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Showcase of media innovation: View from Latin America

At ISOJ, stories of collaboration on viability, fact-checking, free expression

The International Symposium of Online Journalism (ISOJ) has been a showcase of media innovation since its launch in 1999 by Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas, Austin.

I’ve attended and spoken at several of them and always found it stimulating and rewarding. This year, 296 people from 21 countries attended in person. I attended online from Germany, along with more than 900 others from 90 countries.

Stimulating local journalism

A panel relevant to my work dealt with shared resources available to small, local news outlets. Eniola Longe covered the roundtable that brought together representatives from LION Publishers, the Revenue Lab of Texas Tribune, and Newspack, a collaboration of WordPress and Google News Initiative.

Lisa Heyamoto, director of teaching and learning at LION (Local Independent Online News), said their resources link three pillars of sustainability: operational resilience, financial health, and journalistic impact. About two-thirds of LION’s 400 members are for-profit.

Photo from ISOJ.

LION receives support from the Google News Initiative to offer its members funding and sustainability audits, with recommendations. LION’s goal is to complete 100 audits by the end of 2022. In 2021, 55 audits were completed.

RevLab Director Emily Dresslar said she underestimated the number of calls she would receive from startups, legacy media outlets, or from people just thinking about media. The Facebook Journalism Project provided $2.5 million of initial funding for RevLab.

Texas Tribune has been a model of best practices for news entrepreneurs for years, and RevLab formalizes the training and support its personnel have been offering.

Newspack is a publishing platform that helps small and medium-sized news organizations produce journalism, build audience, control costs, and generate revenue. It’s an open-source publishing project of and the Google News Initiative.

Fernando Diaz, head of publisher solutions for Newspack, said the platform hosts over 150 publications globally. Its service costs $750 a month for the smallest organizations, based on monthly revenue. The most expensive tier is $2,500 a month, “which is way less than a full time employee,” Diaz said.

RevLab is partnering with LION Publishers and News Revenue Hub to host the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin from Oct. 27 to 29, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Latin American Conversation (Coloquio)

Teresa Mioli provided an overview of the Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism (versión en español), which for 15 years has been a a Sunday feature of ISOJ. It is conducted in Spanish and focuses on media of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world. (Here is the video of the four-hour program, in Spanish.)

A varied lineup of panels and speakers took the stage. Below are links to reports in English of those sessions (they are also available in Spanish):

Here are some excerpts:

Accelerating growth with Velocidad

Vanina Berghella, director of Fondo Velocidad (speed fund), said the program provided individualized coaching and analysis for 10 media outlets in management and finance, sustainability, audiences, and product vision and culture.

Photo from ISOJ.

Velocity is run by SembraMedia and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), with financial support from Luminate. The program was funded with $1 million.

The participating media were Convoca, from Peru; Lado B, from Mexico; Cerosetenta, from Colombia; El Toque, from Cuba; El Surti, from Paraguay; +CIPER, from Chile; Ponte Jornalismo, from Brazil; El Pitazo, from Venezuela; and Red/acción and Posta from Argentina.

Diego Dell’Agostino, co-founder of Posta, said that, thanks to Velocidad, Posta expanded and diversified its staff. “We went from being a start-up to being a company that grew 200% the first year and 400% the second year.”

Fact-checkers collaborate globally

The panel on fact-checking included Liliana Elósegui, editor-in-chief of Verificado (Mexico); Cristina Tardáguila, Senior Program Director of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ); and Clara Jiménez, co-founder and CEO of (Spain).

Moderator was Laura Zommer, executive director of Chequeado (Argentina). “In our case (collaboration) is what we do every day, all the time. We have an impact, but we have much more impact because we work collaboratively and we don’t repeat ourselves,” she said.

In 2014, Chequeado organized the collaborative fact-checking network LATAMChequea, which now has 32 organizations from 15 countries. In response to misinformation about the corona virus, LATAMChequea led the Spanish language part of the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, coordinated by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) of the Poynter Institute.

The #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance has generated more than 16 thousand verifications in 43 languages, on information from more than 70 countries. Three chatbots were also developed for WhatsApp (one in English, one in Spanish, and one in Portuguese).

The experience gained in verifying the pandemic was applied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the #UkraineFacts project, developed by The Spanish fact-checker created a collaborative database with colleagues from other countries to create digital products in different languages and help disprove fake news about the conflict.

In Spain, digital subscriptions take off

Borja Echeverría, managing editor of Spanish newspaper El País and keynote speaker, described the success of El País’s digital subscription, which was launched at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. He predicted the newspaper will soon reach 200,000 digital subscribers. 

The key to success with digital subscriptions, he said, is tightly integrating the editorial model, the business model, and the technology model with the marketing model.

Echevarría said that the newspaper just launched its first daily podcast with a team of 10 people. The the podcast surpassed 1 million listens in its first month.

Nicaraguan media navigate suppression

Media suppression in Nicaragua worsened in 2018 when news organizations reported on citizen demonstrations against President Daniel Ortega’s administration. Since then, government authorities have frequently subjected journalists to beatings, harassment, prosecution, and imprisonment.

Dagmar Thiel, CEO of the NGO Fundamedios, chaired a panel that included journalists Lucías Piñeda, director of 100% Noticias, Octavio Enríquez, an investigative journalist for Confidencial, Hans Lawrence Ramírez, journalist for La Prensa, and Jennifer Ortiz, co-founder with her husband of Nicaragua Investiga. Ortiz and her family have left the country to escape harassment.

Meanwhile, Enríquez’s headquarters have been raided twice. “I don’t want you to see us as defeated because we’re not. We continue doing journalism and we are going to continue.”

James Breiner

This article was originally published on Entrepreneurial Journalism, and is republished with permission.
You can connect with James Breiner on LinkedIn here.