For Tamoa Calzadilla, journalism always comes first. Whether this means fighting against censorship and in favor of freedom of the press in Venezuela, her native country, or as one of the main promoters of fact-checking in Spanish in the United States.
Calzadilla was part of the Investigative Unit of Cadena Capriles, one of the most important news groups in Venezuela, for more than 15 years. She worked as reporter, coordinator and CEO there until 2014, when she announced her departure due to the sale and changes in the editorial line of the company.
"Journalism comes first" was the phrase Calzadilla wrote on Twitter, after her resignation, showing her conviction that journalism can only be done with transparency.
After her departure from Cadena Capriles, she was part of the wave of creation of new independent digital spaces in Venezuela until she emigrated to the United States and joined Univision's Investigative Unit. There she jumped into fact-checking, leading the first fact-checking unit created in Spanish in the U.S., elDetector.
She currently leads Factchequeado, which is also dedicated to countering misinformation. Thanks to this work she was named, at the end of 2022, by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 most creative people in the business world for showing "inventiveness, adaptation and expertise to meet the challenges posed by an increasingly competitive and uncertain environment."
LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) spoke with Calzadilla about her recognition, her journalistic career as well as the future of fact-checking and the fight against disinformation.
LJR: You were recently recognized on the Forbes list as one of the 100 most creative people in business. However, there is still this romantic idea that good journalism and business are not compatible. Is good journalism a business?
Tamoa Calzadilla: Forbes Spain magazine writes in its review that they place me among the 100 most creative people in the year in business because they consider me to be one of the main drivers of fact-checking in Spanish, in the U.S.A. Before leading Factchequeado, I was in charge of the first fact-checking unit created in Spanish in this country, which is elDetector, of Univision Noticias. But Forbes says: "Named managing editor of Factchequeado (the result of an alliance between Maldita.es and Chequeado, world leaders in Spanish-language fact-checking). The initiative seeks to use lessons learned on both to create a Latino community of citizens and journalists to counteract disinformation in Spanish."
So, in your wording, it is a recognition of the "romantic idea" we have of journalism that it directly serves a community, that its essence is to be useful, and they are recognizing that we have created an independent news outlet, a Fact-checking unit of our own that is not part of the business model of big traditional media.
The co-founders of Factchequeado, leaders of Chequeado.com (Argentina) and Maldita.es (Spain) are journalists who jumped from their traditional media to make these organizations their own and have shown success. With Factchequeado I expect the same thing to happen. When you open up and create an organization like this of course you have to think about funding, how to make, execute and account for a budget, negotiate with donors and meet deadlines. You understand the importance of diversifying sources of income, of hiring a team that will make things happen and of taking ideas, creativity and the desire to do things with the resources you get.
Good journalism is good business from the point of view of ethics and commitment to principles. Although some business models show that they are in decline (the models, not the journalism), what it warns us is that we must look for others that serve the people, that keep us afloat and that guarantee that good journalism always finds the place where people need it. We journalists should always be responding to that and not waiting for the audience to come to where we are sitting comfortably.
LJR: Despite the efforts of the media, academics and even the social media platforms themselves, misinformation is more widespread than ever. What remains to be done?
TC: There is still a lot to do. I think the most challenging thing is to educate audiences on how to consume quality information, how to detect disinformation and what to do about it. This is very difficult in the midst of polarization and under threat by certain power groups that promote narratives against science and institutions, including the media and journalists. There is still collaborative work to be done to be stronger against that. That is why Factchequeado is not only a news outlet that publishes fact-checking and explainers, but it is an alliance that seeks to grow and work together with other media, big and small, to fight disinformation in Spanish (our allies share our content completely free of charge). We also provide training in fact-checking to those who request it. That's something we have yet to do: train fact-checkers in Spanish who can serve Spanish-speaking communities.
LJR: For many years you were dedicated to investigative journalism, now you are focused on this new journalistic genre of fact-checking. If you could choose, which of the two genres would you pick?
TC: I like both very much, both have given me a lot of satisfaction and with both I have that feeling of "there is a lot to do." I'm fascinated with collaborative work, both what I did with investigative journalism - with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) coordinating hundreds of journalists around the world (Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, Solitary Voices, Fincen Files ...) - and what I do now coordinating deals with journalists from South Miami to Wichita, Kentucky, North Carolina, and coast to coast from California to New York, and from big cities to border towns to fight disinformation. So I would say I pick collaborative work and that's what I promote at Factchequeado.
LJR: There was a time you were a key figure in Venezuelan independent journalism, fighting against censorship and in favor of freedom of the press. After seven years outside Venezuela, how do you see and what do you think of journalism in the country today? What changes have you observed?
TC: After seven years, I look in the rearview mirror and I feel very good to have given that fight, to have written that letter of resignation denouncing censorship and what was behind the purchase of media to favor Chavismo. To have participated in that wonderful wave of creation of digital news spaces to provide the best journalism.
I see my colleagues from back then running those sites, educating new cohorts and standing out and I feel very, very proud. Gabo, Ortega y Gasset, King of Spain, Global, Ipys, María Moors Cabot, SIP awards have been granted in recent years to Venezuelan independent journalism in the midst of the censorship imposed by the dictatorial regime and the communicational hegemony attempted by the State media.
I also see them forming alliances to amplify their voices and making multiple efforts to reach remote places in Venezuela, facing the risk we know they run in a system that does not offer guarantees or rights and where there is a lot of precariousness... All this gives me deep satisfaction. I can't say enough.
LJR: Does journalism still come first?
TC: Always! Before becoming the phrase with which I resigned from Últimas Noticias, "Journalism comes first" was handed to me by my friend Nathalie Alvaray, then vice president of the company and a master in the art of promoting journalism and defending the editorial side in the midst of business. Whenever she had to make a difficult decision, she would bring that phrase up. So it is very useful to close your first question.