9 Millones: Crowdfunding Independent Journalism in Puerto Rico
By Emma Regan, Frankie Harnett, Laura Ingate and Alice Fusai
To be considered a good journalist, one must be as “transparent as possible with their sources and methods so the audience can make their own review of the information,” as stated by the American Press Institute. They must always behave ethically, and accuracy and honesty should be the most crucial aspects while writing a new piece. When Camille Padilla Dalmau decided to study journalism in the United States, she noticed the news stories which focused on her home island, Puerto Rico, didn’t always explain how the problems arose, or what fundamentally caused the issues: colonialism.
With El Diario reporter amongst her credentials (the US’ largest Spanish-leading newspaper), Dalmau returned home in 2018, and in 2019 took a break from journalism –
until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
At the height of the pandemic, Dalmau teamed up with fellow journalist Edmy Ayala and several Puerto Rico-based scientists to publish a newsletter that delivered factual information to Puerto Ricans in a non-alarming way. It was called 9 Millones, to indicate the 3 million Puerto Ricans on the island and the 6 million all over the rest of the world. Since then, 9 Millones has become a publishing and crowdfunding platform for journalists to investigate stories regarding Puerto Rico.
Environmental and climate change are the two main lenses through which the political, cultural and community life of the island is chronicled. This comes as no particular surprise, considering that Puerto Rico is home to a fragile ecosystem that has been struck by frequent natural disasters since 2017. The organisation is raising awareness among the population by reporting on government and private companies' misconduct and soil and marine degradation caused by pollution, and by publishing guides for a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.
But what really emerges from the accounts of hurricanes and earthquake aftermaths is a strong and tight-knit community, one fighting the front line for social justice. A perfect example of this is the story about local organisations who are illegally occupying land in order to resist displacement. Another one is about a group of women gathering to train younger ones and promote human rights in Vieques, and yet another is the story of the group selling compost to counteract the landfill crisis.
Puerto Rican people are working to build a better future for the island even in the face of adversity, and Dalmau’s work has had a direct impact on the empowerment of these very local communities.
The most quantifiable meter of success for 9 Millones was the story that launched the platform in 2021. Collaborating with Bianca Gaulau, 9 Millones appealed for funding for an article regarding the effect of overdevelopment in Puerto Rico on their natural resources. In just forty-eight hours they had received $10,000. Over the following three years, 9 Millones has crowdfunded $55,000 and, in 2022 alone, worked with thirty-one different people to develop individual stories, including the threats to Puerto Rico’s coral reefs, the landfill crisis and relief efforts after Hurricane Fiona. They have worked with journalists, creators, non-profit organisations and publishing companies to support and publish what they call “people-powered journalism.” Dalmau attributes the platform's success to a demand for this kind of journalism, with people being interested in issues that are ignored by mainstream media.
However, the success Dalmau strives for is far less measurable than funds received or even readership. To her, 9 Millones should act as a “curator” of independent journalism and a support system for its creators. Her goal is to establish a network based on the same values, which 9 Millones supports with contacts, resources and financial aid. While this goal is ongoing, her efforts this year have shown significant promise. A grant from Solution Journalism Network has enabled Dalmau to set up a series of workshops across local communities in Puerto Rico to develop independent journalism. With the aid of a non-profit, 9 Millones will offer these journalists long-term training and give them access to wider audiences they would be unable to reach alone.
Dalmau and the 9 Millones team are paving the way for change, telling stories through data, solutions and multimedia content. Their crowd-funding platform allows journalists to dig into what’s really important and highlight topics concerning the environment, climate change, politics, culture and community life. In 2023, Dalmau will continue her mission by working with and developing a community of journalists who are already documenting their own stories. Overall, by working with journalists, pushing forward to create content and generating ongoing funds to support independent journalism, Dalmau hopes "that people will see that Puerto Ricans are not defined by their problems, but by how [they] respond to them.”