Interview with Martín Caparrós carried out by Carmen Peñafiel and Udane Goikoetxea, (University of the Basque Country, November 2020).
Martín Caparrós was born in Buenos Aires in 1957. He began his journalistic career in 1973. During the Argentine dictatorship he was exiled in Europe and gained a History degree from Paris University. He later went on to live in Madrid until 1983. He collaborated on the daily paper El País and on various French media outlets. Following the return to democracy in Argentina, he went back to Buenos Aires where he collaborated with different news media. He was editor of the magazine El Porteño and also founded the magazine Babel, which he directed. Throughout his lengthy career he has published texts in the media in the USA., Latin America and Europe. He has occasionally worked in Radio and Television. He currently lives in Madrid and has a column in the daily paper El País. He has also collaborated on the New York Times. Two years ago he was declared an illustrious citizen of Buenos Aires. Martín Caparrós has always combined journalism with literature and has published over 30 novels, the main ones being: La patria capicúa (1995), Un día en la vida de Dios (2001), Qué País. Informe urgente sobre la Argentina que viene (2002), Amor y anarquía. La vida urgente de Soledad Rosas (2003), Valfierno (2004), Boquita (2005), El interior (2006), Comer con los ojos. Historias que alimentan el alma (2007), A quién corresponda (2008), Una Luna (2009), La voluntad (2012), El hambre (2015), Echeverría (2016), La Historia (2017), Todo por la patria (2018), among others. He has received the XXI Miguel Delibes National Journalism Award (2016) for his articles in El País; the Tiziano Terzani award(2016) for his essay El hambre; Herralde Award (2011) for Los Living; Latin American Planeta Award (2004) for Valfierno; Konex (2004) Diploma of Merit, in the Memories and Testimonies category; Moors Cabot journalism Award and Guggenheim Fellowship, to name the most notable. With a profile representing a trajectory of 46 years, Martín Caparrós is a renowned journalist and writer of international acclaim.
C.P.– Martín, we have recently been able to read you in La Era del Compromiso, in Las Ventajas de la Peste, El Verdadero Conquistador de la Luna, texts published in the El País Weekly Supplement, in which you combine the best of journalistic writing and also fiction. You once said it is always difficult to report the present. How do you see current journalism and how would you describe our profession right now?
How long do we have? Because this could take a long time. No, look, the phrase I’ve quoted the most over the last twelve months, or at least, yes, lately, is from Borges that says: “he lived, as all men do, through difficult times”. I think that we have the sensation that our times are particularly difficult, particularly critical, and that, within this, journalism is going through a very special crisis. I don’t think so. I think we live in crisis; I mean the essence of people and professions is to be in crisis, is to be almost constantly questioning, renovating and rethinking.
Journalism feels in crisis right now perhaps because basically what there is is a crisis within the big media outlets such as were imagined and set up by the 20th Century. In other words, during the 20th Century one great hegemonic media was created in each region or in each country, that was like the vessel of truth which was pampered and in which everything was organised, let’s say, in a society. Well, that idea of that great media, which of course was printed, was daily, was serious, was made to be read sitting down in an armchair, is no longer so, it clearly no longer works.
The ways of spreading the news have changed radically due to the technical changes we all know, and so that hegemony that the big national or regional media outlets enjoyed during the 20th Century no longer exists. But obviously, as those big media outlets still have significant power, they in some way try to convince us that their crisis is journalism’s crisis. However, I insist that the real problem lies in the model of creation and dissemination that those big media outlets carry out. Journalism is facing a series of crossroads, just as it has many times before.
