Technological challenges for newsrooms debated at 5th Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism

About 40 journalists, media executives, and academic researchers from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal met in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, April 22, for the fifth annual Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism, organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. The Colloquium followed up the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism.

One of the main topics of discussion was the technological challenges for traditional newsrooms to adapt to the new digital era. The assistant director of the Spanish newspaper El Pais and Brazilian journalists Daniela Bertocchi from Editora Abril and Pedro Dória from O Globo explained the efforts of their companies to improve the integration of traditional operations with new digital platforms.

Other topics addressed at the colloquium included the importance of social networks for reporting in areas most affected by violence and the proliferation of political blogs in Mexico; non-profit investigative journalism in Peru; the appetite for digital training among Latin American journalists; the social role of news sites; and the use of data journalism to enforce government transparency.

The day started with the academic research presentation of Daniela Bertocchi, journalist for Editora Abril and Ph.D. candidate of the University of São Paulo, and professor Elizabeth Saad Corrêa of the same university. Their research focused on the content integration platform Alexandria, used by Editora Abril, the largest magazine publisher in Latin America.

For Bertocchi and Saad, the biggest challenge is to bring together all the different systems of the publisher's 50 magazines and put them into one "smart" platform, based on "web semantic" principles. For the system to work, journalists need to "mark" all of the content they produce, but this usually comes up against the lack of a journalistic culture of understanding software and how to use it.

Borja Echevarria of the Spanish newspaper El Pais talked about the need to integrate the work of journalists and technicians. He shared his experience in the design of the innovative website Soitu. While it lasted only two years due to lack of investment, it was successful during this short period of time, gaining one million users in just a year and winning international awards.

Echevarria and other members of the Soitu team, lead by Gumersindo Lafuente, were hired by El Pais. "We encountered a divided newsroom (between print and online)," said Echevarria, when describing the creation of a "radical" integration system that changed the design, the internal organization, and the CMS (content management system) of the newspaper. "I am surprised that this was not a traumatic experience for the newsroom," said Echevarria, "but the crisis helps a lot-- the level of resistance is small there." The journalist noted that printed journalism has become just another outlet for the newspaper, and that it is necessary to demystify this process.

Echevarria also spoke about El Pais' interests in Latin America, adding that there is a small newsroom in Mexico City that takes care of the online edition when it is dawn in Spain, taking advantage of the time zone difference. The same journalists who worked after midnight in Madrid, now work in a better time schedule in Mexico City. This is the first step for extending the newspaper to Latin America. "El Pais has this global vocation," said Echevarria.

The president of the Philadelphia newspaper Al Día, Hernán Guaracao, brought attention to the growth of the Latino community in the United States and its cultural, social, and political relevance. He said that because of this growing demographic phenomenon, the center of the global Hispanic universe will be in the United States.

"We are turning into a bilingual country, we are experiencing total integration," said Guaracao. Hispanics move a trillion-dollar economy in the United States and they own news media that move $6 billion in advertising -- that's larger than Mexico's advertising, the largest Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. He also talked about the Varela National Award for Journalism on Latino topics in the United States that was created to promote greater recognition of Latinos in the country.

The colloquium continued with a discussion about Mexican digital journalism. The professor of the Ibero-American University, Gabriela Warkentin, spoke about the proliferation of political websites in Mexico, at both the local and national level, during this presidential election year. "The quantity of analysis and information portals in political coverage is impressive," said Warkentin.

Alejandro Cardenas is a journalist for one of these new sites, Aristegui Notícias, founded earlier in April by journalist Carmen Aristegui. Cardenas explained that the portal does not wish to compete with traditional newspapers, but to launch a new style of journalistic coverage, capitalizing on Carmen Aristegui's experience and fame.

The Mexican journalists talked about the difficulties that they are encountering in many places of the country, but overall in the borderlands with the United States, where many reporters have fallen victims of drug-trafficking violence. Newspapers are censored by drug traffickers in certain areas. In Nuevo Laredo, for example, there was a large shootout in the streets of the city recently, and the press, threatened by traffickers, could not report on it. The United States Consulate reported about the situation through its website warning U.S. citizens of the danger, and in the end, Mexican citizens also became aware of the situation through the website.

The Mexican journalists also talked about the importance of social networks which are frequently used by citizens (and anonymous journalists) to fill the gap created by a press silenced by drug-trafficking terrorism. However, one journalist said that the social network participation diminished in Nuevo Laredo after the killings of social network users and threats from drug traffickers. "The entire community is kidnapped; this is not only a problem for journalists anymore," he said.

Also regarding journalism in Mexico, Margarita Torres presented the organization Journalists on Foot, whose goals are to promote journalist training, such as on safety and promotion of human rights. This year, the organization offered two courses in conjunction with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the International News Safety Insititute (INSI).

Brazilian journalist Gilberto Dimenstein, founder of the site Catraca Livre (Open Turnstile), provided details on the innovative business model adopted by his web site. Catraca Livre produces content that its sponsors can use in their social networks, however it remains editorially independent and loyal to its social mission. "There is no money in advertising," said Dimenstein, while explaining the model. "We have to search for money with the head of a capitalist and the heart of an NGO," he said.

Pedro Doria, editor of digital platforms for the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, described the online-print integration of the newsroom. After overcoming initial resistance, the process started with a hierarchical integration, where the main editors of the newspaper started working on all platforms, and later all the journalists of the company were integrated. Until a certain time of the day, priority is given to the digital platforms, and later on, the focus returns to print.

Angelica Peralta Ramos, of the Argentine newspaper La Nación, presented what she called "a new type of journalism, data journalism." She presented examples of sophisticated databases created by the newspaper to facilitate the transparency of public information, although the country doesn't yet have a law for access to information.

The Colloquium ended with a presentation by Peruvian journalist Cindy Villegas of Peru21 and ClasesdePeriodismo.com, a website with useful information for journalists. She described the atmosphere of online journalism in Peru, highlighting not only blogs and independent news sites, but also citing IDL Reporteros, a nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism. Villegas said that many investigations carried out by IDL Reporteros earned recognition by traditional media. Another Peruvian site noted was La Mula, which started out as a platform for blogs and now conducts investigative journalism and produces live video programs online.