The year 2020 has been a difficult year for all, including for the Basque media of popular initiative, but the sector as a whole has followed its path and shown its readiness to face the challenges of the future. In fact, the pandemic has accelerated rather than disrupted previous trends, which has forced some decisions and dynamics to accelerate.
With the new year the sector began with two great challenges: on the one hand, we prepared a strategic reflection to face the challenges of the future of the sector and, on the other, we are taking the first steps to provide stability and structuring the path developed to reach a consensus on the new model of subsidy with the main institutions of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. The pandemic has, of course, forced us to adapt these two main tasks but, as we shall see below, we have finally been able to take both forward.
However, I would like to anticipate the consequences of the pandemic situation in the first few months in the Basque media of popular initiative, as a survey was conducted in April between partners in order to take action on these conclusions.
Conclusions of the pandemic in the Basque media
Firstly, and according to the survey results, we were able to see that the spread of the virus in the Basque media working groups was very limited, mainly due to the adoption of effective measures to protect them. Ways of working from home were worked and isolated working groups were organized in the larger media so that the other would continue working in the event of contamination. Throughout the pandemic, even today, the media have rigorously implemented measures to support their co-workers, which has enabled not only to support the work teams, but also to meet the communicative needs of Basque society, despite the problems that this entails.
As has been said, during these first months production was generally maintained, although there were times when difficult decisions had to be made. In some cases they had to interrupt the production because they could not print the journal and in another case they tried to protect the team that suspended the paper production. In any case, these decisions were of a temporary nature and, in general, the significant increase in digital and/or audiovisual production should be highlighted.
As for the extension, it was generally maintained, although in some cases it had to be adapted and in some cases it was discontinued, for example in cases where distribution was carried out by regular mail.
As regards revenue, in the first few months all the media suffered a sharp decline, in which the Basque media was no exception: almost all suffered reductions in advertising and seven out of ten suffered losses of over 40%. However, during this first phase of the pandemic, no significant changes were observed in other income sources, in subscriptions or in grants. In any case, although there have been incidences in subscriptions in subsequent months, in the case of public subsidies, they have generally been maintained.
Returning to the internal survey, the Basque media that had to cut in the first months in working groups were scarce (21%), of which the vast majority (81%) were temporary, saying that the rest did not know. In other words, at least in the first moments there was no definitive restriction.
Finally, questions were asked about specific projects and here the conclusions were very clear: seven out of ten (71 per cent) had to abandon some specific project due to the pandemic.
All this effort also resulted in an excellent response by the population and an increase in consumption in all media, especially in digital media. The increase in traffic of the 50 media sites grouped in Hekimen was considerable: In March 2020 there were 1.9 million more sessions than the previous year (+80%), the pages viewed increased 3.6 million (+63%) and perhaps most importantly, in March 2020 there were 500,000 more users than the previous year (+59%), taking into account all these portals. Traffic growth was global, worldwide, but in the case of the Basque media, these results are of vital importance as they suggest new challenges and opportunities for the future.
And that is that, as we have advanced, before the arrival of the pandemic, the sector was already focused on these future challenges. At the beginning of the year, strategic reflection was initiated and a basis document for discussion was being prepared at the time of the pandemic. For the preparation of the document we began to collect input from local and external experts and in early March we went to Barcelona to talk to some of its experts.
Few knew that at that time the confinement would begin for several months (14 March in Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Navarra, and 17 in Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa), but that was what happened, and then came the deconfinement, kisses, different waves, vaccines, etc.
Strategic thinking of the sector
Well, in this exceptional context we have had to develop the strategic reflection of the sector, which, although the pandemic has led us to reduce the very content of the reflection and the expected participatory dynamics, the result has been more satisfactory than expected.
On the one hand, the sector has discussed and agreed on the replenishment of Hekimen and is also defining a strategic plan for the next three years (2021-2023). Three main lines of work (increased resources, knowledge of the sector and joint action) have been differentiated in the Partnership Characterization and actions have been defined in the Strategic Plan to advance these three broad lines. The strategic thinking begun last year will end when the most appropriate arrangements for implementing this plan are decided.
At the same time, it has also launched a reflection on the needs of the sector in the field of innovation and development, in order to define what means of communication we need to build in order to respond adequately to the challenges posed and reach a higher number of target groups with quality.
We refer to the creation of a comprehensive communication service, the generation of quality content and its dissemination through different channels. Creating content itself is the most expensive and complex journalism work, although what is behind it is not often seen. Contrast of sources, obtaining informants, documentation, etc. are not visible when the user receives the content, but are a guarantee of quality information. We must therefore make the most of our efforts to generate content by seeking and demonstrating the most effective ways to reach a greater number of recipients.