Completely different, new, technical media appeared, that allow us a previously unimaginable multiplicity. So, what it’s about, and what many people are trying to do is see how to use this new technical media to do what we always did – journalism at the end of the day – which is no more nor less than finding something out, thinking about it and reporting it. I mean that it’s all about that, and always has been. There are different technical possibilities now than thirty or fifteen years ago. These media outlets are no longer the main form of disseminating information, but rather information arrives from many places and goes to many places and therefore the journalist’s job in general is no longer that of someone who broadcasts something, because that has already been done, there are loads of other media doing it – social media etc…
Faced with this task that was ours for a long time, I think there are two options open, or reaffirmed, for doing something in these times where the news is spread widely and quickly, and those are analysis and story, or a mixture of both. They are both efforts that require specific knowledge. A piece of news is copied and retweeted in 30 seconds, but to understand it, to know what it is, what it means, you need to know more, you need to have read, to have found something out, to have worked. And that, on the one hand, is what we are left with. On the other hand, we also have the possibility of being there or in any place where things are happening and relating them in an attractive way, an interesting way, in a way that makes you reflect, understand, feel present. Faced with these changes in the profession, I think that the two paths which have the most possibilities are these: analysis, or story, or a mixture of analysis and story, which is what I have been trying to work on for some years.
U.G.- Going back to what you were saying, where does that leave the journalist? We are talking about a journalistic exercise that has historically adopted different means of survival, in order to disseminate that information. We are now faced with the technological evolution in this internet age and the progress that this entails. We are talking about connectivity, simultaneity and that immediacy you were referring to. Many media outlets and platforms have appeared, but well, there are different ways of telling stories, aren’t there? Some of them refer to the culture of convergence. In your case, after 46 years in the profession, from that position of columnist, of renowned journalist, how do you see the journalist specifically? Because we always talk about journalism but you mentioned those two options.
Regarding what you said about the technical changes – before I go on to your main question – I would just like to point out that we do effectively feel like we are in a moment of great technical changes. But imagine how the newspaper journalists of 1925 felt when they saw that there were radios, and that these radios began broadcasting the news. But, what a strange thing! It was something simultaneous, right at that moment it could be spread over the soundwaves. Imagine how those working in radio felt, who had all that power, when in the 1950s that news started to appear on television, with images.
-«What’s this? There will no longer be anything for us to do! Now in images!» Well, and so on, and so on. I mean, fortunately technology evolves, it has always evolved and has always in some way produced in the ever present conservatives, the sensation that it marked the end of the road for everything that had gone before. And what everything that has gone before does is realign itself and look for ways of finding a space for itself within this new ecosystem that arises whenever a great new technology appears that modifies it. This is what is happening to us now. We are realigning ourselves to a technical media that, if it has one particularity – it has many – but let’s say there are two that seem significant to me for our work: on the one hand the simultaneity of uses, I mean, now with Internet, you can write, take photos, speak, film, link, all at the same time.
We are beginning to see how to use all that simultaneity of resources to produce a complex common story
Everything that was done before in different mediums, can now be done in one. So, we have to find a synthesis that I don’t think we have found yet; we are beginning to see how to use all that simultaneity of resources to produce a complex common story. It is something that has only recently begun. Because all this is only, what, 10 or 15 years old? Which in historical terms – I have a History degree – is very little. And, on the other hand, the other characteristic that I think is decisive, is that it is much easier. Now it is much easier to embark on journalistic adventures than when I wanted to try it 40 years ago and created a couple of magazines, with many young people. And to start a magazine you had to spend many months searching for money, for printing, for office space, for a graphic artist, for a distributor; it was very hard to start a news media outlet. Later on, it might have worked or it might not, but starting it up was a huge task. Now it isn’t, now it’s very easy to start a news media. Of course you have to have something worthwhile for that media to survive, but starting it is nothing, it’s just a question of a few mates getting together and deciding: ‘where do we put it out and what do we put in it?’, and so on and so forth.
In this sense, this allows a wide range of attempts to begin, but, well, these are things related to technical aspects. Which journalism to do? That is the big problem and the big question. I think – we could talk about this for hours – but to give a frame to the question, I think – and we know – that one of the temptations of these new media outlets is that they have introduced the logic of ratings all over the place. I mean, until a short time ago, those of us who wrote, photographers and in general the majority of news journalists were sheltered from the ratings logic, simply because there was no way of knowing. I would publish something and someone, a friend would say: “that’s really good”, the chief editor would say to me: “Ah! That’s great!”, he might even say: “yesterday we sold quite a few more papers”, but they didn’t know whether it was due to what I had written or something by Joe Bloggs. Now, you people know that in the news offices of the big media outlets there are screens telling you from one second to the next, how much each news item has been read. In short, the ratings logic taken to an extreme where it had never previously been. And this is very tempting for some people, and makes them increasingly look for things that the audience favours, and this can be a serious mistake. One of the first serious mistakes that journalism can make in this new technical phase.
