The urgency surrounding the future of journalism has sparked many debates over the past year. While some digital media outlets have survived the worst of the issues facing news media today, others have responded to the financial crunch with massive layoffs.
At a time when journalism is experiencing a diverse array of threats, independent media requires not only more funding, but also encouragement and guidance from other media organizations that have implemented successful strategies to survive.
For three days in late March, editors and newsroom directors from media outlets across Latin America, the US, the Caribbean and Europe gathered in Cartagena, Colombia for the biannual Inter American Press Association (IAPA) meeting to discuss these very threats to their industry.
In one of the conference’s discussion panels, Jean François Fogel, the director of the Media Management Master’s program at Sciences Po in Paris, María Teresa Ronderos, Open Society Foundations’ former director of their independent journalism program, and Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the director of Confidencial in Nicaragua, discussed new strategies for journalism to resist the technological and sustainability challenges facing journalism today.
Here are their recommended strategies:
Develop a connection
Teams of journalists — even small ones — are capable of producing journalism that can have a significant impact on their communities and beyond, according to Ronderos. Key to this is that journalism must connect with its audience.
“Journalism has to work differently, and should not pretend to have all the truths. It has to be a journalism that connects with the citizenship and works with them,” Ronderos explained.
As audiences are overwhelmed with information, journalists should think about how to get the public to pay attention to their stories — to make them not only truthful, but also credible and attractive, Ronderos explained.
“Traditional journalism in the past cared about the story and how to improve upon it— now, journalists need to strategically tailor stories to their target audiences,” she said.
Build trust through transparency
Newsrooms in every corner of the world are facing significant challenges when it comes to trust. "Media have fallen from their privileged perch and are in a very difficult situation,” Jean François Fogel noted. “Especially when readers have the possibility to criticize the media in real time."
Ronderos added that the loss of trust in mass media today has brought with it significant attention to editorial teams. Given this development, media outlets should be transparent about their processes.
"The most successful journalism is the kind that shows a lot of transparency, showing how the stories are made, and where documents and sources came from," she explained. She pointed to Malasyakini, in Malaysia, which became one of the country’s primary media outlets by using its transparency to generate confidence among readers.
Use technology — both to understand your audience and to better investigate
It’s important to take advantage of technology to connect with users. “It is key to understand how users think, and to include them in your story, as well as know who they are. That's where algorithms are very important in order to have quick access to data," Ronderos said.
In addition, while anyone might be able to report on current events on social media, regular citizens can’t carry out effective investigative journalism. Utilizing technology, such as programming algorithms to track down information, conduct research and contrast sources and data, is left to organizations with greater bandwidth than regular citizens have.
“Ordinary citizens cannot contrast sources, and investigate or obtain documents by themselves. As there is so much information and confusion, investigative journalism is very important because it adds value, explains why and tries to understand,” Ronderos noted.
According to Fogel, the journalism that is surviving is the type that works with local community groups and uses technology to tell its stories. He pointed to sites like El Pitazo in Venezuela, Efecto Cocuyo in Venezuela or El Mostrador in Chile as examples that embody this approach in Latin America, in addition to outlets like De Correspondent in the Netherlands and Krautreporter in Germany.
Fogel continued, adding that podcasting is on the rise in many countries. The podcasts that are becoming successful are not about breaking news, but those that go in-depth into issues to shed light on a person or a topic that might otherwise be left untouched.
Freedom of speech has deteriorated in Nicaragua since police violently suppressed protests against the Ortega regime in the spring of 2018. National Police raided Confidencial, one of the country’s foremost news outlets; Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Confidencial’s Editor, is one of the more than 60 Nicaraguan journalists who have been forced to flee the country in recent months for security reasons.
"When this rebellion started in Nicaragua, I realized there was no way to do journalism if we didn’t connect with the empowerment of the citizens who covered the repression, the protests, and the national scope that it held," Chamorro said.
These collaborations with citizens also extend to working closely with other news media. He added: "I have seen a lot of collaborations among Venezuelan press in its own crisis. It is very important for us, too, to work with others."
A prime example
Fogel pointed to PODER 360 as one example of a media outlet that is experiencing success today. Headed by Fernando Rodrigues, and based in Brasilia, Brazil, PODER 360 began as a political blog in 2000. By 2016, Rodrigues had transformed it into one of the country’s most popular news sites, thanks to the quality journalism it produces, and its investment in independent, serious and extensive coverage of power and politics in Brazil.
Run by roughly 20 journalists, the operation is sustained through its production of a political newsletter called Drive Premium, which delivers exclusive news and analysis in advance to paid subscribers.
The PODER 360 team also recently worked on a collaboration with COMPROVA, on a fact-checking project that verified information during Brazil’s latest presidential campaigns, in 2018.
Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Branden Harvey.