Nonprofit combines data and investigative journalism with community interaction to report on northwest Costa Rica

The Costa Rican newspaper La Voz de Guanacaste, founded in 2002 as La Voz de Nosara, began as a printed newsletter featuring local stories from the northwestern Costa Rican province of Guanacaste. Today, it is the only non-profit Costa Rican newspaper with digital and print versions published in English and Spanish, and almost 42,000 followers on social networks.

Emiliana García, executive director of La Voz de Guanacaste, told the Knight Center that "in these two years working as a non-profit association we have been able to produce more content throughout the province of Guanacaste, create events and workshops to unite and train communities."

"We have achieved greater interactivity with our readers, publishing news focused on solutions and not so much on problems and, above all, the presentation of special research projects that largely happen thanks to suggestions and feedback from our audience," she added.

La Voz de Guanacaste is the only Latin American media outlet to be among the 12 finalists of the annual competition VIVA, Premios Schmidheiny, which awards entrepreneurs and innovative organizations with the aim of strengthening the management of their projects. The newspaper is competing in the Social Innovation category, along with entrepreneurs from Chile and Colombia. Winners will be announced on Aug.18.

From 2002 to 2013, the newspaper was called La Voz de Nosara because it mainly reported on news from the Guanacaste coastal community of Nosara. Over the years it expanded its reporting to other cities in the province of Guanacaste, and so it changed names.

"Our great advantage, in addition to producing news with context and original research, is to be the articulation, the bridge, between the problems and the solutions of the province,” García explained. “Traditional media remain in the publication of an investigation, but we seek to go further: in addition to reporting the problem, we also seek the solution and connect both.”

Giannina Segnini, a renowned Costa Rican journalist who participated in the Panama Papers investigation and was head of the data journalism research team at La Nación, one of Costa Rica's longest-running newspapers, told the Knight Center that, in terms of quality, La Voz de Guanacaste competes with media at the national level, and fulfills a "vital function" in one of the most important regions of Costa Rica.

"The fact that it is one of the regional media outlets that are characterized by greater independence, high journalistic quality, graphics, really is like a jewel in the collection of options for news in the country. Not only in covering what happens in the region, in Guanacaste, but also even topics of national interest," said Segnini, a member of the newspaper’s advisory board and current director of the Master of Science Data Journalism Program at Columbia University in New York.

At the provincial level, La Voz de Guanacaste covers a wide range of topics, like politics, culture, gastronomy, education, the environment, health, tourism, crime, etc.

One of its main objectives is to make journalism that is ethical, participative, and of quality, with the mission of uniting their communities and making them visible, in search of its development.

For example, they created an app showing the distribution of water wells in the different districts of Guanacaste, along with their permits and owners. Readers are invited to report wells that are illegally registered.

At present they are working on a data journalism project called "Guanadata." The team intends to look at whether authorities in several municipalities in the province are properly spending their funds.

"In our [previous] pilot project, in the municipality of Santa Cruz, we realized that the money [destined] for the poorest communities was not spent, so we decided to investigate what the problem was and we discovered that the projects presented by the communities did not comply with the requirements and so they weren’t given the money.”

Segnini explained that the theme of community is very strong in Costa Rica, and that La Voz de Guanacaste does not produce passive, unidirectional journalism, but rather, it is a very dynamic platform that involves the community on important local issues. "I think that makes it even more unique, especially because this issue of citizen participation has not developed much in the country," she said.

The newspaper works constantly with community leaders and people who are active in their community. According to García, these are usually union leaders, presidents of development, tourism or security associations. "They are not only sources of information, but also people we partner with to give workshops or produce events," García explained.

In that sense, García pointed out that a particularity of La Voz de Guanacaste is that most of the communal leaders they work with are part of the newspaper’s network of citizen journalists. "So, as you can see, the network of interaction with leaders is broad and rich," she said.

The Costa Rican publication became a non-profit association in 2015, although advertising continues to account for 20 percent of its total revenue. However, according to García, it hopes that becoming an nonprofit will preserve its independence and editorial integrity. Currently, it receives financing through donations and subscriptions. Its co-founders – including Americans John S. Johnson and his wife Susan Short – continue to fund a large portion of the projects.

La Voz de Guanacaste financed its operations in 2016 through the sale of advertising in print and digital (19%), through scholarships (12%) and private donations (69%), according to García.

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.