Journalists from traditional media discuss the transition to digital at Knight Center’s Ibero-American Colloquium

Nearly one hundred journalists from 13 Latin American countries, the United States and Spain gathered on Sunday, April 17 at the 9th Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, thanks to support from Google.

The subject of one of the main panels of the colloquium was the adaptation and transition of traditional media to digital formats. During this transition, many media in the region are facing common challenges, such as producing creative content that transcends any format and that will be profitable.

Attendees of the colloquium agreed that the credibility of their content and the trust of their audiences is the biggest task to achieve and maintain, given the current turbulent pace in news consumption and technological changes.

Vice president and editor in chief of Univisión DigitalBorja Echevarría, who moderated the discussion, stressed that the current revolution affecting media in the digital era is “much deeper than [anything that has happened] before.”

In this regard, Brazilian journalist Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center, was more emphatic in saying that the news is not longer an exclusive product of the media, as it was before.

“The newspaper of 20 years ago is dead, transformed into something different than it was,” he said. “And if the newspaper business stops investing in journalism, it will die.”

This is something that Artear of Argentina clearly understands. The group has been characterized by seeking innovation. One of the issues highlighted as important by Marcos Foglia, director of digital platforms, is that the team responsible for this digital development is made of journalists and programmers.

Among their strategies to reach readers is a tool that allows them to create memes on demand, interactive television, 360 º videos and videos exclusively made for social networks that have a more explanatory style “thinking about how society is affected by certain things.”

For Foglia, the most important thing is that content reaches the audience, but also that it generates commercial benefits.

Carlos Graieb, editor-in-chief of Brazilian magazine Veja, also highlighted the importance of investing in innovative tools that allow media to continue operating in the digital age. He accepts that at this magazine, like most of the media that had success as printed publications, this transition is difficult. Some of the successful strategies were to open a production studio for commercial content made by journalists, as well as a production studio for big data.

This was also addressed by Gastón Roitberg, secretary of multimedia at La Naciónwho outlined the process that the 150-year-old newspaper has tried to develop, always with the clear idea of offering “the same quality” of print, in any format.

One of the projects produced with this in mind is based on data journalism. With Congresoscopio, La Nación offers its audience a snapshot of how congressmen vote so they can “draw their own conclusions.” They are also betting on audiovisual content to such an extent that they would like to have their own television signal to be broadcast by the three cable operators in the country.

Some media in the region successfully have used pay walls through which users pay for content. This is the case of Folha de S. Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper that in 2012 became the first in the country to use one. Thanks to that, it was able to survive economically during the crisis facing Brazil at that time (2012), said Roberto Dias, assistant editorial secretary of the newspaper. Currently, 45 percent of subscribes of Folha are for the digital version, Dias said.

However, one of the most important consensuses of the discussion was the need for digital content to be creative, but above all, to be credible.

In that sense, Dias said that one of the problems currently facing the digital version of the newspaper is the phenomenon of false news that is affecting Brazilian media. They are seeking a solution because it is especially harmful to their content published on social media, he said.

For example, during the week that the possibility of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff was first discussed, three of every five news items most shared on Facebook were false, according to the BBC.

For his part, Francisco Aravena, general editor of the weekly political magazine Qué Pasawhich belongs to the Chilean media group Copesa, stressed the importance of strengthening the editorial brand of digital content. This is a method of combating “scavenger” media, which claim the information as their own, stealing web traffic and causing the magazine to lost opportunities to reinforce its brand.

Therefore, Qué Pasa insisted further on the production of branded content in its publications, Aravena explained. The journalist gave as an example the news piece “A Caval company,” published Feb. 5, 2015, about the alleged influence peddling involving Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, her daughter-in-law and the renowned millionaire banker Chilean Andrónico Luksic.

The constant updates to this “high profile” news in the online version of the magazine, according to Aravena, allowed the magazine to have great political and social impact in Chile. Also, it was broadcast by various local and international media, which gave credit to the magazine and their digital version as the source of the news.

In addition to finding creative, cost-effective content that has credibility, Élber Gutiérrez, chief editor of the 100-year-old Colombian newspaper El Espectador – which belongs to Grupo Santo Domingo - spoke of the integration process between print and digital newsrooms, so that it’s possible to create “synergy” to respond to the audience from both platforms in a collaborative and optimal way.

Recognizing the different strengths of each plaftform, including flexibility of the digital format, Gutiérrez explained how they used their site to change the tone of the same news that was published in print.

In their eagerness to address the “serious” and revelenat news in the country in a more “funny and friendly tone” that attracts the attention of more readers, they created “La Pulla.” This format, Gutiérrez said, is a space for opinion to make the audience reflect and, at the same time, collect their concerns.

One of the videos posted in this space, which was received with great fanfare from readers, was addressed to President Juan Manuel Santos, about the energy crisis worsened in Colombia this year by climate phenomenon El Niño.

That video not only reached 5 million viewers, but got a direct response from the government with a video similar in format and tone, which El Espectador also published on its website, Gutiérrez said.

Meanwhile, Borja Bergareche, director of innovation from Spanish group Vocento, told about the economic format of digital publication on which they gambled during a complete political and economic crisis in Spain in December 2015, and of which they are very proud. His goal was met in two months: a new media that was distant from the establishment, with a versatile and confrontational tone, that was made by young journalists, for an audience that wanted to be informed.

And so, they created eslang, an experimental site made in WordPress, “post-austerity,” Bergareche explained, for millennial Spaniards between 20 and 34 years of age.

On the other hand, concerning the digital transition, Lourdes de Obaldía, director of the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa, said that they are prioritizing the training of their team. The idea, she explained, is to work in a new digital platform, conducting research and publishing relevant news with multimedia content that will attract more advertisers and readers. One of the business models that they have found so far is the production of informative content, not news, for advertisers.

Thus, they created a space called “El Cinquito,” consisting of a video of less than five minutes that gives specific information about a topic, such as how to manage applications on a smartphone. This section was created for telecommunications company Movistar, one of their advertisers.

As for the new requirements for digital, Gonzalo Zegarra, director of Peruvian magazine Semana Económica, explained one of the measures that has produced good results: they have created distinct jobs for the editors of the daily and weekly edition, considering the information as a whole and not according to the platform where it will be published. These strategies have helped them to organize. This served to integrate the two newsrooms, print and digital, and thus took advantage of the professional capital they have, he added.

Concerning the synchronization process versus the integration of print and digital newsrooms, Rosa Jiménez Cano, correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El País in Silicon Valley, California, said that now everything is geared to be “100% digital first.”

Additionally, there is a strong bet on video, Jiménez said, especially through social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all multiplatform media. All this is focused on the format of mobile devices, she added, citing Steve Jobs when he introduced the new iPhone: “Computers are going to die.”

The correspondent for El País also highlighted the importance of creating columns and brands as well as the production of documentaries, fictional pieces and the use of virtual reality, as effective tools that attract more readership. She also mentioned the section Report 360 º that El País has been producing.

The Ibero-American Colloquium was hosted for the second consecutive year with the support of Google América Latina, along with the International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), also organized by the Knight Center.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.