A few months ago, I went to the trouble of looking up, for a column that I was writing in a conservative North American daily, which were the most read news items from the 6 or 7 most read newspapers from each of the big Latin American countries. And it was dreadful, it was horrific because the majority were news stories about celebrities, crime, about things that we as journalists would not have been proud of. Out of the 50 news stories I checked, just two were of the type that you would say ‘that’s good’, the rest were rubbish. Excuse me for the word ‘rubbish’. And that is one of the great temptations, the worst temptation I feel, that journalism and journalists are experiencing right now. That’s why I’ve said more than once that it seems to me that while for a long time it was said that to practise journalism was to report things that somebody didn’t want to be told – you know – that classic line; perhaps now we should be thinking that to practise journalism is to report things that many people don’t want to hear about. Not those things that they do want to know about and click on and that are nonsense. Perhaps to practise journalism now also means going to the trouble of thinking about what is worth reporting, and trying to do everything possible so that that is what is reported and not what some editors want as a way of attracting clients.
Perhaps now we should be thinking that to practise journalism is to report things that many people don’t want to hear about
C.P.- With regard to what Martín is saying, one of the most decisive factors in this journalism is the time to read more, observe more, think more, and the opposite takes us to superficiality and falseness, doesn’t it? The drift of journalism also affects its production conditions and also influences the audience. In this context, what are media directors or media managers opting for?
It’s complicated, because, on the one hand, they are opting for what we were saying, what the Americans call ‘clickbait’ – the enticement for a click. But some, a few, more intelligent than others, realise that things do not work like that, because if I manage a media outlet with a certain prestige and history and I start filling it with clicks based on publishing celebrities or bloody crimes, it might work in the short term and might earn me a bit of publicity and so on, but in the medium term I ruin the prestige of that newspaper; and it also doesn’t work because there will always be someone specialised who will do it better.
I think that some of these big media outlets are realising that that is not the way to go. But now, on top of that we have an interesting phenomenon that is starting to happen, which is the effects of paywalls. I mean that a year or two ago, we were clear that the media – the dailies, newspapers – were freely accessed online, just as television and radio were for a long time. Neither was it something so eccentric, because we were used to it with radio and television. And during all that time we were able to build up circuits, those of us who were interested at least, reading circuits that were very complete and complex. We could see the things we were interested in and how they were reported in media from very different backgrounds, with very different ideas etc.. And that was really interesting. I think that the most interesting things about reading the media in the Internet age was that – the fact that you no longer depended on one media outlet, which is what happened to the whole of the 20th Century.
In general, the reader was identified with the media they bought and followed, they belonged to that line and that was their world view because a newspaper is, above all, a way of organising the world. All that became undone with the arrival of the Internet – you could go backwards and forwards, search, do things and set yourself up in your own panorama, but curiously this has been recovered now with paywalls, because nobody pays for 10 newspapers to go backwards and forwards and round in circles. And you’re even less likely to pay for papers you don’t agree with. I mean, to give it a name, a couple of years ago I used to check out what ABC had to say about this or that, but I’m not going to pay ABC to see what they have to say. So, the curious thing about this phenomenon is that it’s recovered those kind of blinkers that we had throughout the 20th Century – we have gone back to having a much narrower vision in that we identify with a world view of just one newspaper, or a small group of two or three, and we stay away from the others. It’s really strange how, in a very short time – a year or two – our way of seeing the world through newspapers has changed radically due to this issue of paywalls. We have returned to this situation, that on the other hand so favours what in Argentina they call the gap, the separation of sectors within society – which we are also seeing now in contemporary societies and which has to do with the fact that everyone reads their newspaper, their Facebook, their Twitter, the reality they have wanted to create. And I don’t know what journalists can do about this. Because we are a part of it. We are a part of that media which is becoming more and more compartmentalised.
