The journalism industry has noticed the success of the digital media startup elDiario.es and is trying to duplicate it. That will not be easy.
This independent news publication in Spain has been growing in audience, revenues and profits while others are seeing huge declines. An overview of the success of elDiario.es:
- It is free online, but 56,000 “partners” (socios) are paying at least EUR60 (US$66) to support its independent journalism. The number of new partners increases especially when it publishes an impactful investigation about corruption.
- Revenues in 2019 reached almost EUR6.6 million (US$7.3 million) with profit of EUR300,000 after taxes.
- It accepts advertising but those revenues do not exceed those provided by the partners.
- It is among the four most popular digital news outlets in Spain, according to Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report.
- The staff has grown from eight to 103 in seven years.
The co-founder and director of elDiario.es, Ignacio Escolar, described some success factors in a recent conversation with Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and host of the Coloquio Iberoamericano del Periodismo Digital at the University of Texas.
The key: financial and editorial independence
Alves opened the conversation with a promotional video from elDiario.es in which Escolar touts the achievements of the previous year.
Escolar made it clear how his publication differentiates itself from its many competitors and made a thinly veiled criticism of the chief of them, El País, without naming it. “We are independent because we are profitable," he said. "There are no banks or big businesses on our board of directors because we, the journalists, are the principal shareholders.” El País’ financial problems have caused it to add its rescuers to its board.
What’s more, elDiario.es has no debt. “We are independent because we are economically sustainable," he added.
Since January, the number of partners at elDiario.es has grown by 60% to 56,000 and more than offset the steep decline in advertising that has affected the entire industry. At the same time, the audience has grown by 77%, driven by an interest in trustworthy information about COVID-19, Escolar said.
Transparency aids credibility
Escolar has made it a practice to be transparent in quarterly newsletters about the sources of revenues (in Spanish, but with graphics), the names of shareholders, the salaries of journalists and how the money is spent. He is not in favor of accepting any of the government aid that other media are accepting because he fears it might undermine their independence.
Alves asked Escolar about the progressive editorial stance of the publication. It favors human rights, gender and racial equality and equal justice for all. At times it has been the target of attacks from conservatives who say it is a mouthpiece of the Socialist party and its liberal allies. According to the Reuters report, users of the left and center-left trust elDiario.es more than those on the right. Escolar responded that they have been critical of the Socialists as well as the conservative Popular Party.
Responding directly to users
For Escolar, one key to the publication’s success has been to engage users in dialogue rather than just preaching to them. Some of the publication’s biggest scoops have begun with suggestions and tips from users.
Another basic practice is to respond to every complaint. The staff members who monitor partner relations send Escolar the names of people who cancel their payments because they disagree with the news coverage or opinion columnists for whatever reason.
Escolar writes to them directly and explains the editorial policies. Sometimes he responds to five in a day, sometimes three, sometimes none at all. He believes these chats are worth the trouble. “I’ve learned a lot about the users from this,” he said.
The promotional video, in Spanish, follows.
Every session from the International Symposium of Online Journalism is available online for free. Watch the recorded sessions on YouTube here.