Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Rumble Strip creator Erica Heilman on making independent audio and asking people about class
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 22, 2023, 2:49 p.m.
Reporting & Production

A Puerto Rican journalist is helping crowdfund independent journalism on the island

9 Millones is a publishing and crowdfunding platform for journalists looking to investigate stories about Puerto Rico.

When Camille Padilla Dalmau decided to study journalism in the United States, it was with the intention of later returning home to Puerto Rico.

After graduating from the Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2014, Padilla Dalmau, who was born and raised in San Juan, landed a job as a metro reporter at El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States. The years on the job covering crime and the New York City Police Department were emotionally grueling. But Padilla Dalmau learned Puerto Rican history through the diaspora communities she was covering, which she had never learned about in school. She then went on to become an associate producer for NowThis en Español. But the longer she worked in the U.S., the more she started to feel news stories about Puerto Rico tended to focus on problems, without explaining how colonialism contributed to them.

“[The news media covers] Puerto Rico through this lens of ‘poor Puerto Ricans going through another hurricane,’” Padilla Dalmau said. “The problem is not [just] the hurricanes. We’ve been dealing with hurricanes for centuries. The problem is the slow response, because of the bureaucracy of the local, state, and federal governments. The biggest problem is that the [news media] shows breaking news without contextualizing the historical and socio-political reality that makes our lives here challenging.”

After seeing the coverage of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Padilla Dalmau decided to move back to the island in 2018. By 2019, she left NowThis to be a freelance video producer and take a break from journalism. Then, the pandemic hit.

In 2020, Padilla Dalmau noticed that Puerto Rican scientists all over the world were lending their expertise to help make sure the already vulnerable healthcare system in Puerto Rico wouldn’t collapse. Padilla Dalmau and fellow journalist Edmy Ayala started partnering with those scientists to publish a newsletter that delivered verified, factual information about the pandemic to Puerto Ricans in a calm, non-alarming way. They published under the name “9 Millones” (meaning “nine million”), which signifies the three million Puerto Ricans living on the island and the six million in the diaspora.

Padilla Dalmau and Ayala caught the attention of the weekly news podcast Latino USA by Futuro Media in June 2020, which then had the two produce an episode on how Puerto Rican scientists hacked the Covid-19 response on the island.

“A lot of the networks that organized during Hurricane Maria reorganized during the earthquakes that happened in 2019 in Puerto Rico, and then organized again during the pandemic,” Padilla Dalmau said. “These networks start happening, and then they become consistent and stronger.”

That episode led to a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network to cover elections in Puerto Rico, a spot in the Lion Publishers Startups Lab Bootcamp, and a grant from an accelerator program in Puerto Rico. Between those opportunities, the responses from a growing audience, and interest from other journalists, Padilla knew there was a market for new, constructive, and nuanced storytelling about Puerto Rico. Today, 9 Millones is both a publishing and crowdfunding platform for journalists looking to investigate stories about Puerto Rico that are going untold in mainstream news outlets.

With that initial support, Padilla Dalmau wanted to build a network of journalists to work with and figure out a way to nurture the communities they cover through their storytelling. One of the journalists she connected with was Bianca Graulau, an independent video journalist who left TV news in the U.S. to return to Puerto Rico and produce investigative journalism (she’s also the journalist who created the documentary portion of Bad Bunny’s docu-music video about Puerto Rico’s most pressing issues, El Apagón).

Padilla Dalmau said partnering with Graulau was a case study that proved that crowdfunding for specific stories by independent journalists works.

Graulau had already been using Patreon to fund her journalism. She currently has 384 patrons, over 75,000 YouTube subscribers, 179,000 Instagram followers, and 694,000 followers on TikTok. In the summer of 2021, Padilla Dalmau and Graulau launched 9 Millones’ crowdfunding platform with a call for donations to support a story Graulau wanted to produce about overdevelopment in Puerto Rico that was endangering natural resources. In 48 hours, they received $10,000.

“We are doing people-powered journalism. That people were paying us to do this was amazing,” Padilla Dalmau said. “Part of the reason [Graulau] was interested is because she did a story about [overdevelopment] and people were asking her how they could support her so she could keep doing that work. It came from a demand, and that’s why I think it was so successful.”

In the last three years, 9 Millones has crowdfunded $55,000 for independent journalism. It works with a mix of independent journalists who self-publish in their medium of choice and publications who want to publish the stories and front some of the costs. In 2022, 9 Millones worked with 31 people (from journalists to production crews) to develop stories. Some of those include a feature on the threats to Puerto Rico’s coral reefs, Graulau’s story on overdevelopment, and Padilla Dalmau’s own story on the landfill crisis in Puerto Rico.

In its first year, 9 Millones was funded mostly by grants and partnerships. In the second year, Padilla Dalmau offered content consulting, which she quickly found was time-consuming and took away from what she really wanted to do: work with journalists to tell stories on their own terms. In year three, 9 Millones started leading workshops for nonprofits on how to use media and storytelling to advocate for communities.

This year, with another grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, Padilla Dalmau will go into local communities in Puerto Rico to work with and develop community journalists who are already documenting their own stories. 9 Millones will offer them trainings based on their needs and then help distribute their stories to reach a larger audience.

“I always ask people, ‘What’s the dream story you want to do?'” Padilla Dalmau said. “And then I ask, ‘What do you need to make that happen?’”

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     Feb. 22, 2023, 2:49 p.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
Show tags
 
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Rumble Strip creator Erica Heilman on making independent audio and asking people about class
“I only make unimportant things now, but it’s all the unimportant things that really make up our lives.”
PressPad, an attempt to bring some class diversity to posh British journalism, is shutting down
“While there is even more need for this intervention than when we began the project, the initiative needs more resources than the current team can provide.”
Is the Texas Tribune an example or an exception? A conversation with Evan Smith about earned income
“I think risk aversion is the thing that’s killing our business right now.”