U.G.- In all this vortex, it’s also important that we talk about narrative journalism. We could mention Letras Libres, Gatopardo, La Silla Vacía, Arcadia, media outlets based in Latin America. Specifically in Argentina, we have the example of Anfibia, as a slow model and also La Nación, which stopped being an exclusively written media to become a convergent, multiplatform one, with press, magazine, radio, television, website, smartphone app, YouTube channel etc. to mention Argentine media. What role do you think the journalistic story has in this type of media?
I’m laughing because while you were asking me that, I got a notification on my phone, that I’m looking at to communicate with you, from La Nación about the evolution of the dollar in Buenos Aires, which is the great national obsession. It seems to me that all those media are still basically written media. I don’t have figures – neither have I looked for them – but I’m convinced that audience interaction with media like La Nación, as you say, that has a television channel, and has some magazines; or El País, without going further afield, which also has its television channel and other things and so on… I think that audience interaction with those media is still basically through written format. It seems to me that, of course, they try these other formats and in some cases they integrate them, but they are still not the main ones. I don’t think that there they are focussing on the changes that attract me. You spoke before about some media in Latin America in which there is narrative journalism. While I was listening to the list, I was going to say: “well, it would be good if you mentioned one that was still being published, given that various,…”
Admittedly, some have disappeared, but there a number of things – on the one hand the idea that, for sure, narrative journalism worked or works or used to work well in Latin America. And I’m very glad that you believed it, but it seems to me a myth like so many others. You know that America is a land which basically produces myths, we can’t manage to produce much more – raw materials for export and myths to deceive ourselves and eventually someone else. That narrative journalism, therefore, is big in Latin America is one of those myths, there is no raw material. Of course there is some, there are people that write good narrative journalism in Latin America, as there are in Spain, but it never had an important place in the media ecosystem. The media dedicated especially to that has always been small and in the big media outlets they occasionally leave a space for it, but it’s always difficult and a struggle, you always have to haggle in order to get a bit more space, and that kind of thing.
I think that there is good narrative journalism but it isn’t read so much, it doesn’t circulate so much, which doesn’t particularly bother me. It concerns me more that that could be a worry, if that makes sense. I think that good journalism, unfortunately, has never been massive. I wish it were massive, it would be great if it was, but it isn’t. I think that we will need many centuries of good journalism in order that, eventually, at some point many people will be educated enough to want that. But, in general it isn’t what they want, good journalism isn’t massive and I always like to give this Spanish example: in the 1980s and 90s, the daily paper El País was totally hegemonic in Spain; it had a power that I have never seen anywhere else in the world, a paper so central, so influential and so successful in every sense – culturally, sociologically and economically – as El País was at that time. It was practically a hegemonic media. And it was a media that, in its worst moments, sold 400,000 copies in a country of 40 million people. In short, one in every 100 people used to read El País which appeared to totally dominate the Spanish media scene. All of which is to say that even in the most successful cases that I can remember, good journalism was never massive, it wasn’t, ever.
What interests me is to continue trying to do what is worthwhile, over and above the numbers that are somehow assigned to what I do. If we thought about quantity, we wouldn’t write books, nobody would even think of writing a book. I spend 80% of my life working on books that will probably circulate 100 times less than an article published in El País, a thousand times less. So, I don’t believe in quantity, but neither do I believe in faking it. In short, narrative journalism never had a big audience, not even in Latin America, but at the same time that doesn’t seem a reason to stop thinking that it’s worthwhile, and perhaps its form of influence, beyond the nucleus of those who consume it directly, is to establish certain ways of reporting, certain ways of saying, certain ways of writing and thinking that are then used in other journalistic forms that have a more massive circulation, maybe. I think that you can write well a short note of 10 lines about the press conference the minister gave yesterday, drawing on certain narrative journalism bases. I’m not saying it should be done, but it can be done, it certainly can be done.
