How would you feel if you woke up to the breakfast radio news announcing that Green Left Weekly had just published its last issue?
The left in Spain had that experience on February 24, when we learned that this would be the last day the progressive daily Publico appeared on the country’s newsstands (the online version continues).
Although the closure was not unexpected, the reaction was still of pain and bereavement. United Left MP Gaspar Llamazares tweeted what many felt — losing “the only left voice on the desolate Spanish media scene” was an awful event.
“All my support and solidarity to the workers of Publico. The left is weaker without your voice. The truth is revolutionary.”
The most left-wing daily here — and along with Italy’s Il Manifesto the most progressive in Europe — in its three-and-a-half years Publico touched all the “untouchable” issues of Spanish politics: corruption in the royal family, the obscene tax evasion of the superrich, and the dysfunctional and grotesquely biased Spanish “justice” system.
Its international coverage, in particular of the Arab Spring, dissolved information blackouts aimed at keeping people in the dark about struggles in countries often close to Spanish shores.
It also provided a partial antidote to the Spanish media’s scandalously twisted coverage of Latin American politics, especially in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Publico was broad left in its sentiment, not supporting any established party (like the Spanish Socialist Workers Party or the United Left), but covering all, including the anti-capitalist left. It opened its pages to writers from all the main left currents.
In particular, Publico gave extensive and detailed attention to the indignado movement, as can be seen in its special online dossier.
Publico campaigned on the issues common to all progressive people in Spain, in particular for justice for the victims of the Franco dictatorship and for a Spanish republic. It also carried out an invaluable program of reprints of classic left texts, distributed with its weekend editions, and other publishing series, such as one devoted to young Spanish and Latin American writers.
So why did Publico fail, especially when — often alone among the Spanish print media — its circulation has been increasing? The paper’s last audited circulation figure was 87,168, with a readership of 247,000.
Publico was a commercial venture, exposed to the uncertainties of the media market. It was the “baby” of Jaume Roure, the head of company Mediapro, which specialises in sports broadcasting, film production and TV. The left-inclined Roure, in his youth a member of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League, was keen to create a paper that could cater to the large progressive market in Spain.
Unfortunately, the 2007 launch of the paper also coincided with the start of a crash in print advertising revenue, which went from €1.89 billion in 2007 to €1 billion in 2011. Publico also refused as a matter of policy to tap lucrative sex industry advertising income.
The upshot was that the paper has closed owing €21 million, and has also added a further 160 journalists to the 5000 who have joined the dole queue since the crisis began in 2008.
As it became clear that a publication that was obligatory reading for left-minded people was getting into trouble, the publishers of Publico tried to build support with a campaign to expand its readership. However, even on the most optimistic projections this would never have saved the paper.
The basic problem was structural: thousands of people were prepared to give something to keep Publico going, but there was no way of channeling that support into a commercial venture that had not been built as the social and political property of its left and progressive public.
As a result, the paper went to its demise without the essential institutions of an alternative print publication trying to survive in the capitalist media jungle — a fund drive, special subscription rates and a calendar of activities that friends of the project could support.
Even since the print edition of Publico closed, its orphaned supporters have been drowning their sorrows. But Green Left Weekly supporters have a choice — to make sure that in Australia the progressive, truth-telling media we need more than ever survives and flourishes.
Help GLW survive by donating online today. Direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992.
Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).
[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly's European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]