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6 febrero 2023

Belén Lorente: “Being curious, knowing how to listen and contrast are the keys to journalism. Whether you are good or bad becomes clear as the years go by”

The journalist from Zaragoza (1973) began her professional career at Cadena SER. In 2000 she began working as a presenter at RTVE Aragón. There she was head of news and director of the center. In 2019 she began her career as a correspondent in Lisbon, Portugal. In Go Aragón we asked her about her experience, her dreams and her perception of journalism today.

What has your journalistic career been like?

I chose journalism because I had the Lou Grant series in my head. My first internship was at Radio Zaragoza in 1997. Soon after I was put to do court reporting. This was a complicated stage because I had no idea what a court order was, a sentence, etc., but it helped me to learn a lot about this profession. I was there for three years, also editing several news bulletins, and in 2000 I joined Televisión Española in Aragón as a presenter of the afternoon news, because at that time there were two news programs. When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was offered the position of head of news, which practically coincided with the Expo Zaragoza 2008 stage. That was a brutal experience, I think I worked 27 hours a day, more than a day. And then I became director of the territorial center. I went back to being an editor until almost three and a half years ago when I was offered the chance to take the leap and go abroad.

In 2019, they offered you the chance to pack your suitcase and go to work and consequently to live in Portugal, specifically in Lisbon, as a correspondent. What was that moment like?

It was overnight. It was something I didn’t expect. Correspondents in TVE almost all leave Madrid, not for nothing, not because they don’t count on the territorial centers but because it has probably always been like that. So, my case was almost an exception. I had to answer within 48 hours and I think I will never forget that phone call. I said yes, and here I am. I entered in December 2019, now I am going to do my fourth year here, with two years of pandemic which has been a bit of a “slowdown”, but the experience is being incredible. It allows you to really get to know a country.

Are correspondents important?

Yes, when you see in many media that send special envoys to cover certain things, you notice that lack of experience and context that a correspondent has, simply because he is living in a country, and when you live with the people, talk, things happen to you, you have to go to the doctor, etc., you can really understand what is happening in a territory and tell it better to the public opinion, which in the end is what it is all about. I have always said that a year is too little time for a correspondent. Colleagues usually stay at least two years and from the third year onwards is when you settle down. In my case, you don’t become Portuguese, but almost. It’s a total immersion that you do in that country.

Does it change your life a lot?

It’s a 180-degree turnaround. In my case, I came from an orderly life: three children, married, with my schedule… and suddenly you go to another country. The change serves you first of all to get to know yourself as a person. It is a litmus test to ask yourself who you are because you have a lot of time to think: who you are, why you have made this decision, what you are doing there, etc. All those hours you used to have occupied with that orderly life suddenly disappear. Even though the correspondent is on the phone 24 hours a day. You change the way you are, the way you think, the way you see things. I came alone, because I understand that my partner has his life and his work, and I didn’t want him to break with that. Little by little, I have been bringing my children with me. It is the immigrant’s life, you leave and then you bring people with you.

What have you learned at this stage?

I think one of the things I have learned is to think on a day-to-day or short-term basis. This has also happened with the pandemic. I’m not going to worry too much about what’s going to happen in a month because what’s the point? I think this is one of the things that happens when you go to live in another country to work.

What is your day-to-day life like as a correspondent in Lisbon?

I am a correspondent for Televisión Española and Radio Nacional. My day-to-day consists of getting up very early, around 6 a.m., because I like to do sports. I watch the news on the public channels and check the general press. I usually start and end the day glued to the news. We depend a lot on what they can ask us, regardless of what may happen in the news. It is true that Portugal is a small country, without much political strength like the United Kingdom, Germany or the United States, but things happen in Portugal and it is also a neighboring country, so we are constantly watching each other. So, my day-to-day work is to be aware first of what I think may be newsworthy and may be offered to the news services or programs, and also of what I may be asked to do. For example, maybe there is no news on gas that day, but they ask me to do a contextual news item on how the market is here, if it is regulated, if it is free, how many people it affects, etc. And this is from Monday to Sunday. Because at the weekend there is another team and they can ask you the same thing. In a correspondent’s office, we work much more on filmed topics, reporting, than on live coverage or the news itself. There are very quiet days and others when you don’t have hours, because they ask you for things from Telediario, Canal 24 horas, TD2, programs, etc.

Did you know Portuguese when you agreed to go to Lisbon to work?

No. I was sold that Portuguese is almost like Spanish. It’s true that when you read small things you can understand it, but then you realize that it’s very difficult. When I came here I had no idea of Portuguese, I spoke English. It is true that everyone here knows how to speak English, for example movies are not translated into another language. Also with the British community they have a lot of relationship with the business community. I took six months of Portuguese classes and when I started to be able to defend myself I stopped. I speak ‘portuñol’. Portuguese is a very complicated language. So much so that the country’s public broadcaster has a TV program that teaches it.

When you made the decision to go to work in Lisbon, did you feel more judged for being a woman than if the same decision had been made by a man?