I think that there is good narrative journalism but it isn’t read so much, it doesn’t circulate so much, which doesn’t particularly bother me
C.P. It is clear that journalism is not in good health. In this sense, we could talk further about lack of credibility, a decline in quality, vacuum cleaner journalism, brevity, misinformation, fake news, precariousness in the profession, alternative current business models. Would you say – as some experts have claimed – that superficiality has been globalised? And what medicine would you prescribe for these symptoms?
I don’t know. I don’t know anything about medicine, but …. I don’t think banality and superficiality have been globalised now, I think they always were. I think we have a tendency to believe that what happens to us never happened before. And in general the things that happen to us are not so different. I keep hearing all the time about fake news, as if it were an invention of our times. What is all this about us inventing fake news or where? In the USA, where, in 2003, they sent an army saying there were weapons of mass destruction in Irak that never existed, but the media said they did exist? Or in Spain in 2003 – if I remember rightly – when the media said that the terrorist attack in Atocha was the work of ETA? Or in Argentina, much earlier, in 1982 when the media said we were winning the war against the English in the Falkland Islands? Well I don’t know, but certainly the Argentine army was being defeated on all fronts. All that has always existed. What’s curious is that we can continue to fall into the trap of thinking that fake news prevails nowadays and carries more weight than ever… I don’t think so, and I think that the first condition for beginning to solve this problem is to know that fake news has always existed, and will probably always exist and is something which it is always worth fighting against. In this sense, I said a long time ago – now I had left it out – that the media would have to … let’s see if I can put it another way… In Argentina I proposed something called the law of the 28th December; please forgive me, because you all know that the 28th December is ‘the Day of the Holy Innocents’ (the equivalent of April Fool’s Day) when – apart from other things – the media always includes a piece of fake news. I don’t know if it’s done here, but in Argentina it’s been done for at least a long time. I remember that, like many other people, I would read the paper with suspicion, with a different attitude, looking for the piece of fake news, with the idea that ‘they won’t fool me, I must know which one it is!’ And so, I used to say that the law of the 28th December should force the media to include a piece of fake news every day so that the reader would be made to read with suspicion, what could also be called, critical reading. In other words, trying to work out whether what they are reading is true, is reliable, is coherent. So that the reader wouldn’t trust the media. That they would read the news with the critical eye with which I think we should look at everything. So, that mistrust doesn’t worry me, on the contrary, I think it’s a good thing.
C.P. I totally agree Martín. What effectively happens is that now misinformation and fake news travels much more quickly than before and has a much greater action radius within the global framework.
I don’t know about more places. Look at how many people were convinced that the earth was flat in 1410, let’s say, almost everyone. But, that is precisely what wouldn’t happen if readers were more critical. Only those who allow themselves to be deceived are deceived. If you are sufficiently active and prepared so that they can’t deceive you, then they won’t. Therefore, I think that the important thing, rather than tearing ourselves up within the profession, is to see how we can help create better readers, create a more critical audience, one that is more prepared, and … more active. Don’t you think?
I think that the important thing, rather than tearing ourselves up within the profession, is to see how we can help create better readers, create a more critical audience, one that is more prepared, and … more active.
U.G. What I’m going to ask you now isn’t new either. On the one hand we have stolen from you, with your permission I hope, a sentence. That sentence in your book ‘Ahorita: siempre es difícil contar el presente’ (Right now: it is always difficult to report the present). On the one hand we have that sentence that says so much in so few words and then we have the other part, that perhaps doesn’t require reflection, sediment, or maybe it hasn’t been considered something new yet, a real worry. I don’t know it it’s a question of maturity but it has always been said that the masses see the world through the media, showing whatever they consider. This isn’t a new discourse either, but it is real. Furthermore, I would like to add that the principle of the objectivity of information is arguable because all information implies taking a stance and a point of view. So, what do we take from all this, do we start with ‘Ahorita’….?
