“Sometimes I wonder: with so much information, when do we think?”

Lídia Heredia

Retrat de Lídia Heredia © Albert Armengol

Each morning, we can start the day listening to Lídia Heredia on her TV3 programme Els matins. Credibility, rigour and professionalism are words that describe her and what she expects. After twenty-five years, she still enjoys telling stories honestly, in a four-hour news programme, aware that this format is time consuming and that many mistakes can be made.
Faced with an avalanche of information and communication channels, the pace of the Internet and social networks, Lídia Heredia asks us to stop and think because she understands that information is of little use without criteria, verification or hierarchy. Faced with journalism’s current loss of prestige and its limitations, such as job insecurity, she claims that journalists still have room to manoeuvre to defend the profession.

Lídia Heredia (Badalona, 1971) has explained the news on TV3 for the last 25 years. And she has done so through different programmes, always live and linked to the news. She started as a reporter for the programme En directe and was a staff writer and news anchor at TV3 and the channel 3/24. She also led the debate programme Banda ampla and the 2008 Marathon against serious mental illness along with Raquel Sans. She has presented Els matins for the last seven years and has managed it since 2017. An advocate of quality journalism, which she defines as looking for stories and telling them, after verifying them, hierarchising them and applying criteria, her work was recognised last year with the 1924 Award for the best audiovisual programme as part of the 2019 Ràdio Associació Awards for “upholding professionalism and the rigour at a time of special information intensity”.

How did you decide to be a journalist?

I wanted to be a veterinarian, psychologist and attorney, in that order. I am from the first generation of compulsory secondary education (ESO), when it was done experimentally. In the last year of secondary school, we were given an internship at a company and I chose Ràdio Ciutat, Badalona’s municipal station. I went there without really knowing what it was like to be on the radio and I immediately felt very comfortable with going out and telling stories, which I think is way to define journalism. I came in on secondary school internship and I stayed. So I achieved a three-year contract after my internship and worked throughout my university studies. The summer of the Barcelona Olympic Games, in 1992, Josep Maria Martí, who at that time was a teacher at the faculty and was the director of Ràdio Barcelona, encouraged several students to take part in some tests for Cadena Ser in Madrid. I experienced the Olympic Games when I was just starting out, writing for Ràdio Barcelona.

Was this your first big contact with the city of Barcelona? What image did you have of that city?

Yes. I remember a city under construction. It reminded me a lot of the city described by Eduardo Mendoza in his book No Word from Gurb. I’ve lived in Badalona all my life. For those of us on the outskirts, going to Barcelona is like going to the big city. You’d take the train, cross the Besòs, the whole shantytown, that river that you didn’t even want to look at. That trip was almost an excursion. When I was a child, going to Barcelona meant a trip to the doctor, and from time to time I’d go with school to the cinema and the theatre, to the first Dagoll Dagom shows like Antaviana.

With Ràdio Barcelona, you discovered a different Barcelona.

Yes, the Barcelona of the Olympic Games. I experienced it when I was 18, when you experience life with naivety, ignorance and also a very healthy curiosity. It was a city that was bustling day and night. The preliminaries before the Olympics, with the flooding of ring roads and the Olympic Stadium... There were true masters of journalism at Ràdio Barcelona and I remember attending crisis meetings and councils on whether the event would turn out well. I listened, trying not to bother anyone or make a big mistake, to see if I could stay.

I remember the aluminium crisis in the Turó de la Peira, the war on water prices and the projects that Joan Colom ran from the directorate-general for drug dependencies: venipuncture rooms, methadone treatment, which started at that time, the great heroin crises... Barcelona already had very cutting-edge projects at the time. It was a time with different problems than today. We barely talked about tourism. There were many neighbourhood crises and health projects, such as the Drassanes drug addiction centre. I was working at Cadena Ser, which was a national broadcaster, and I remember joining Hoy por hoy with Iñaki Gabilondo to explain things that were being in Barcelona.

At that time, it was a city with local problems. Now, as Saskia Sassen says, cities have become more global and Barcelona is increasingly in the international spotlight.

For sure. Globalisation has brought new issue to light, and the outbreak of tourism is one of them. The great challenge of all cities, Barcelona included, is that they do not become hostile places, and here I don’t know if we are winning or losing the battle. When you don’t live in Barcelona, you always find it a city that is too big and sometimes hostile. When you travel abroad and return to Barcelona, you think that we have not yet reached the levels of hostility that you see in other big cities. However, it is dangerous that the city is not seen as a place to live and expels its own residents.

Barcelona has been a news source for major events, but also for conflicts, such as the riots in October following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the political prisoners. The detailed coverage of the riots provided by Barcelona’s television channel, Betevé, was closely followed. What do you think?

