In August of 2013, Olga Ruiz returned from a refreshing summer vacation ready to start her 16th season on the COPE radio network in Barcelona.
But on her arrival, the managers told her and her team that they were being fired.
"The best period in my professional life began the moment they fired me," she told me. "They gave me a second life in journalism."
Two weeks later, she invited her old team and some other journalists to her home for dinner. They decided to launch a new radio organization with long-form stories of up to 30 minutes on topics ignored or treated superficially by mainstream media. They would devote obsessive attention to the quality of the sound.
A different path
The new medium would offer podcasts created by 14 different journalists, each lending their own personality and covering topics from culture to politics to art or any subject that interested them.
One year after that fateful dinner, ElExtrarradio.com — the name they gave to this venture — won the prestigious Premio Ondas 2013 for "innovation in radio" given by Cadena Ser, the country's major commercial broadcasting network. The prize simply vindicated the vision and the work of Ruiz, the director, and María Jesús Espinosa de los Monteros, the assistant director and her chief business partner.
One of the students asked her how to know whether an idea is good or bad and whether to pursue it.
"We all have ideas," Ruiz said. "The difference between the ones that succeed or not is to put them into practice. If you put them into practice they might not succeed but at least you have tried. If you don't try, you surely will never succeed."
Persistence in spite of everything
When it launched, El Extrarradio financed itself with a crowdfunding campaign that raised EUR4,000 (about US$4,100), which was used to outfit a radio studio in Ruiz's home and buy equipment for the journalists on the team. The initial investment of each of the participants was EUR300.
Three years later, no one at El Extrarradio is collecting a salary. Donations by users are used to cover expenses of maintaining the website, buying equipment and covering operating costs such as travel. Each team member makes a living from other activities, mostly in journalism, but also teaching and, in one case, by telemarketing.
Ruiz gives credit to other pioneers of podcasting in Spanish for showing her the way, in particular Javier Gallego of Carne Cruda in Spain and Daniel Alarcon of Radio Ambulante, a popular Spanish language podcast based in the U.S.
Since September, Ruiz has supported herself with a full-time job at a radio magazine on Radio Nacional, as well as creating political commentaries for six other media outlets. In addition, she continues to produce her podcast, Cuando éramos periodistas (When we were journalists). Assistant director Espinosa de los Monteros also has several other paying gigs, as a writer on books and culture for various publications. In addition, she continues to produce her podcast, El látigo de Joyce (Joyce's whip), and has taken over most of the editing at El Extrarradio.
Create, believe and dream
To maintain the desired level of originality and quality requires time and resources. A report by Carlos Moreira on the girls of Afghanistan who dress as boys so that they can attend school, Bacha Posh Girls, required him to travel there and record their voices. Many of them, now adults, are leaders in their country.
The podcasts of El Extrarradio have received a number of other journalism prizes, but it has not been easy, Ruiz said.
"To be an entrepreneur at times means merely surviving, and surviving is not easy. How many times are you able to live with the question, Is it worth it? You have to be able to answer yes every time.
"Doing things is much more difficult than simply saying you are going to do them. It's much more gratifying as well. This isn't like in the movies where someone has a good idea and makes it happen and is a success. It's not that easy."
Ruiz's message to the students in Navarra was that the profession offers them the possibility to innovate and create the future of journalism.
"This is the time to try things, to make mistakes, to do research, to experiment with the fantastic facilities you have at your disposal and to create while you are still studying. You have to create, believe and dream."
James Breiner is a former ICFJ Knight Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. Visit his websites News Entrepreneurs and Periodismo Emprendedor en Iberoamérica.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Jonathan Grado.