Cooperatively owned by journalists and readers,
La Marea, Spain’s radical new monthly magazine, operates out of a narrow, lime green office space in southeastern Madrid, in the working-class stronghold of Vallecas. There is a small foyer with a couch to receive visitors; some cramped desks with three second-hand computers bought at 70 Euros apiece; and a back room with a tiny kitchenette and one sprawling glass-and-mosaic table where the staff holds meetings. There is no charge for rent because La Marea’s editors worked out a deal with the small Web business that agreed to share its space: They cover the monthly 100 euro electricity bill, and that is all.
Call it publishing on the cheap. And call it Spain’s new experiment in print media for a society fed up with debt crisis, polarized and ineffective politicians and the increasing corruption of government by corporate power.
People say here that now, unlike a few years ago, family dinner discussions routinely center around financial and banking crimes, collusions between government leaders and big business, privatizations and cuts to public services like health care – not to mention the 25 percent jobless rate, a level unseen since the death of dictator Francisco Franco nearly four decades ago. Spain now reportedly has the third-highest poverty rate in the European Union, behind Bulgaria and Romania.
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So it’s in this context that a handful of journalists seized an opening. Building on the social and political momentum generated by Spain’s 15M movement – known to many abroad as the Indignados, which began in May of 2011 and continues to campaign against bank bailouts, unlawful foreclosures and a raft of financial and political crimes – editor Daniel Ayllon says the publication is “one more piece in the process, where journalism professionals enter in this chain of social change.”
“We’re in an emergency here – education, pensions, they’re cutting everything,” he says. Yet, says fellow editor Thilo Schaefer, the strategy this time isn’t to shout about injustice “like another loud, angry leftist voice” singing to an audience of activists, but to “prove and make the point with facts – to reach a broader public.”
“If we want to change something, we have to direct it to everyone, not one sector. The big debate happening here is about politicians, how they need to fight back against the markets. But hey,” says Schaefer, evoking a core argument made at Occupy Wall Street more than one year ago, “we’re saying the markets are part of you and you are part of the markets – when former ministers are hired by huge energy and financial corporations, and when the public is left paying the bill for all the bankers who messed things up.”
The Launch Issue
La Marea, which means The Tide, isn’t actually a magazine, but it’s not quite a newspaper either: It’s a compact hybrid monthly, 64 pages long, on full-color tabloid-sized newsprint that is now being sold for three euros a pop at kiosks in the nation’s three largest cities: Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. In bookstores and news shops elsewhere, from Valladolid to Huesca, and from Malaga to Seville, people are quickly snatching up the January launch issue, which totaled 25,000 copies and went on sale the Friday before Christmas. The February edition, Issue #2, is due out on January 25.
In its editorial principles, La Marea states its commitment to “the defense of the public, of equality and secularism; of economic justice, historic memory, dignified work, the environment, the right to housing and free culture … also to social movements and democratic regeneration.” The inaugural issue features a bold, mustard-yellow cover with a drawing of a politician, a banker and a white-robed priest passing on stilts above a crowd of people, and headlined, “Laws at the Service of Capital: The Collusion Between Governments, Banks and Big Business Translates into Standards that Harm Society.” The lead story explores the revolving door between big business and politicians, singling out members of both the ruling Popular Party and the opposition Socialist Party for explicit ties to the highest corporate levels in the banking, energy, telecommunications and other industries, and sets a clear tone for the issue.
Divided into two halves – the “blue” half features hard news analyses, reports, info-graphs and investigative features, while the “pink” half examines issues through a more cultural lens. The debut issue of La Marea includes stories about hiring irregularities, favoritism and nepotism at the Cervantes Institute, Spain’s leading foreign cultural institution; the privatization of Spain’s water supply by three corporations; curbs on civil liberties in the EU through increased drone use and other spy technology; and citizen efforts to craft a new Spanish Constitution.
There are stories from correspondents abroad like the one from Quito, about Ecuadorians who have returned home from Spain due to the foreclosure crisis; from Athens, about Greeks’ new financial and community strategies to cope with the crisis; and from Belgium, about the closure of a Ford auto plant that cost 10,000 jobs. Spanish economist Antonio Banos offers an opinion piece entitled “2013: Year of the Acceleration” that predicts an expanded debt crisis and stronger public resistance to austerity. There are reviews of films, theater, music and books (David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a hot read in Spanish, as is Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality). One section of La Marea, called “Rompeolas” (Breaking Waves), highlights cooperatives and projects of communities building a new economic future.
Can a Cooperative Challenge the Media Establishment?