Being at the centre of what was happening was good for Betevé and we should congratulate them, because they knew how to handle it well. What was happening in those days was very television-friendly, for better and for worse. Horrible things can be very television-friendly, but that’s a subject for another discussion. A screen showing burning containers for hours and hours is almost hypnotic, but after two hours you ask yourself: what has changed in the last hour? It is quite a challenge to step away from something that you know engages the audience, but informally it doesn’t help to keep showing the same thing. Striking a balance is always tricky. Betevé had teams where they had to have them, they knew how to work locally and the viewers went looking for them. Did TV3 keep you as informed? I think so, I think they did what they had to do, which was to provide proper coverage of something that was happening and that was very important, but not a paralysed country...

In this case, both television stations were complementary.

Yes, I strongly support a varied media and journalistic diet, including the somewhat toxic media, because watching what others are doing makes you keep your critical spirit alive. Sometimes to praise it, copy it or criticise it and be able to go your own way.

Despite all the channels now, is there really any informative pluralism?

I would reverse the order. You have to explain what is happening in your environment and to do so you must include all the voices that are part of the news. This automatically makes information plural, because things feature very different actors and sectors. If as a journalist you make the effort to explain things from all points of view, the result must be plural information.

Do more channels and more information make us better informed?

Retrat de Lídia Heredia © Albert Armengol © Albert Armengol

Information alone is of little use if there is no hierarchy and if there are no criteria, context and even balance. Sometimes, I wonder: with so much information, when do we think? We cannot become machines spitting out messages that are not our own, but were created by others. You have to think, and what is perverse is that you have to think very quickly, and that’s a skill. I also don’t want to get nostalgic and say that it was better before, when you only had newspapers and you had all day to think. Today’s world forces us to work differently and think faster, but that should not make us prisoners of non-thinking. It’s one thing to think quickly and it is quite other to drown in information and not have the opportunity to take a pause, choose what’s important and put it in a hierarchy.

Information is hierarchical; not all information has the same value in journalism and not all opinions are the same. When I break my leg, I don’t attach the same importance to what my grandmother says as to what my doctor says about what can make it better. There are more benefits than disadvantages to having more voices and more media, but we need to verify, prioritise and apply criteria.

Verification is complex. We receive an avalanche of fake news every day. How do we fight against it and avoid confusion between information, fake news and opinion?

The confusion between information and opinion is not only the fault of journalists, but surely we have something to do with it. In the media, we have to really be clear when we are doing one thing and when we are doing another. It is not surprising that so many verification agencies have emerged. What do journalists do for us? You need to verify before posting, not after.

Some time ago, things moved through the media funnel, and there were few outlets. And this funnel also had its perverse dynamics of the political, economic and even personal interests of each journalist. Now there is no funnel and everything is published. You have to verify things that you haven’t even posted. It’s madness. We’ve entered a dynamic that should make us rethink a bit how we work.

But isn’t verification the purpose of journalism?

That’s what journalism is. Someone tells me something and I check it to make sure it’s true, then I publish it, but there are so many screens and so many places to publish anything directly that we sometimes have to chase a news story down to verify it. And today, it’s not just journalists generating the news. This is the big change. News stories are also generated by stakeholders, companies that find them convenient... Now, apart from trying to get our news published with all the details, we also have the job of chasing down news stories from other media outlets to see whether they are true or not. Therefore, we have many distractions.

And now we need to add social media. To what extent does it affect journalists’ work?

It is our responsibility to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore, and to rely on our judgment when we do so. I have been to a few newsrooms and there is always that thing of “they say it” or “since everyone else is saying so, let’s say so too”. The future of journalism involves quality and choice, because it is impossible to cover everything. If this profession, which on the one hand is going through hard times and on the other hand is more necessary than ever, has a future, it must choose and build a relationship of trust with its audience and readership. Credibility is more important than ever. There are so many places to get information, and so many people saying that they’re telling the truth, that you have to delegate trust to someone who has not failed you much. Because we all fail. Nobody is infallible. You have to trust those that you assume to be honest, those that have the dignity to correct what they may have gotten wrong. And it is also our responsibility to evaluate if news is relevant. Is it important? Let’s get to work on it. Is it moderately important? Let’s cover it if we can, and if we can’t, we can devote our shrinking and less secure efforts to what is really relevant.

Audience participation in Els matins has always been significant. Before this happened over the phone and now it happens over the Internet. How should this participation be managed?

People had always called the radio and television stations. People texted when they had to pay. I think that calling and waiting, or sending a text message, involves more active participation than tweeting. Viewers show you things that you don’t see and you can incorporate them. It is a legitimate critique of everything you do. Another thing is that this participation will make you doubt all your work. Since I have ran Els matins, I haven’t tweeted on screen (and this has not always been the case). There is a debate through the programme’s hashtag that takes place online. I don’t know if Twitter’s side-by-side debate should be put on screen, because participation is often anonymous, unlike when someone calls.

Television is a very powerful medium. Anything that comes out of it has a brutal impact. Therefore, there must be criteria for selection. It seems that by reproducing tweets we are very transparent and we encourage participation, but from whom? From the same people saying the same thing every day? Public participation must also demand quality. Another thing is when someone sends you a message and proposes a topic of interest. In this case, it is best to come to the set and tell us, because on screen the opinion contributes to a rich and plural debate.