In my family environment I have been very lucky that everyone supported me, starting with my partner who was the first to tell me “don’t even think about it, go”. But it is true that in a not very distant environment, among acquaintances, at work, friends, etc., I have heard some comments, probably without malice, “Oh, you are leaving? and then the children? If it had been the other way around, no one would have said anything to a man because the children would have stayed with the woman. I think that the issue of work, women, journalism, the environment… there is still a lot to do. There are many situations where you say “no way”. We have seen it in female colleagues who have gone to the war in Ukraine and they have been criticized because they painted their eye line for the live broadcast or because of the way they were dressed. A man is not criticized for that.

Would you recommend a journalist working in Spain today to take advantage of a correspondent’s position?

Without a doubt. This has been a good experience not only for me but for my whole family. A very positive turning point. At the beginning I came alone and I have been bringing children with me. The middle one and the youngest, who are starting high school here, are delighted. The problem will be when they have to go back (laughs). In the end, the balance is very positive, but you also have moments when it is not so good. I am talking about my experience. In some cases you are very lonely, you are in a country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t have friends… The weekend comes and when you have seen the whole center, you have visited all the museums and your agenda runs out, that’s when you say “oops, I have to do other things. I can’t live in a country as a tourist, I have to be from this country”.

Where do you think journalism is heading? What is the future of correspondents?

I think that in the end it is a question of interest: what weighs more: economic or social interest? Making television is very expensive. Having a person who has the time to make a well-told story is worth money, but otherwise we are not doing information. Otherwise we are all doing the same thing, telling the same thing, without going deeper. It is very noticeable when there is someone who is in the field. In the end, journalists have to be valued for what we do and it is a pity because otherwise there is no social criticism, we cannot tell what we like to tell, which are the injustices, what is happening, but we are all left with the headline.

Has the Internet had a positive or negative influence on journalism?

In my opinion, it has its advantages. I believe that information doesn’t take up space. I think the more tools you can have to tell the story, the better. I am not an advocate of traditional journalism, I think it has to evolve. The important thing is coherence because the public is not stupid.

What about platforms?

It is true that we are now in a moment of platforms. We work with hybrids, web pages, podcasts, etc. I believe that communication now has no borders. But rigid formats such as news programs are not going to disappear. There is no single format. Information is like a large container and journalists choose which audience we want to address and how. My children get information through social networks and, if they want, they watch a documentary on their tablet. We have to focus on that viewer who is now 18 years old. It was also said that paper was going to disappear years ago and that has not happened and is not going to happen. We have to look at how we are going to share. I don’t think it’s easy. There is no magic wand. Resources are limited and what is clear is that you have to bet on an informative product and, if you want it to be good, that has a cost so that it has quality. The people who are working have to have time, otherwise it is impossible, otherwise they become “churros”.

For you, what are the keys to journalism?

Telling information well and contrasting. Sometimes we live in such a crazy world, where everything goes so fast, that we take things for good that are not. Information has to be checked a million times. And if you are not sure and verified, it is better not to say it. It doesn’t matter if it has already been told in other media. At least it has worked for me, and I have been in television for 22 years. It is important to check it out so that you don’t feel deceived, first of all, and so that you don’t deceive the rest.

In short, to be a journalist you have to be curious first. If you’re not curious, you’re not going to find out anything. You have to be interested. You have to walk down the street and look at things. Once you have managed to notice what is going on around you, listen – not with your ears but with your ears – and thirdly, and fundamentally, contrast. To contrast is also to try to tell the other side. In the face of a complaint, see if the other party really wants to give its version, because sometimes sources lie to us even unintentionally. That is essential, then whether you are good or bad will be seen over the years. For me, attitude is much more important than aptitude in a professional.

Within journalism, do you have any specific dream to fulfill?

I think that part of my dream has been fulfilled. I really feel very fulfilled. Maybe the time has come for me to be older. You don’t live your working life in the same way when you’re 49, what I’m going to do, than when I’m 30. I love journalism, I think I’ll be 90 years old and I’ll still be a gossip. But with age you feel a certain disappointment to see that there are many very good people who don’t have opportunities or even yourself, you want to do something and you see that you don’t have time. These are things that age gives you. Dreams? I’m a dreamer. I would like to continue doing television, but in a reportage format. Live shows are great, they give you a lot of adrenaline and I love them, but when you’ve been doing them for 20 years… now I’d like a quiet format, “chill out” journalism (laughs).

In Portugal, how do they see Aragonese people? Are we known?

In Portugal there are many Aragonese tourists. I was surprised that when people ask you where you are from, we tend to say “from Zaragoza, which is between Madrid and Barcelona” and here everybody answered me “yes, yes, I know it, I have been to the Pyrenees”. Many young people come here to study Erasmus, we have many things in common historically… Between Aragon and Lisbon there is a good understanding. There are many economic relations, companies that work here. There is also a lot of investment. In fact, the best investor in Portugal is Spanish.

 

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