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." 

Rodriguez was one of the presenters in what was billed as "The First Caribbean Meeting of Investigative Journalists" (Primer encuentro caribeño de los periodistas investigativos) in San Juan Nov. 4-6. He was part of a roundtable I chaired on sustainability. More than 40 journalists from 17 countries participated in the event.

Business model for investigative journalism
Rodriguez is comfortable wearing the hat of a business person. He has to be. He is managing an annual budget of $240,000 and a payroll of 16 people. He recognizes that he has to be creative when someone presents him with an opportunity to market his brand and make some money.

Following that model, Nomada collaborated with several other organizations on a Halloween Party for 1,500 people, did an analysis of the political landscape for a bank, and developed a special report on criminal impunity, which was financed with $15,000 from an NGO. "We charge for whatever we can charge for," Rodriguez explained. 

In an email after the interview, Rodriguez detailed how Nomada has been financed since its launch 15 months ago:
  • $230,000 in a loan that he secured
  • $150,000 from shareholders
  • $180,000 in grants from Hivos de Holanda, of the Netherlands, Open Society Foundations, Planned Parenthood, and the government of Norway
  • $40,000 from advertising, events, and lectures
Practical and idealistic

"The most difficult thing is finding really talented people who we can afford," Rodriguez said. "You have to have a mix of experience and a lot of energy. We have a few veterans and lots of brilliant millennials."

In the "about us" section of the Nomada site is a kind of manifesto and value proposition condensed into nine words: independent, fresh, iconoclastic, optimistic, esthetic, feminist, investigative, avant garde, and nomad. "We nomads don't know what the future holds, but we know it is better. And that we will build it with our own hands. And that we have to get moving to change things. And that the world needs us to get moving. And for this we came into the world."

Following that line of idealism, Nomada recently published a list of 47 "megabusinesses" (Spanish) that take advantage of a law allowing them to pay very little in taxes. In many cases, these businesses are also doing substantial business with the government. 

A video interview with Martin Rodriguez Pellecer (Spanish)


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