One of Spain's most prominent and controversial journalists has launched a major online newspaper, the latest in a range of websites shaking up the Spanish media in politically volatile times.
Pedro J Ramírez in his office. Photo: Moeh Atitar / El Español
Now, less than three months ahead of a general election, the 63-year-old is back in the fray at the helm of a new web-only publication, El Español, having invested his €5 million severance package into the project.
It has already broke a crowdfunding record for a media project by raising some €3.6m ($4m) with more than 5,600 small shareholders investing between €100 – the donation for one share – to €10,000.
Already attracting around 10,000 subscribers, its beta site went online Wednesday ahead of its full launch next week.
— El Español (@elespanolcom) October 7, 2015
The site promises to cause a fresh headache for conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whom Pedro J. relentlessly criticised in print.
One of Ramirez's top recent scoops was to publish a text message of support sent by Rajoy to the chief suspect in a corruption scandal engulfing his Popular Party.
The disclosure raised calls for the premier to resign in 2013. Ramirez's dismissal from El Mundo months later was seen by his defenders as politically driven.
With a staff of 100 including 70 journalists, he vows it will be “an indomitable newspaper that does not flinch in denouncing abuse of poer”.
A flamboyant figure in colourful ties and braces, Pedro J. may resemble an old-school editor steeped in ink, but he says he doesn't believe in the future of print.
He points to El Confidencial, an online newspaper founded in 2001 that now has turnover of more than €9 million a year – all of it from advertising.
Digital media are flourishing in Spain, financed by advertisers or subscriptions and staffed largely by journalists laid off from traditional media in the economic crisis.
“The switch to digital media is complete,” said Juan Luis Manfredi, a j0ournalism lecturer at the University of Castile-La Mancha.
“The newspapers used to treat their online versions as a by-product. Now the order of things has changed: first comes the online, mobile and tablet edition, then the paper one if needed.”
He cites the example of ElDiario.es, a left-leaning online newspaper launched at the height of Spain's crisis in 2012, which publishes a magazine every three months.
Now it is one of “the top five Spanish media in terms of revenues, number of visitors and influence,” said Manfredi.
With El Diario and El Confidencial, “we now have two big media that are profitable and are working very well.”
VozPopuli revealed a recent high-profile court probe against Rodrigo Rato, the Spanish former head of the International Monetary Fund.
September 28th saw the launch of another site, Bez.es, with capital of half a million euros.
It aims to “contribute to the strengthening of democracy through dialogue and analysis”, said one of its founders, Juan Zafra.
Many other titles have popped up online as the atmosphere heats up ahead of December's general election.
“We'll see how many of them make it to 2017,” said Manfredi.
Pedro J. forecasts his site, on a recipe of subscriptions and advertising, can survive for three years before it has to start turning a profit.
A monthly subscription costs €9.99 but readers get access to 25 articles per month before hitting the paywall.
“There is no doubt he is the most influential Spanish journalist of the past 30 years” said Manfredi.
“But he is quite volatile and very controversial. You never know which way he is heading.”