Latin American digital media share commitment to democracy, close relationships with communities and growing presence of women leaders

The importance of media created and coordinated by women is one of the common points shared by countries studied for El Hormiguero II, an investigation into digital native media in Latin America carried out by the Gabo Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative.

This more active role of women leaders in the media “not only has to do with the creation of new media, but especially with their approaches, their ways of working, their sensitivity to certain issues and the affiliation to women's struggles in their respective countries,” says the study, which was launched on June 5 during an online event.

For the second part of this investigation, carried out during 2023 and the first months of 2024, digital native media from Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay were chosen. El Hormiguero I was developed in 2022 and included the study of 12 Latin American countries.

“Los Hormigueros I and II have contributed significantly to the understanding of journalistic quality in digital native media in Latin America. In addition, they have supported the creation of an important database that contains 1,757 digital native media in 17 Latin American countries. This is probably one of the most relevant databases of this type in the region,” Karen de la Hoz, deputy director of the Hormiguero II investigation, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).

Portada de una investigación de fondo verde se ven hormigas abriendo caminos

Portada de la investigación sobre medios nativos digitales latinos El Hormiguero II de la Fundación Gabo con apoyo de Google News Initiative. (Captura de pantalla)

In addition to women's leadership, De la Hoz also highlighted as the main findings of this second installment “the commitment to democracy” as well as “the persecution of journalistic teams in Latin America” that specifically characterized the media.

“The particularities of each country, their political, economic, social and cultural realities, the composition of its problems and possibilities, have a direct impact on the nature of their digital native media. In other words: the media are noticeably similar to their country,” the report states.

This could be seen in the case of Costa Rica, a country “that has welcomed numerous digital native media, for example, Nicaraguan media that have been expelled or persecuted,” according to Germán Rey, director of the investigation and member of the Governing Council of the Gabo Foundation, during the event that launched the report.

Social justice issues are part of the commitment that these media make, which is why they tell stories about people who suffer discrimination, homophobia and violence “choosing to defend their causes,” the report says.

The media editorial lines also delve into topics such as the environment, climate change, use and impact of technology, human rights and land rights, among others.

“The journalism of digital native media approaches certain causes and solutions, no longer on a large scale, but rather in scale closer to the daily lives of people and the most viable goals of communities. There is no longer any desire to save the world, but rather to achieve concrete and achievable objectives,” the report said.

For this second installment, the researchers received information from the Association of Digital Journalism of Brazil (AJOR, for its acronym in Portuguese), which at that time was carrying out mapping of native digital media in Brazil, Rey explained.

AJOR, based on the information needs of the Gabo Foundation, prepared its own report on Brazil.

Another of the particularities and among “the most interesting contributions” of El Hormiguero II, according to De la Hoz, is the study of native Latino digital media in the United States.

“The report includes 10 case studies that demonstrate how active listening is a key feature for media focused on discriminated or underrepresented communities. These cases offer concrete and inspiring examples of how these media interact with their audiences,” De la Hoz said.

For Rey, the inclusion of these media from the United States expanded the mapping the Foundation carried out and “today we can say that we have a documented and certified look at digital native media in America.”

Greater proximity to communities and journalistic quality

During the launch, Rey detailed some characteristics shared by media from the first and second installments of the investigation.

One of them and the first he highlighted is the “capacity for expansion and vitality” that these media have. As he explained, the majority have been founded in the last 10 years, but in the last five there has been “a particular dynamism.”

Rey also highlighted the type of relationships that these media establish with the closest communities, “communities in which they have emerged and to which, in some way, they belong.”

“This is a central point and it is a central point of the study that we did in the United States: the relationship of digital media in the United States is particularly strong in its connection with migrant communities,” Rey said during the launch. “This encounter between the diaspora communities that go to the United States and the communities of their roots is a supremely interesting phenomenon that determines the life, the orientation, the agendas of these digital native Latino media.”

These relationships are also seen in media in Latin America. According to Rey, the digital native media studied in El Hormiguero give great importance to the participation of communities to decide topics and coverage.

For this reason, these media, according to Rey, are always looking for new thematic editorial lines in which they seek to make room for “the unnamed,” those invisible people and topics that are not usually found in other media.

And to do so, these media share their purpose of seeking different ways of narrating, Rey said.

Another of the characteristics highlighted by Rey has to do with the “commitment to quality journalism.” This can be seen, he said, in that on several occasions the winning works and media in contests such as the Gabo Prize are part of these digital native media.

Other characteristics mentioned by Rey are the shared challenges in sustainability issues, the use of technologies for operation or the openness to collaboration.

El Hormiguero (the anthill) is on its way, las hormigas (the ants) are spread throughout the continent, new journalism is also beginning to appear in these anthills and in these ants that this study has detected,” Rey concluded.

The challenge of sustainability

Two of the media outlets studied as part of El Hormiguero II were present at the launch of the report. De la Hoz spoke with Paola Jaramillo, director of Enlace Latino in the U.S., and Dunia Orellana, director of Reportar sin Miedo of Honduras, who delved a little deeper into these relationships with audiences, sustainability challenges and the use of technology in their newsrooms.

Jaramillo, whose office is located in North Carolina, explained the importance of closeness to communities, understanding which issues were most important, and helping readers make decisions.

Something supported by Orellana, whose media outlet is also directed at minorities such as women and members of the LGBTQ population. As a journalist who was once part of traditional media, she saw the biases in this coverage and together with Lourdes Ramírez decided to focus on this community. “We said 'well, we are going to focus on the LGBTQ population since if we are going to transgress a system, let's do it well,'” she explained during the launch.

The challenge for economic resources is common in all spheres. Jaramillo said that despite being in a country where it might be considered easier to obtain resources, the truth is that it is difficult to access them as a Latino media outlet. She said that while an English-language media outlet can apply for five grants and get up to US$1 million, they must apply for 15 to get US$400,000.

“There is still no balance in access to resources and funds for news media led by Latinos or Latinas or that produce information for a niche, for a very particular group other than English,” she said.

Not all financing strategies work everywhere, Orellana explained.

“The financing models that are sometimes imposed on us, 'charge subscriptions.’ It is not real for the populations that sometimes live with less than a dollar a day,” she said. “So we have to reinvent and look for ways. And how have we done it? Through projects. Our main financiers are women who believe in our work and dissident women, not only sexual, but who have other perspectives, who meet other perspectives.”

El Hormiguero II has four main parts, as Rey explained. A database, a questionnaire to characterize the media, conversations with the media, as well as a case analysis.

For this second part, they selected 17 Latin American media outlets and 10 from the United States.

“We chose them so that it was about seeing in them the diversity, the vitality, the different orientations that these digital native media have,” Rey added.

​​Both the first and second parts of the investigation are available for free download on the Gabo Foundation site.

Regarding the possibility of producing a third part of the investigation, the Gabo Foundation told LJR that

“We are exploring how to continue the study, not only to include new countries, but to update the information on those already observed and explore other variables that affect the behavior of the ecosystem of digital natives, and that have to do with access to information, freedom of expression, sustainability, among other topics.”

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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