Friday, April 15, 2011

Leading digital journalist sees room for small media

Gumersindo Lafuente: Journalists need to look ahead, not back. "You can´t live off nostalgia." (Photo by James Breiner)

Versión en español aquí.

Gumersindo Lafuente, 53, is one of Spain‘s pioneers in digital journalism. He headed the web operations at El Mundo before going out on his own in 2006 and launching, an innovative news operation that won audience and critical approval but closed in 2009 when its investor-partner pulled the plug.

Since then Lafuente has headed the web initiatives at El País, which is No. 1 in print readership and No. 2 in web traffic in Spain. In an interview in his office in Madrid, he drew on all these experiences in offering advice to digital entrepreneurs.

What advice do you have for journalists who want to launch their own digital media?

"You have to ask yourself, What areas are the major media leaving open? What is it that they are not covering? They’re not covering local news, not even in the regional dailies.

"In Spain there are important regional papers that are more worried about what’s happening in Libya or Japan than what’s happening in the neighborhoods of their own cities. I think that’s a mistake because the big media like us can cover that and they’re not going to do better at it than we are. Sidetracked by this obsession with international influence, they’re leaving open a path for small media to creep in and steal the influence and the business of hyperlocal coverage."

Use free online tools, keep costs low

"You have to take adventage of the free online tools available on the Web, with small staffs holding meetings in a café, heading out to the street to do their stories and writing on a computer at their home. You have no expense for offices, no expense for a big organization. You have to look to be different. You can’t compete doing the same thing as existing media. You have to have a different focus, like specialed coverage of aircraft or trains or children’s literature or horror films."

Talk with the people

"Instead of preaching from a pulpit, talk to the people where they are. We journalists have spent our time talking with those in power instead of with the people. We’ve talked more with the haves than the have-nots. We’ve been at the service of the powerful."

Don’t focus on advertising alone

"In the past, advertising went to the traditional media. The media were perfectly positioned and we knew what they were. But in the new digital world, you have Facebook, you have Google, you have video games, you have social networkds of all kinds, you have blogs. We’re no longer alone. The traditional media are a small part of the new ecosystem.

"In Spain, half of the Internet advertising goes to Google. All of the classified advertising for houses, apartments and jobs, which represented 30 to 40% of the revenues of a newspaper we no longer have in print nor online. There are other online businesses that have sprung up and taken all that away."

Editor’s note: Here are nine sources of revenue other than advertising for digital news operations. 

Advantages of being small

"The dinosuars are dying. The big, heavy, slow-moving animals aren’t capable of adapting and making radical changes. The squirrels and chipmunks are surviving, the small, agile animals that can adapt more easily and can rapidly shift during a crisis into new areas and need little energy to survive."

A look back and ahead

"There are many people who look back with nostalgia and say that the really good journalism was that of the past. Certainly there was some. In all periods there has been good journalism and bad journalism, good journalists and bad journalists. For all that, I prefer looking to the future. You can’t live off of nostalgia."

Gumersindo Lafuente: Media dinosaurs won’t survive. (Photo by James Breiner)

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