Mongabay Latin America celebrates one year with more than 500 reports published on environmental issues

Oil spills in the Amazon, indigenous peoples fighting for their native territories, protected areas threatened by oil drilling and illegal mining activity, the great impact of livestock farming on the forests of protected areas and natural disasters were the most popular issues for readers of digital site Mongabay-Latinomérica in its first year.

Since June 1, 2016, when Mongabay Latam began to publish stories about environmental issues and territories belonging to indigenous populations in Latin America, the site has published more than 500 reports.

It is the second international chapter of the original Mongabay site, which journalist Rhett Butler began in 1999 in the United States. The first chapter outside of the U.S. was in Indonesia in 2012.

Butler started his own news site due to the difficulties he encountered publishing environmental news in traditional media outlets.

In 2012, in addition to opening Mongabay Indonesia, Butler founded a non-profit organization, Mongabay.org, to facilitate the development of new education and journalism initiatives and leverage the network, traffic and reputation of its Mongabay site. The ad revenue from the news site finances the organization.

Concerning Mongabay.org, the site says: “We aim to raise awareness about social and environmental issues relating to forests and other ecosystems.” It added that “Mongabay ...is not an advocacy organization. We do not participate in campaigns or take “sides” on issues.”

Concerning the opening of Mongabay Latam, Butler said in an interview with the Knight Center: "Latin America has the highest biodiversity of any region on Earth, yet it also loses the most area of habitat on an annual basis, making it an absolutely critical priority for global conservation efforts. Therefore it has been extremely gratifying to see such big interest in our environmental news reporting via Mongabay-Latam."

Each week, the site posts an average of 12 stories. Three of them are from Mongabay's main U.S. site, translated into Spanish, and eight to 10 are original Latin American stories.

Both in Mongabay in the U.S., as in Indonesia and Latin America, they are interested in continuing to produce in-depth journalism on environmental issues around the world.

"We publish texts from 2500 to 3000 words, our texts are not short. We are not interested in giving up this style because we want to approach the issues and their problems in-depth, considering having at least five sources for the note to be balanced, following the journalistic methodology. We also always want to emphasize that we do not do activism but journalism," said Alexa Vélez Zuazo, one of the two editors of Mongabay Latam, to the Knight Center.

Mongabay has specialized in being an environmental and scientific website. “And being able to have reporters in the area where the events occur enriches the reporting," Marisabel Torres, a Peruvian journalist who is currently the director of Mongabay-Latam, told the Knight Center.

In the U.S., Indonesia, and Peru, where the reports of Latin America are edited, Mongabay does not have a conventional office. In that sense, the editors serve as a "kind of node" to look for correspondents who want to collaborate with their site, Torres said.

Peruvian journalists Alexa Vélez Zuazo and Joaquín Ortiz are editors in Lima. They manage a group of 40 independent correspondents throughout Latin America, and they have just one fixed reporter in Peru, Milton López.

For Vélez Zuazo, the interesting thing about working as an editor at Mongabay Latam is that she is able to get a panoramic view of the environmental problems that affect the entire region.

For example, she said, "when we do special regional reports – we try to have four a year – we can see how the same issue affects six or seven countries, getting to know what what is problematic in each of them at the level of public policies, etc. We can see what needs to be done and what is not working. But we managed to find many coincidences (as a region)."

For special reports, they usually work with an outline and a list of guidelines that they send the contributing journalist. In this way, they manage to have a coherent report, with the collaboration of several independent reporters, obtaining comparative data from several countries on the same subject.

In the site’s first year, the team published specials on wildlife trafficking, illegal mining and threatened animal species. They are currently working on a report on livestock and deforestation in protected areas in Central America.

Environmental alerts, like those sent by Global Forest Watch, and Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) of the Peruvian non-profit organization Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), help them to find unprecedented stories about environmental problems that have not been covered in media outlets.

"There are a lot of satellites now generating environmental alerts daily. For example, we recently received one with GPS coordinates, about a location where they were removing forest to plant sugarcane in Bolivia. Our correspondent went to the area and actually found deforestation that nobody had denounced, because this usually happens in secluded places," Vélez Zuazo said.

Mongabay Latam’s page is more like a platform that offers independent journalists who cover the environment a place to publish their stories. It does not yet have much technological innovation, such as the use of interactive maps or data journalism, but they hope to incorporate all these tools soon, in order to reach more audiences and to create more awareness of the region's environmental problems, explained Torres, director for Latin America.

"What we also do is publish all our stories under a Creative Commons license, so anyone can use them, citing us as authors," Torres said.

Their relationships and alliances with other media outlets and blogs in the region continue to grow. In Peru, Mongabay Latam has a special section on the website of the national radio network Radio Programas del Perú (RPP), in the blog LaMula, in the site of the magazine Viajeros and the newspaper Publimetro.

With Publimetro – a newspaper from the Peruvian media conglomerate Grupo El Comercio, which is published in several other countries in the region – they have a weekly space in both the physical newspaper and its website. To date, they have published six reports with them, adapting their original texts to the format of the newspaper.

They have also collaborated with El Espectador and Semana Sostenible, both from Colombia, magazine Nómada and site Plaza Pública, both from Guatemala, newspaper La Estrella de Panamá and the magazine Pacific Standard, from the U.S.

"We are in talks with El Deber, from Bolivia, and we want to get an alliance with El Faro, from El Salvador. We are also working some stories with Lado B of Mexico," Torres explained.

Its funding comes basically from foundations interested in promoting and disseminating reports on environmental news and indigenous peoples. The Ford Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation are among its donors.

Butler, the creator of Mongabay, commented that he is very impressed by the work of his team in Latin America and the public response to the published reports.

"It's also been exciting to see our network of correspondents expand across several countries in South and Central America. I'm looking forward to that trend continuing in countries where we don't currently have a presence," Butler concluded.

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.