Too many things …. I say it is always difficult to report the present because the present has the bad habit of continuing to happen, and therefore it changes continuously. A curious thing happened to me yesterday: I had to do a commentary for Cadena Ser of a few minutes for the close of the programme, about the US elections special, both written and spoken. Well, the night before I prepared something to speak about Biden’s victory and what it meant. When I woke up at seven in the morning Biden’s victory had disappeared and it seemed that Trump was winning. So, in the end I wrote a text in some way based on that victory for Trump. Now, just a few hours later, once again Trump’s victory has disappeared and it looks like Biden is going to win. So there we are, the present has its problems. There is no way of saying: stop present! I have to report you! And that is what makes journalism particularly attractive; I mean how to grab hold of a subject so that it doesn’t get away from you. What can we do about the present and the subject of supposed objectivity?… I no longer play that game and I think that narrative journalism influenced that in some way. What I mean is that narrative journalism in general reports in the first person, independently of whether it is grammatically in the first person; there is someone who places a fact centre stage and reports it. Of course, reporting something in the first person is just the opposite of reporting about the first person. Reporting about the first person is the worst foolishness a journalist can commit. But I stress that reporting in the first person is a way of highlighting that there is someone who is reporting. And that is what the traditional media tries to hide when they use a third person who is supposedly very distant, very neutral, very laundered. As if to say: nobody is here reporting. Yes, there is always someone who decides what is worth reporting. To study journalism, to learn journalism is to learn to decide what is worth reporting in each case. To learn to have criteria to see situations and say: ‘what is important there is such and such … and therefore I am going to report this’. But when someone decides to report such and such, what they are doing is using their subjectivity to decide. The world is complex, it’s confusing, it’s hard to grasp, and so a person is needed who says: ‘what is worth reporting in this situation is this’. This is someone, therefore, whose subjectivity is imprinted onto what he or she reports, there is no objectivity possible. Why? It is not due to a question of ethics, nor a decision; it is a structural issue. Everything that is reported, is reported by someone. And that someone decides what should be dealt with, not with a view to deceiving anyone, but simply because they are doing their job; that is our job, to see something complex and to see how to report it. In seeing how to report it, we are putting our subjectivity to work.
C.P. Journalism has been used over the last few years with dangerous recipes: maliciousness, slander, insults and attempts at political destabilising in many countries, causing extremely serious effects and impacts. In Latin America there is more than one example of this journalistic contamination, but also with the Covid-19 pandemic we are suffering it at close quarters in many other countries via an infodemic. I think this health crisis has highlighted democratic deficits, together with the weakness of the public service media and the increasing drop in the credibility of the big private groups, along with the penetration of dark economic powers that shroud this panorama. I would say it in a very specific way and I would like to know your opinion and also your reflections: misinformation is a threat to democracy.
I would say that democracy is a threat to democracy much more than the press because, and perhaps I’m getting off the subject, but I believe that we are at a point where western political systems aren’t satisfying those they are supposed to represent. They don’t adequately represent those they should be representing. And that’s why these phenomena that we lazily call populisms appear – I say lazily because it seems extraordinary to me that Trump, Maduro and Putin can be labelled in the same way. I mean they have nothing to do with each other, in their ideas, their policies, in their way of leading, and so I find it curious that they can be given the same label. We tend to call them this because basically they are the ones who are taking advantage of the fact that democracies don’t know how to satisfy their participants, their citizens, and therefore, they offer other ways that only create catastrophe, but at least they are taking into account that there is a problem there and that this way isn’t working, so they propose others. That’s the main problem our democracies have, at least that’s how I see it. Of course the press is included in this problem and plays a role, but I don’t think a role – and forgive me for this allegiance to the long term – I don’t think it’s a role that’s so different from the one it has always played. That role of slandering or falsifying. We are in a country in which the press was perfectly controlled for 40 years so that it couldn’t say what it had to say, so as not to report the reality (between 1939 and seventy-something). So to be surprised that now the press functions more or less with problems as if it was something relatively new, well that surprises me.
I’m particularly interested in a media that contradicts itself, that says things you don’t expect it to, that tries to provoke turmoil among its readers instead of reassuring them
U.G. I don’t know what you’ll think about this next question, but it’s something that particularly interests me a lot. It’s true that in terms of the technical, society has changed, journalism has changed and the rhythms of life have changed. We can’t read the situation in the same way, we could speak about post-Google or the technical aspect, about the so-called new technologies that surround us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But it is true – I don’t know whether you agree – that perhaps we are living a paradox: while we are rich in the technical, we are poor in the human, aren’t we? Do you think this is right or do you disagree?