In addition, the user has become a content donor because he/she disseminates the content he/she likes in his/her closest environment, is often informative and sometimes generates dialogue through the exchange of opinions with the media itself. The user has become an active agent. This reality leads the Basque media to be ‘the management content’. Content on multiple platforms is the way to ensure user access. The paradigm shift has important repercussions in all media and is one of the causes of transformation.
We would like to propose a target for the year 2025. Ambitious but achievable objective. An objective that will enable us to act successfully in the future, the objective that the Basque media will set in the future.
The Basque media are emerging in difficult conditions. They were not born with the intention of being profit-making companies, but with the sole objective of preserving and strengthening the language, culture, being and democratic values of the Basque People. Create and maintain your goal successfully.
Current technological, social and generational changes will lead to regeneration. Because it is not enough to be, it is not enough to have communication projects, we have to adapt to the new times and that will require us the same efforts as in the era of creation.
We need effective, quality, plural, modern means of communication, in close connection with citizenship, well-rooted in our culture, focused on the Basque, technologically well developed, with professional teams trained, innovative, imaginative and well managed.
Management, especially people management, should focus on innovation in every process. Because innovation is not just a technological change or an adaptation of projects. People make innovation possible, people use technology and they are going to create the media of the future. Therefore, in the case of the Basque media too, consideration must be given to the management of people in order to achieve their accession and support. But not any management, we need a management with a model that puts people in the center, horizontal, transparent, that fosters participation, designed to work the talent from freedom, that promotes the co-responsibility of colleagues, that is able to generate illusion around the project with a leadership oriented to get the best out of each person and that allows to properly manage their emotions. In short, a transparent, generous and exciting management model. That"s where innovation begins.
The Basque media are already doing so and the strengths of these years are continuing. The Basque media maintain a close relationship with citizens, committed teams and a horizontal and participatory organizational model. A solid basis for tackling innovation, no doubt. However, as in all profound transformations, assistance will be needed to accelerate processes.
We know we can"t walk alone. We need the support of an honest and faithful community that has supported over all these years our communication projects, of qualified professionals who make up the media and administrations. We are convinced that this challenge facing us is not exclusive to the Basque media, but that the Basque Country plays its own role, what we have before us is a challenge at local level in view of the homogenizing effect of the major media corporations. Our being, our culture, our language and our democratic values are those that will be threatened if we fail to strengthen our own and plural media network, well rooted and Euskaldun. Therefore, it is also a shared challenge for administrations as managers of citizens" needs.
The Basque media are aware of the difficulties and resistance presented by the deep transformation processes. They know that they are long and complex processes, but, despite the difficulties, they will also be able to face this new challenge. In any case, it is clear that this process must be global, collective, and that in order to do so it is essential that the sector be joined as a whole, that the road be made together, helping each other. Hekimen is responsible and we are working to facilitate and support this process, as it will be one of the main actions of the sector for the coming years.
Creation of the Basque Media Bureau
This has been the second most important task of the sector in 2020 and, in this case, the pandemics, we have also developed the project. In previous years, important work was carried out with the main public institutions to develop the new model of media subsidy in Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa in Basque, and it was intended to continue this work. We saw the need for a stable space or structure to try to reach agreement with these institutions on other issues that are important to the sector, and from Himi we proposed the proposal.
The proposal was welcomed by the institutional representatives, including the need for this forum and after several meetings and many discussions on this first document, the Basque Media Bureau was set up on 8 July 2020. Since then, in addition to the plenary, Technical Commissions are convened to deal with specific issues from a more technical perspective.
At this first official meeting, in addition to setting the table, priorities were set for the following months and a planning was agreed: analysis of the effects of COVID-19 on the sector, assessment of the new grant model, analysis of the distribution of institutional advertising, etc. In addition to these diagnostic works, we opted for the implementation of other works such as the measurement system of media audiences in Basque, the code of ethics of the Basque media, the proposal of a basic management model, etc.
Different meetings were held during 2020 and since then this space has had a stable and permanent work dynamic. For the sector, the creation of a permanent space of communication and relationship with the main institutions of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa has been an important step, and the intention is to set up similar spaces with the rest of the public institutions of the Basque Country, or what would be more appropriate, grouping them into a single space or forum. For our part, we will continue to work in this line, in favour of the sector, ready to cooperate.
Basque media activity in 2020
Finally, I would like to point out what has been given by the difficult 2020 media sector in Basque. It has been a special year and it is not possible to explain all the facts in a few lines, so I will simply cite some facts or examples to list some of the main trends.
The work of improving communication projects and better reaching a larger number of addressees is ongoing and, in this regard, few have taken steps in 2020 to improve their supply. Some have improved the design and/or the web (Irutxuloko Hitza, Hamaika Telebista, Tolosaldeko Ataria, Antxeta Irratia…), others have unified their editions or contributed new collaborators (such as the digital magazine Ttap), others have taken steps to facilitate the participation of the receivers (such as the magazine Goiberri) and others have grouped all their pink radio.
