Latin American media outlets create partnerships with universities to produce journalistic content

The anchors are experienced journalists reporting national stories and interviewing the nation’s leaders for a professionally-produced television news program. Everything about the two-hour daily newscast from Peruvian newspaper Correo looks and operates like a professional newscast.

But there is a collaboration behind-the-scenes that makes this program special: it is produced in a studio on the campus of Saint Ignatius of Loyola University (USIL for its acronym in Spanish) with the help of students in communications studies who are operating cameras under their professor’s supervision.

Latin American media, like Correo, are forming alliances with local journalism schools as a creative way to fight shrinking resources confronting the journalism industry, while also preparing the next generation of journalists. They are sharing workspaces, collaborating on research and reporting side-by-side.

Like virtually all print publications around the world, sales of newspaper Correo were consistently declining. That led its parent company, Grupo Epensa, to establish an agreement with USIL in 2015 to share workspace and resources to produce content. Thanks to this agreement, Epensa professionals can use the university’s studio and television production room, with the collaboration of some USIL students as pre-professional practitioners.

That’s how Los Desayunos de Correo y USIL (Breakfasts with Correo and USIL) was born. It’s a morning TV news program with informative content produced by Epensa journalists in the USIL television studio. Communications students operate the cameras and two professionals hired by the university are responsible for managing cameras and sound.

"In these two years, this co-production agreement with Correo for the development of the program ‘Breakfasts with Correo and USIL’ has benefited thirty students, giving them the necessary skills to be able to practice their profession,” Úrsula Vallejo Moreno, director of the communications program at USIL, told the Knight Center.  “They can converge with professionals of vast careers in press and television, and have them as referents. Additionally, they learn, in real time and in a direct way, the process of communication, production and realization of informative programs. All this gives them the ability to be highly competent professionals.”

The news program is broadcast two hours every day on open signal TV, through the Willax TV YouTube channel, on Facebook Live and on the websites of Correo and USIL.

"This format is a commitment to journalistic content. If the advertising comes, perfect. In fact, companies such as (telecommunications operator) Claro have shown their products during the broadcasting hours," said Iván Slocovich, national director of Correo, who added that Grupo Epensa is very satisfied with the strategic alliance.

And Correo is not the only Peruvian media outlet to see the benefits of working alongside university students.

In July 2017, digital site Ojo Público, which produces investigative and data journalism, published its first joint report with university students studying journalism at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP for its acronym in Spanish). NarcoMapa, a platform for investigative journalism, focuses on the main drug trafficking cases in the country, their actors and their political connections.

The project was proposed by a group of university students nearing the end of their journalism studies at PUCP. As part of a course taught by Peruvian lawyer and journalist Rosa María Palacios, the students presented a reporting project, proposed a business model and a media outlet that would publish the report. They also outlined strategies to distribute the project.

"The subject matter interested us and we also intended to work with young people, with university students," said Óscar Castilla, executive director and co-founder of Ojo Público. He highlighted that the site’s mission commits them to helping young journalists and students that will be entering the job market.

NarcoMapa "was a project that was a little sui generis, in which we had to accompany the students in the process. Two or three months after we started, we agreed that it would be a joint project between Ojo Público and them (the students)," Castilla said.

The students learned how to handle judicial sources, to report on the street and in courtrooms, to take photos. According to Castilla, the experience was fairly complete in terms of what it means to be a modern journalist as opposed to a traditional journalist occupied with covering and writing a story.

For some media, collaboration results from not only a desire to teach and spread knowledge, but out of a need for more manpower.

In Argentina, newspaper La Nación and its data journalism team enlisted the help of volunteers who were in journalism school, as well as students in the humanities, to help compile information for its open data platform of affidavits from federal judges and members of Argentina’s ministerial cabinet.

The newspaper and its data team, La Nación Data, had been working on the project since 2012.

At the end of 2013, they realized that with only 10 people on the data team and other ongoing projects, they could not upload all the information they had collected about affidavits from previous years.

"We needed to have a controlled group that we could follow up with, and it occurred to us to talk to one of our colleagues, Hernán Cappiello, one of the journalists from La Nación who is the director of the journalistic communication program at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), to see if we could send an invitation to the students to see who wanted to join. He distributed the invitation among the students at UCA and we trained them here at La Nación," Romina Colman told the Knight Center.

Colman is responsible for data production and is the project coordinator between La Nación Data and the newspaper's general newsroom. She specializes in access to public information.

The 15 UCA journalism students who agreed to volunteer for the project were trained at La Nación in 2015. They received a manual and user profiles with which they were able to collaborate both from the newspaper and from their homes.

"For me, it was great that La Nación was able to receive us, which for them was helpful, but for us it means incorporating new content [in the program]. We are more than happy with the alliance between the university and La Nación Data. At least 20 students [from UCA] have already collaborated in La Nación projects," Cappiello, journalist from La Nación and director of the journalism program at UCA, told the Knight Center.

The Argentine public officials’ affidavits platform is updated continuously and in stages with the help of the volunteers. La Nación Data is working now on a report based on the financial and patrimonial information on ministers' investments that has been collected so far, Colman said.

"This is a look at the professional world and innovation, such as data journalism, or the analysis of some particular information for a specific project. It is a very, very valuable approach,” Cappiello explained. “The second aspect that I find very interesting is that the projects in which we are participating are those that journalism is producing today, which have to do with the idea of collaborative journalism, in which networks of people who undertake a project can include people from civil society.”

La Nación also counted on volunteers from universities in Argentina to help populate their collaborative platform and open data project VozData, which was developed with support from Knight Mozilla Open News y Civicus Alliance. In March 2014, they started working on the first project of this platform, the Senate spending project, according to Florencia Coelho, investigations manager and data training manager.

In order to gather all this information, Coelho said, La Nación again called for volunteers, reaching almost a thousand people, mostly from universities such as UCA, Austral University, El Salvador University, University College of Journalism of the Province of Córdoba (CUP), Torcuato di Tella University, 21st Century University and University of Concepción of Uruguay.

For three years, the Senate Expenditure project has continued with volunteers updating the platform with information on the expenditures of Argentine lawmakers dating back to 2010.

Likewise, in a separate project, they worked with university students and volunteers from various nonprofits to check poll worker reports in the primaries for the 2015 Argentine presidential election and subsequently revealed several irregularities in the reports.

"The important thing about this task as a whole is not to work for La Nación for free, but that we are opening up public data with many people ... to be able to have a database and do journalistic investigations, both them [students], and La Nación,” Coelho said. “But it is an impossible project to work on our own; working as a team with universities and NGOs, we achieved a project that otherwise we would not have been able to do.”

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.

More Articles