. The result was a top rank in the Google news feed. A similar approach was taken to the protest march in Barcelona, with Russian media stating that 1,000 were injured by out of control police forces, when in fact there were only three people hurt.
  2. Targeting Young Consumers — El Pais has created a separate unit called Verne (after Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). This portal is exclusively news for millennials. It is short-form, visual and focused on entertainment or culture. The average story is three or four paragraphs.
  3. Digital Team Twice the Size of Print Team — Twenty-five people put out the print edition which is 48 pages daily. The digital team is twice that size. Stories go up as soon as the news breaks; a true digital orientation for the news.
  4. A Global Player — There are 20 staffers in Sao Paolo, 20 in Mexico City, plus reporting teams in Bogota, Buenos Aires and the U.S. The global audience rates El Pais; for example, it is number three in Mexico behind two local papers. They have a similarly high rank in Brazil.
  5. The Promise of Podcast — There will be a podcast channel via Google Home starting soon.
  6. Events as Promising Business — The paper did an event in Brussels recently with former PM Gonzalez, President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Nobel Prize Vargas Llosa and former Foreign Affairs Minister Ana Palacio, among others, on the celebration of 40 years of democracy in Spain. There are several events around Latin American and Europe, sponsored by countries and companies seeking investment into their markets. This comes along with sponsored content on the digital product.
  7. Mobile Rules — The shift to mobile is evident in the consumption statistics, which have 60 percent of traffic on mobile and 40 percent on desktop during the day, but in the morning and evening prime time, it is up to 80 percent mobile traffic.
  8. Ambivalent Relationship with Social and Search — Many of the readers come to El Pais through Google or Facebook. There is frustration with the Facebook decision to take away mainstream media content from the news feed. The editors are excited about the promise of voice activated Amplified Mobile Pages, developed through a grant from Google.

The media is in the fight of its life. Print circulation and advertising are imploding. The digital product is adapting to the new reality of immediacy, brevity and visuals. I take great comfort in the findings of our 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer which show that trust in journalists and mainstream media is moving sharply higher, as readers look for reliable and corroborated information. With issues such as Catalonia in play, there has never been a more important time for media to play its central role of informing the populace so that rational decisions can be made.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.

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