According to the latest survey of the Audiovisual Council of Catalonia (CAC) on the uses and perceptions of audiovisual media in 2019, the preferred means of communication for information is the Internet, which is higher than television, radio and print media. Do you think that all these media will continue to co-exist?

Radio, television and paper have been killed many times, and here we are. The fact that the media are transforming is one piece of evidence. I have been doing television for quite a few years now and I see it as an ideal medium for live single events, because right now there is no better place to watch a football match, a big demonstration, an investiture session... Yes, general television is an endangered animal, but this extinction can take a very long time.

Over ninety per cent (92.2 %) of social network users are young people from 16 to 24 years of age. Do you have to use the Internet to reach these people?

The media are already multi-platform and multi-screen. Where you invest the most is in the digital part. Breaking news comes out earlier on the Internet than at the Els matins, or it is reported in a highly coordinated way. A lot of attention has been given to this part because there are a lot more people with a phone in their hand than there are connected to the home screen. Digital display is already a priority over traditional displays, in all media, television and radio, and of course on the printed page. Whoever wants to report a news story prioritises digital media over a programme on the air at the time.

In the CAC survey, TV3 is the highest rated television station in terms of credibility. How did it achieve this recognition?

Credibility is gained slowly and lost very quickly. You have to work at it every day, picking away and never getting complacent. It’s like a baker: anyone could make a loaf of bread well one day, but making a loaf of bread every day requires regularity. These are difficult times. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of pressure, a lot of insecurity that has come and has not completely gone away. We must do this as honestly as possible, trusting in the team we have and without relaxing because we are overloaded.

But lately, TV3 has also been the subject of criticism and furious attacks, particularly from political parties like Ciutadans [Spain’s centre-right political party] and the PP [Spain’s conservative political party].

At TV3, like all media outlets, we are subject to political turmoil. It is a television station dependent on the Parliament of Catalonia and on the budget of the government in power, but TV3 has spent many years defending how it operates, maintaining standards of quality and honesty, and the proof is that it has survived a few governments. For 23 years it was run in a certain way, but then it added a few more. At times I’ve been sorry in recent years that the discussion about TV3 has often been about generalising from a part to the whole. We must be able to legitimately criticise TV3 and be able to make constructive suggestions. If the suggestion is to improve it, go ahead, but if the proposal is to shut it down, then no, because this makes constructive criticism to try to do things better impossible. And many things surely could be done better, starting with detaching it from the government.

A law has been passed again in Parliament that requires a wider parliamentary majority to elect the members of the governing council of the CCMA (Catalan Broadcasting Corporation) and the CAC, with access to managerial positions through public competitions. The problem is that when you become political ammunition, it is very difficult to have a calm discussion because there is always someone who wants to shut you down and someone who wants to use you like a tool. The name says it all: public media must be public. They cannot be governmental or institutional. The word public must shelter us all and it should be the word with which the workers most identify.

Both in Spain and across Europe, there is an open discussion on how best to guarantee journalistic plurality and independence. Some organisations and unions want to regulate the profession and limit the concentration of media outlets into a few hands. Should the communication sector be regulated or self-regulated?

It is true that in the end media outlets have a public or private owner, such as a shareholder. But journalists have more leeway than we use. You can always push and stick your foot in the door. If we all did more of that, the result would be noticeable. In the end, the Els Matins team decides on who comes to the show or not. That is why I think our decisions, our judgment, why we do things and how we justify them professionally are so important.

When I have to go to offices and the discussion is conducted professionally, I win it. I may have poor judgment, but not out of some murky interest or bad faith. So, I think our decisions can contribute to that plurality. You can go wrong in a four-hour daily programme, but it’s an honest mistake and isn’t unhealthy. Journalists do not use the entire framework of freedom of action that we have. Sometimes, self-censorship works and decisions are made that depend more on certain compensation than on what people think they should do. I always say that we should use all our leeway. In the end, the decisions we see on the screens are our own. Obviously, everyone knows where each one works and the balances that must be maintained. A boss can also be right; you don’t have to fight with your boss systematically because you assume he wants you to do something for a murky interest of his. However, those of us who run projects have leeway and sometimes we just don’t use it. I am more in favour of asking for forgiveness than asking for permission. I have been dedicated to this for 25 years and, if I take stock of them, I have had no major mishaps.

As a manager, you recognise that you have more decision-making power. Don’t you think many journalists are economically insecure and may be afraid of retaliation or unemployment?

I believe more in carelessness and incompetence than in conspiracies. Things have simpler explanations and happen because things weren’t done well enough. It’s good that journalists fight for our stories. Going back to my years at Ràdio Barcelona, I had a lot of fights with Jordi Martí, who was my boss. You win some and you lose some. When they’re sure of what they have in their hands, journalists need to be a little stubborn. It is a characteristic that they should have. Let’s push a little.

Retrat de Lídia Heredia en una sala de reunions dels estudis de TV3. © Albert Armengol Portrait of Lídia Heredia in a meeting room at the TV3 television studios. © Albert Armengol

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