The debt crisis and years of recession have hit Spanish media hard: Some 70 news outlets have closed in the last four years and a reported 9,000 journalists are currently without work. The founders of La Marea also found themselves out of work when Publico, the left-leaning newspaper they worked for, folded in bankruptcy last February. After an unsuccessful attempt by employees to buy back the paper, Schaefer, then its deputy foreign editor, and Magda Bandera, its culture editor, helped raise 33,000 euros through the crowd-sourcing site verkami.com (Spain’s equivalent of kickstarter.com). They launched Mas Publico, a 32-page paper that hit Spain’s streets during the May 15 movement’s one-year anniversary last spring.
But the activist tone wasn’t what they wanted. Another left-oriented newspaper published in Madrid, called Diagonal, already served that purpose. La Marea’s seven editors, who range in age from their mid-20s to mid-40s, all came from experience working in mainstream media. They wanted to give a more savvy, professional expression to the social movement whose militancy had galvanized the country – and had served as the forerunner of Occupy Wall Street, which followed four months later – but whose message and popularity, much like the US movement’s, faced steep decline. “We don’t have to tell people how to think; we don’t have to manipulate,” says Bandera
“We just put the data out there. The reality is very clear. With sober language and militant ideas, we can reach people.”
Getting the publication off the ground – and then, making it profitable – poses a unique challenge to La Marea because of its strict adherence to an ethics code, which bars it from accepting advertising by banks, corporations or businesses with any record of foul play, financial, political or otherwise.
But what’s most unique about La Marea’s bid to crack the mainstream – tempting readers away from El Pais, La Vanguardia and the other corporate-backed party-supported giants of Spanish media – is its far-sighted social structure and business model: a 100 percent worker-owned cooperative.
Collectively owned by its seven founding editors and dozens of socios, or members, who support it financially, La Marea operates on a non-hierarchical basis without any boss or chief editor. All decisions are made collectively by the editorial team through an assembly process. Once the paper begins to turn a profit, it will put to a vote with its reader-shareholders whether to distribute the dividends or to reinvest the money back into the company. The supporting members, says Schaefer, “really feel that it is theirs.”
“It’s a collective effort,” says editor Ayllon, “a co-op of workers and readers where the readers directly support the effort and take a stake in the paper.” Ironically, perhaps, it made the most business sense to found La Marea as a print publication, rather than as a web site. “It’s for practical reasons: [Print] is an income source,” says Ayllon, who worked formerly as a freelance correspondent for Spanish media in New York.
“It’s really not a noble ‘print project,’ or something romantic. As a weekly we can be profitable. People in Spain buy papers on the weekends. We believe that deep, real reflective analyses and investigations on paper have a future.”
With some 23,000 followers on Twitter and 100,000 unique monthly visitors to www.lamarea.com – which receives a quarter of a million total page views a month – the magazine’s online presence plays the complementary role of helping diversify readership, build the brand, and increase subscriptions and a membership base. A tablet version of the magazine is coming soon.
But print is paramount. And in this sense La Marea poses a two-fold experiment: one, to engage Spanish readers not with entertainment and partisan political chatter, but with serious, truthful analyses that disrobe the corporate-government alliance which is profiting by selling off the country’s public services like health care, education and the rest. And two, to prove that a cooperative funding structure can survive, and sustain itself, in the realm of high-level independent journalism. “We’re selling two things: information and the cooperative model,” says editor Bandera.
The author of nonfiction books about the Balkans and Iraq, as well as a book of short stories, Bandera, 42, brings a powerful personal story to her role in co-founding La Marea: Just over one year ago she underwent treatment for breast cancer. “If you survive something, it is to live – to feel you put your energy into things you believe in. That is to be alive,” she says.
“We had to coordinate, cooperate, collaborate. I dreamed we could do this.”
A younger writer and editor on the staff, 25-year-old Berta del Rio, with bright blue eyes and an emphatic voice, echoes the purpose they have undertaken, and why it is important that it succeed. “I’m a journalist because I believe in change, in optimism – because a press that unites people behind a theme is possible. And it’s the moment to build it,” she says. “It seems incredible that a small group can produce media – as though it’s something only for big business. But we see that we can, that we can swim against the current, can open eyes and reveal a space of freedom. We’re debating ideas, not ideology. Both parties failed and our press serves to reflect on that [failure] and present new alternatives, to learn from history. It’s the way to fight against established power” in the way that previous generations did under Franco, she adds.
She then switches to English and concludes with the words one hears uttered more and more often these days, in Spain and elsewhere:
“Yes we can!”
This article was published jointly with Occupy.com.