Monday, November 23, 2015

An investigative journalist who thinks like a capitalist

Martin Rodriguez Pellecer of Nomada
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- You usually don't hear an investigative journalist talk about the importance of learning business skills.

But that is the case with Martin Rodriguez Pellecer, 32, founder of two notable digital news media organizations in Guatemala, Plaza Publica and Nomada, the latter launched last year.

Versión en español

"The most difficult thing for a journalist is to think like a capitalist, to realize that you have to invest and put money on the line", he told me in an interview. "You have to be flexible; you can't wed yourself to just one thing. You have to have lots of eggs in different baskets. No successful capitalist has just one line of business; all of them have lots of businesses." 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Investigative journalists form alliance in Latin America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The United States has been the world's biggest market for just about everything, including illegal drugs, and that creates big problems for its neighbors.

Carla Minet

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So much money from the drug trade flows into Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean that it corrupts governments, courts, police, armed forces, trade regulators, and other institutions that were not that strong to begin with.

The result is that many of these countries are ruled, de facto, by the whims of organized crime and not in the public interest. Criminal organizations have gone global, and investigative journalists need to go global as well in order to expose this corruption and serve their communities better. 

Cross-border cooperation was the big takeaway from a three-day meeting of investigative journalists from 17 countries in San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 4-6. Billed as "The First Caribbean Meeting of Investigative Journalists: Tracking the Stories that Connect Us" (in Spanish), one aim was to create a counterweight to the power of organized crime by cooperating across borders, according to Carla Minet, executive director of the host organization, the Center of Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico. Sponsors included the Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Media innovators inspire hope around the world

A year ago I wrote an article about digital media startups around the world and attempts to categorize and analyze them. Some of that material is now a bit dated, and I have come across some other analyses and lists that have good road maps for media entrepreneurs.

The Open Society Foundations has sponsored a series of studies. One of them is Publishing for Peanuts: Innovation and the Journalism Startup, by JJ Robinson, Kristen Grennan, and Anya Schiffrin of the Columbia University School of International and Political Affairs.

The study takes an in-depth look at 35 "innovative media outlets" producing high-quality news that have a chance at long-term survival. Researchers have often neglected examples outside of Europe and North America, so this study included examples from South Africa, China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, and Bosnia Herzegovina, among others.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Handful of data journalists shake up Mexican Congress

The truth hurts, especially when the truth is contained in receipts from bars, hotels, spas, and luxury vehicle dealers.
Israel Piña, from Quien Compro website.

A group of five young Mexican journalists has spent the past year or so sifting through thousands of expense reports of Mexico's senators and deputies (congress) to see how they are using taxpayers' money.

Among their scoops:
  • Members of the Senate bought 10 Harley-Davidson motorcycles at a cost of 2.12 million Mexican pesos, or about US$130,000, in order to serve their constituents better. 
  • Senators spent 43,800 pesos on 210 bottles of wine, or US$2,700 in a four-month period.
  • One senator bought a loaded Yukon Denali SUV for 890,000 pesos, or $60,000, for the use of an obscure agency whose purpose is to "do studies to help the Congress make decisions." The senator declined to respond to numerous requests for comment. 
Cartoon that accompanied the Harley-Davidson exposé.
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These journalists, led by Israel Piña, 33, were doing the investigative work in their spare time, for nothing. So they were surprised that their reports attracted enough attention that a year ago, television stations and major print media outlets -- including El Universal newspaper -- began paying them for their content.

They were providing a kind of investigative journalism that no one else was doing. Typically, political reporters in Mexico spend their time covering the pronouncements and accusations of the political class. It is very much inside baseball. They don't do much basic research using public documents.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Laid-off journalist finds niche in data visualization

Getting laid off is not always a bad thing for a journalist. In the case of Manuel Benito Ingelmo, it created an opportunity for him to develop something he had been thinking about for a long time.

Manuel Benito Ingelmo. Photo by
He was a business journalist in Salamanca, Spain, with an interest in statistics and data visualization.  He felt that print newspapers were definitely on the way out, he told me in an interview via Skype.

"I wanted to make the jump to a digital publication but I did not want to do the same thing as we were doing on paper."

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So when he was laid off from a small daily in 2012, he took his severance package and began to experiment with how to take advantage of the strengths of digital media -- interactivity, instantaneous publication, potential massive audience -- to create a journalistic product or service that would build on databases that were already available.

He and a handful of partners started out by giving away simple graphics on unemployment to media organizations. His idea was that these organizations could use these graphics instead of stock photos of people in unemployment lines. "In just two or three months, we reached 100 media organizations throughout Spain. We found that there was a market niche, the possibility to sell something. Then we had the problem of how much to charge for the service."

Monday, September 14, 2015

News thrives on smartphones, but publishers don't

The big players in digital news like The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and NBC News are struggling with a change in how they make money and how they define themselves as brands.

The cause is the rapid migration of news consumers and advertisers to smartphones. This migration has put the news brands at the mercy of Internet giants Facebook, Google, Apple, and others who already monopolize digital advertising.

Alan Mutter, the @newsosaur, has a deep dive on the trend and what it means for publishers.

In essence, the news publishers have discovered that much of their audience -- in some cases, most -- is accessing their content on smartphone applications provided by the big technology platforms and social networks. This means that the publishers are losing control of their users and revenue.

So the publishers have started doing something that looks like syndication of their product to the social networks and platforms. They tailor content to live on each of the platforms rather than their own -- distributed content, as described by Joshua Benton of Nieman Lab -- to increase the speed that users can access text, photos, and video (crucial on handheld devices).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

'Communities are more important than the media' -- Jose Luis Orihuela

Jose Luis Orihuela has been writing about digital media for almost 30 years. So I have been enjoying his new book, "The Media Since the Internet" (“Los medios después de Internet”), which is a compilation of his columns for newspapers in Spain and Latin America in 2011-2013. (His 159,000 Twitter followers around the world know him as @jlori.)

Orihuela, a professor and colleague of mine at the Universidad de Navarra in Spain, takes us on his intellectual voyage and shows us the courage and vision we need to navigate this sometimes scary new world of the Internet.

Versión en español

Each of these columns in the book is a like an entry in the logbook of a voyage of discovery through the uncharted waters that the new media environment represents.

Like the explorers of the 15th century, Orihuela observes, processes, analyzes, speculates, and makes recommendations based on his investigations. He drops some marker buoys to help us follow his path. The result is a guide that is valuable for students, professors, businesspeople, and ordinary citizens who want to understand this new media world.

At the outset, he says his purpose has been to communicate the idea that "to understand the transformations in the media (new and old), we have to put ourselves in the place of the users and rethink communication based on their practices and ways of using it."