Innovative initiatives launched by the Basque media during the pandemic during the domestic period have also been significant. To name a few, Berria launched the digital hall for the performances of its creators, Hamaika Telebista also offered concerts from the Doka Cultural Center, Euskal Irratia created a children’s participatory session with the aim of alleviating the home of the youngest and, with the same goal, Berria offered his Mantangorri supplement for children on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Sports and/or yoga sessions, cooking recipes… often motivated by the conditions imposed by the pandemic (need to move home), we have been able to see unusual contents and formats in the popular initiative Basque media.
As a result of domestic action, the media have also had to adapt the traditional offer, and many have offered previous programmes from home or produced news tailored to special circumstances. In any case, these special streaming sessions from home have been offered throughout the life of the home, so everyone has gone to ‘normal’ at the end of this. Where the exceptional disease situation has served to demonstrate different possibilities and/or capacities.
On the other hand, the work of the local media in the dissemination of correct and relevant data and information from their peoples and/or regions in relation to the pandemic and, in particular, Community-type initiatives such as the promotion of local trade or producers should be highlighted.
But beyond the pandemic, many media were already taking steps on this path of innovation and 2020 has not been a lost year in that direction. In most cases the pandemic would have made the situation of those who wished to do so even more difficult, but in some cases it has been observed that the path previously adopted has been maintained.
For example, the wager on the podcast was maintained and/or reinforced in 2020. Although some podcasts started to offer before the pandemic, the pandemic plans have not been interrupted and new projects have emerged: The New York world, the precursor of the news, to the podcasts Zaitun and Berria FM was added a musical Dubal in early 2020. Also, La Bipareta offered by Zuzeu, We are inside and in 10 minutes the podcast was added Basque Offenders. In the same vein, the podcasts offered by Argia in relation to the contents of the journal were added to the Chronicles of Oasis humoristic first and later.
In addition to podcasts, the webseries also experienced a rebound throughout 2020 and in addition to the public chains in Basque (such as Pikuak), private producers (in the territory of Bizi Txarrak or Otsoen) also incorporated works in Basque. In this context, the popular initiative projects also offered their offers, including Ttap magazine, which offered the theme of Incidences, and Kanaldudek, again, Tantaka.
Broadly speaking, audiovisual supply has experienced the greatest growth, due, among other factors, to increased demand in the digital arena. But this trend was already before and, according to all the indications, is going to increase. In a context in which audiovisual consumption grows on all devices or screens and the offer in other languages has no limits, the Basque country, the vascospeakers, we need new attractive products.
Despite the fact that 2020 has been an exceptional and difficult year, there are those who have sought the possibility of collaborating, highlighting in this section the media of the Northern Basque Country. Once again, in this case, through local votes, a joint program was conducted with the magazines Berria, Hitza, Herria, Kazeta, Euskal Irratia and Kanaldudek. The Butaka programme of Zurriola, in which every year the San Sebastian Film Festival, Berriak, Hamaika telebista, Kanaldudek, Irutxuloko Hitza and Zinea.eus are mentioned. At the end of April, ETB and Tokikom organised a joint broadcast of films.
On the other hand, the collaboration of the popular initiative Basque media with the scientific journal Elhuyar in order to provide direct information on the pandemic deserves special mention. In the same yearbook, the protagonists will explain it in more detail, but it is clear that they have successfully demonstrated an acceptable path for other issues or situations.
Finally, I should like to mention the step taken by the media in Euskera of Urola Kosta for the establishment of the Communication Group of the Urola at the end of 2020. Uztarria de Azpeitia, Maxixatz de Azkoitia, Karkara de Orio, Baleike de Zumaia, Urola Kostako Hitza, Zarauzko.eus and Erlo Telebista have joined in a single project forming a strong and broad multimedia group (paper, internet and television). This aspect will be further elaborated later, but it cannot be ignored when explaining the major developments concerning the Basque media.
Goiena, Kronika and Gaztezulo celebrated last year 20 years as proof of their solidity and attachment. On the other hand, Hamaika Telebista was eleven years old and although it was a difficult year, he launched a series of initiatives to remember this particular birthday. For their part, the Words of the Countries turned a decade in 2020 and the Grain of Álava five years. To name a few. The Basque media of the popular initiative are being established, consolidated and progressively developed, thanks to the efforts of the working groups and the impetus of the linguistic community.
The year 2020 has also been a difficult year for the Basque media, but the sector is alive and strong. Pandemics, the pandemic, the Basque media are looking forward, ready to face the challenges they face and working to continuously improve their supply. And on that path you"ll always be next to Hekimen, willing to collaborate.
1.- The full survey can be found at https://www.hiniciativ.eus/2020/06/herri-ekintz-euskal-media - ere-nabares-sus-pandemoci-consequences