I insist that that hasn’t changed significantly. We are not worse in the human than 50 or 100 years ago. Rather the opposite is true, we are much better in so many things. I am very critical about the society we live in, very critical, but at the same time I think I would be foolish if I didn’t know nor understand that now the majority of people live much better than they did 100 years ago, but a lot better! Despite the fact that we often like to think the opposite. We live much longer, we eat much better, we have many more resources, we have much more access to a great quantity of information, knowledge, possibilities; the thing is that we like to believe that we are living through difficult times, but really we live infinitely better. Not so long ago, a hundred years or so, a large majority of people didn’t know what was happening 20 kilometres from their home. They lived in completely closed worlds. We insist on thinking how idyllically happy they were, not to apply the old saying ‘small town, big hell’, but they really did live very closed lives, for about 60 years and that was it. You had completed your life cycle, and you could die from a whole load of ridiculous things that nobody dies from nowadays in countries that are more or less developed, and they ate meat just once a week. I mean that we live better and we have much more information. Of course we use it badly because we aren’t superhumans or anything like that, and because there are lots of things we can still be critical about, and because the very fact that we have many more possibilities should make us much more demanding. But the basis is, I think, much more encouraging than it was 50 or 100 years ago. But anyway, I don’t know if this has anything to do with the press. Regarding what the press used to be like, I sometimes think that the same thing must be happening as is happening with books. When we think about books and we think about those books published in 1880, we tend to think about Zola’s Germinal or perhaps, well Madame Bovary is a little earlier, or maybe Les Misérables. Do you know how many fourth rate books were published constantly at that time? The thing is we don’t remember them, we don’t know about them, because they were lost in the well deserved obscurity that should always have been their destiny. So, nowadays you go to a bookshop and see a load of terrible books and you say: «now literature has no value because everything that’s published is rubbish».
U.G. For that you have to go to a bookshop to begin with.
Yes…because we are in the present, that present which is difficult to report and buries everything that hasn’t yet passed through that filter, this makes us think: what good things were written in 1880! No, a lot of rubbish was written then just like now, along with two or three good things, just like now. It seems to me…
C.P. Let’s move on to another subject: I would say that the world changes, and information does too. According to the latest data, in Spain 14% of the population gets their information from the printed press, against 44% that chooses the digital media. Although half of those surveyed get their information from the digital media, they trust the traditional media more. Or at least that is what the results say from a recent survey carried out by GAD and the AXA foundation (the last trimester of 2020). And that is also directly proportional to age – the older the person the higher the trust in the traditional media and the lower the trust in the information that comes from social media. What is your reflection about these results?
Well, that reflection isn’t for me to make, it is for the directors of the printed daily papers. They know that their readers are dying of old age and, therefore, they are looking for other ways. I must stress that I think, until recently, the Internet offered the possibility of looking at a lot of different material at the same time and therefore of comparing, obviously for those who could be bothered to do it. Most people can’t be bothered with that, they prefer that their people tell them the things they already know, and this is happening more and more when people read the press or whatever, in search of what some call confirmation bias. They are saying: I am going to read to confirm what I believed is right, is certain, is true. And that, I feel, is the main problem with the role of the media nowadays, and that’s why I find it so interesting. I’m particularly interested in a media that contradicts itself, that says things you don’t expect it to, that tries to provoke turmoil among its readers instead of reassuring them. It’s probably not a good recipe for making money nor for keeping a newspaper up and running, but I’m more interested in that kind of thing. That’s also why I left the New York Times a few months ago. I was so fed up of them wanting to confirm absolutely everything their readers expected, to give to their readers what was already prescribed from the beginning. I got fed up, and said: I’ve had enough of this, and I decided to write on my website; it’s my place because nobody pays me. It’s called chachara.org, where I write what I like, what I choose and about what concerns me. It was good when they paid me to work, but it wasn’t the most important thing.
U.G. It is always a real pleasure to listen to you.
C.P. I would also like to thank you Martín, for your reflections and contributions.