Monday, October 22, 2018

This hub nurtures investigative journalism in LatAm

Huertas: Developing the next generation
BOGOTA, Colombia --  Independent news media in Latin America often lack the financial resources to act as a counterweight to the political powers and multinational businesses in the region.

But these media, many of them digital natives, have found that by banding together they can multiply their scarce resources and magnify their impact beyond their borders to challenge these powers.

One example is a platform for journalists interested in investigative journalism,, based in Bogota, which organizes training and operates a collaboration hub for investigative journalists (in Spanish, ConnectasHub), offers grants of up to $3,000, and publishes investigative projects from all over the region.

Versión en español

The founder and director of Connectas, Carlos Eduardo Huertas, told me in an interview that the goal of the platform is to "pull together a new generation of journalists with training in practical methods of doing in-depth journalism and investigative journalism".

"Something that we like to emphasize about our work is the editorial guidance we offer on topics such as journalism safety, improving story-telling techniques, distribution tactics, and creating community".

Born at Harvard

Huertas was investigations editor for the prestigious Revista Semana in Colombia, but left in 2012 to spend a year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. There he hatched the idea for Connectas and has since built it gradually with support from various sources, such as the  National Endowment for Democracy, Global Voices, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and 13 media organizations.

In addition to making grants, Connectas's team of editors and its network of experts in database management and informational graphics offer help to journalists to ensure quality and accuracy in their published work. 

For example, the independent media organization Pie de Página received a grant to produce the investigation "The Spanish Businesses That Are Bleeding Mexico" ("Empresas españolas sangran a México), which detailed how some multinationals are damaging the environment and running afoul of the law.

Following the money

Connectas, with the help of ICFJ, also supported an investigation into the Panama connections (Spanish) of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has been implicated in various corruption cases in Latin America. The company received $10 billion in contracts for 20 projects in Panama.

There are many more investigations on their site (most in Spanish).

An organization in the cloud

Connectas has a fairly flexible organization with six people working in Bogota and seven in other countries, who are involved in writing, editing, design, distribution, social media strategy, administration, and technology. In addition, the organization has visiting journalists who do "residencies" of six months in Bogota to develop investigations.
Hernández. Photo: Sara Baptista para Estadão
Connectas also has a network of 10 journalists in various countries who are available to help colleagues either in person or remotely.

The operation has an operating budget of about $200,000 a year. The funds come from the various foundations and NGOs, supplemented by funds from Huertas personally and from family.

Impressive results

ConnectasHub has developed a network of more than 100 journalists in 100 different media in 17 countries who have received training and collaborated on various projects. In total, Connectas has led or helped with 250 investigative projects.

Priscila Hernández of Mexico, who was doing a residency in Bogota during my visit, told me that one of the main functions of participants in ConnectasHub is the "guidance" (acompañamiento in Spanish) given to a journalist who is developing an investigation. They offer advice, feedback, and suggestions, and they identify resources and tools that could be useful.

Part of the duties of her residency has been to travel to other countries -Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador- to identify journalists and media organizations interested in doing investigations and helping them get the resources they need.

She herself received this kind of guidance from another member of the Hub when she was working on a story. "It was incredibly valuable".

 A Brazilian media organization described her activities for Connectas in that country (in Portuguese).


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