Project in Bolivia aims to integrate rural and suburban radio stations

byMonica Bentivegna
Jun 10, 2009 in Multimedia Journalism

In Latin America, radio -- especially rural radio -- is facing huge challenges. As more people access information digitally, radio stations are seeking new ways to organize and broadcast content, despite a struggling infrastructure in many areas.

To that end, Spanish journalist Celia Cernadas is working to create a digital platform for radio stations in both urban and suburban areas of Bolivia to share programming with one another--and ultimately with major news outlets in the capital.

Among the project's goals is to equip stations and staff with both the instruments and knowledge to improve their journalistic work, produce content, and keep stations updated on the Internet. It also aims to create a network of community radio stations and faciliate networking among community radio journalists.  

To learn more about the project, the International Journalists Network (IJNet) recently spoke with Cernadas, who is partnering with Grupo Fides, an influential radio network in Bolivia. Cernadas is a fellow of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship program, organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). She has 18 years of international experience as a print and radio journalist.

IJNet: What is the project’s goal?

CC: The project aims to train radio journalists in rural and suburban areas so they have the necessary tools and skills that will enable them to improve their work as journalists and to ultimately integrate them into a platform of digital content. As a Knight International Journalism Fellow, I work in collaboration with Grupo Fides, one of the most important radio stations in Bolivia, and more specifically, with the group of stations in the department of Santa Cruz. Fides Santa Cruz already has about 20 stations and affiliates, and my goal is to reach all of them to improve the quality of work of their journalists. Once this goal is accomplished, a digital or Web platform will be created to gather these stations and to enable journalists to access other [station's] content and to share experiences, especially on subjects of interest to the community.

Why is it important to create a digital platform to unite several stations?

In general, a network of stations fulfills a fundamental unifying function in regards to suburban and rural radio journalists. They are professionals with little journalism training but strong will who usually work in areas that are distant, and sometimes isolated, from the urban centers, and who have few professional tools and techniques to develop their work. A digital platform that combines them would make it possible to offer in only one portal all the information pertaining to a determined geographic location, benefiting its population and better informing what is happening in these small towns and communities, poorly represented in the mainstream media.

What technological, operational and journalistic difficulties or limitations have you faced in creating this platform?

The platform is not ready yet because, to make sure it works and to meet the minimum quality standards, the first phases of the project focus on journalists’ training. But the difficulties are and will be many. First, the majority of these journalists don’t have Internet access, not at home nor at work. The main reason is the cost of Internet, which is very expensive in Bolivia, but there are cases where Internet is simply not available. Therefore, many journalists have never accessed the Internet or know how it works. This presents a great challenge and forces us to look for alternative solutions, such as data transmission via cellular phone or via the satellite network that serves these stations. There are other difficulties. For example, their technical material is of low quality or obsolete.

Can you explain the digital model you envision?

The model I have in mind would be a portal that combines text, photo and sound, and where each region would have a link to share local information. Journalists will be posting on the Web little by little a weekly news story, and then two or more, which will be stored in the platform to build the history of each population. The Internet, in general, can offer many possibilities for participation in each area, once it is implemented in Bolivia as a common communication tool.

If one of the goals of the digital platform is for stations to share programming, how will each station maintain its individuality?

Currently, these stations already share programming for hours every day, which come from Radio Fides Santa Cruz. The rest is local programs with their own presenters and guests. This formula will not change. It means that these stations, which today are already working, will publish some of their content in the platform.

Would the creation of the platform improve production?

What will improve is the service these stations offer. We can imagine, for example, the usefulness of a platform of this kind during the recent dengue epidemic that happened in Santa Cruz. Instead of each station covering the story separately, the stations can join efforts and offer a more complete overview of the epidemic's occurrence, prevention, and sanitary recommendations… A platform of this kind is a necessary counterpoint to radio that, by definition, is a fleeting medium.

Does it take a long time to develop a project of this magnitude?

The truth is that it’s a very long process that involves many factors. The technical difficulties are one, but there are others such as the large distance between stations, difficult accessibility, lack of economic resources, [lack of] journalists’ motivation, scarcity of materials… it is impossible to quickly plan a project like this because it would fail. My strategy is to advance step by step, not losing my mind over obstacles and difficulties.

How many stations will be part of the platform?

There will be at least 14 stations that are connected in some way to Radio Fides Santa Cruz within the department. Their participation in the platform is voluntary, so this will be determined little by little. It may happen that, for example, small rural stations of private ownership, which we didn’t consider initially, end up also joining the project because they participated in our training workshops.

How do you think radio will change in the future?

Radio is immersed, for a long time, in a very strong transformation process because of the Internet and new technologies. The radio “a la carte,” which allows listeners to download their favorite programs and listen to them any time of the day, was a big push. Next will be implementing digital radio for good, which in many places still is incipient and will expand the possibilities enormously. The conventional formulas will coexist with this model of personalized and instantaneous service. In many places of the world, radio is the main vehicle of information and interaction for many people who are isolated or have little access to more expensive and complex mediums. Therefore, I believe the end of the medium will take a long time to come to fruition.

To learn more about Cernades' project, click here. To learn more about Radio Fides, click here (in Spanish). To learn more about the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, go to http://knight.icfj.org/.