Here and now

april 14, 2011

In the office of the newspaper Ara, right now, more than half of the many computers are unoccupied. The reason seems to be the hour, it is ten o’clock in the morning, and during the short half hour that we are standing in the lobby, there is a constant stream of people hurrying up the steps to the floor above us. Whether this confirms a cliché about mediterranian day rythm or media workers day rythm or both is unknown, but what it is not is a sign of is un-activity. For here,on carrer de la Diputació in Barcelona, lies part of the solution for newspapers of the furure.

”When we started here we only had one table”, says Carles Capdevila, ” over there”, he points to a corner where there is now more than two dozen Mac computers lined up, as well as people working in front of them. And you can tell how new this office is by the dusty smell that always lingers after a renovation. This is the home of the new, all Catalan language newspaper Ara and we are a group of people being guided around by Capdevils, chief editor, and Guillem Carbonell, news director. The timing is weird for a new paper, when reader numbers are dropping and most journalists are running around their desks in panic over the new technology. Here at Ara, they have instead chosen to embrace the web, with all co-workers owning twitter and facebook accounts. Ara itself exists both online and as a paperversion, which was the plan from its inception. Capdevila tells of how the two versions differ, ”in the paperversion we can have closer analyses and reportages while on the web, there are more breaking news”. That way, they can appeal to several agegroups, the elder, who wish to read regular newspapers, and the younger, whom nowadays gets their news on the web.

That it’s also the first newspaper completely in Catalan also marks out their difference from the larger, all-Spanish papers, such as El Pais. The response on the idea was at first not overwhelming, especially not from Capdevilas colleagues at The New York Times and The Guardian, as newspapers and magazines are losing funding and readers, why would anyone want to start a new one? But Ara has succeded in bringing an audience. The paper version today sells around 20’000 copies every day, and Capdevila and Carbonell, after a short debate in their native tounge, counts about 50’000 individual readers on the web every day. ”we are hoping on a milion readers a month by November”, says Carbonell.

And yet, Ara is not a financial success. instead of calculating a winning, they are counting on losing less and less every year, to eventually wind up on the plus side. Like for instance, last year, they lost 3 milion euros, and this year, they expect to go back by 1 milion. Despite this, walking aroud the place, hearing about the ”project” as it is refered to a few times, you can feel the plesant atmosphere and fresh attitude. It is not hard to imagine this as the future of newpapers. Like Ara has invented their concept, this industry must reinvent itself. In fact, moving the breaking news online gives, as was mentioned before, more space for reflective journalism, and instead of a late deadline and stress to get the big scoop first, those who work for the paper version can often go home by ten. Though, not always, as Barςa often plays late, and, as Capdevila points out, with the Libya revolution, Ghaddafi has been prone to making his speeches after around 21:30, which means staying late.

We are also shown the ”platform”, where they record the web broadcasts also shown on the site. The room with its two cameras can be controlled by one person, instead of, as Carbonell tells us, ten. A video is played, where a weather announcer is talking really fast to keep within his one minute time limit. Ara at this point resembles more a news company, rather than just a paper.
In the middle of all of this modernity, good journalism as we remember it is not forgotten. ”a journalist” as Capdevila puts it, ”is always looking”.

Alva Bexell

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