Rodrigo Orihuela
Rodrigo Orihuela

From blogger to editor-in-chief

A new daily paper is expected on the streets of Spain on Thursday and when it comes out, its 31-year-old editor, Ignacio Escolar, is likely to set an international milestone: the world’s first blogger to become editor-in-chief of a national newspaper.

Actually, Escolar is a journalist, and he has worked as such in many small and provincial publications. But it is thanks to his blog, Escolar.net, that he owes his fame in Spanish media.

Escolar, who is also a musician and copy-fight activist, boasts 150 000 readers a month on his blog, one of the most read in Spain, and each of his posts regularly has more than 150 comments. He has also created a Digg-style news site (Escolar.noticia.es) and a forums section.

He will not be the only journalist/blogger at the helm of the newspaper, as he has hired Manuel Rico, author of Periodismoincendiario.blogspot.com, to edit the political section, and Iñigo Sáenz de Ugarte, a former television correspondent in the Middle East, of Guerraeterna.com to head the international news desk.

To see Escolar work at El Público, as the new paper will be called, will be interesting both for Spanish readers and for anybody with an interest in the media worldwide. In his blog, interviews and conferences, he has always been critical of established newspapers, although he does admit that print media are healthy and well (he recently said that the industry has never been as well off, since people read a lot from paper, be it newspapers or magazines).

Now he will have a chance to show what can be done with the “old media” from a “new media” perspective (sorry, there was no way I could avoid using those two very overused expressions), something many bloggers talk about and rarely get a chance to act upon.

One of Escolar’s flagship critiques to the media has been that, in their failure to adapt to changing times, newspapers continue to sell themselves like encyclopedias: they cover all the information they can and offer way too much for one person to read. He has also said that papers tend to offer dated news: when we receive the paper in the morning, we already know a lot about what happened the previous day; we’ve learnt it on the web or TV.

Strangely, neither he nor any of the other “natural born” bloggers who run the paper has bothered to publish an account (via blog or some other form) of what launching a daily is like — Escolar and Saénz de Ugarte continue to publish on their blogs as if nothing had ever changed. Rico hasn’t published anything since July.

Also, quite surprisingly, it seems that El Público will not have a strong internet presence in the early days — efforts are focused on the paper edition. The financial group behind the newspaper, Mediapro, is close to the socialist administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, and wants to jump into the fray as soon as possible in order to be well placed as the political campaign heats up ahead of national elections in March 2008.

One of the most obvious ways to do this is by earning a spot on news-stands — no matter how much you are into multimedia, if you are not visible on the streets, your moneymaking chances are slim and you are not likely to influence the wider public.

Therefore, the examples of what Escolar believes can be done with news on the internet will probably have to wait for some time.

Given his outspoken support of copy-fight (a collective blog he participated in, Elastico.net, translated Lawrence Lessig‘s Free Culture to Spanish ), it will also be interesting to see if Escolar manages to stand by the principles he has defended now that he has to meet regularly men-in-suits who keep track of revenues and profits. As a musician, he offered his songs for free.

Whatever the outcome, both on the journalistic and the copyright/fight front, the enterprise is likely to be an interesting one, one worth following for anybody interested in the impact the internet has on the media.