Twenty years of online journalism in Ibero-America covered for the first time in new book

The history of online journalism, or digital journalism, in Ibero-America can be traced back 20 years. However, there is not much literature on the topic.

In order to fill that gap, researcher and Spanish journalist Ramón Salaverría recently published the book Online Journalism in Ibero-America (Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica), which recounts the birth and evolution of journalism and digital media in the 22 Ibero-American countries between 1995 and 2014.

Salaverría – researcher, journalism professor and director of the Center for Internet Studies and Digital Life of the School of Communication at the University of Navarra in Spain – is the central author of this 481-page report, which contains a detailed chapter for each Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking country about the development of digital journalism, and which counted on the participation of 30 investigators from around Ibero-America.

In an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Salaverría said the main objective of the book is to recount, with exact context, the history of online journalism in order to record testimony about its birth and first steps in the Ibero-American community.

In the book’s introduction, Brazilian journalist Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, states that Online Journalism in Ibero-America is a solid contribution to the limited literature that exists in this area of communication research in Ibero-America.

“Twenty years later, there are 100 times more Internet users worldwide, about 3 billion people,” Alves noted.

The book contains 22 chapters organized by country that follow the same structure, allowing a comparative analysis of the national journalism markets in the region. Each chapter has four parts: technological context; history of online journalism in the country; professional profile, training and legal framework; and the future.

The disparity of available sources was among the major difficulties encountered during the three years of research for the book, Salaverría said. A particularly important problem because of the structure that is necessary to achieve comparative chapters.

“We found very distorted statistics, and very little transparency in information, so we decided to trust on reliable sources like the World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union, mainly,” Salaverría said.

Some of the most important data that this book reveals is that despite the boundless possibilities afforded by cyberspace, Ibero-American countries have always sought to attract domestic users.

This is due to, according to Salaverría’s research, the slow and unequal development of society with regards to information. For example, in Central American countries and mountainous and jungle regions of South America, it has been slow to move, contrary to what has happened in the large urban centers of some countries where access to connectivity has always been higher. In this respect, the author cites Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia as countries that had the most Internet users in the region from the beginning.

There are recent efforts around Ibero-America to attract these visitors, including in Spain with the newspapers El PaísEl MundoMarcathe Venezuelan news agency teleSUR, and the Chilean data journalism and reporting site Poderopedia, which has also operated in Colombia and Venezuela since 2014.

As for the evolution of the profile of the digital journalist in these 20 years of online journalism, the Spanish researcher told the Knight Center that while initially this profile was very exploratory, journalism graduates since then [1994-1995] have shown professional maturity as digital journalists.

“Everything indicates that the diversification of the profile of online journalist will be even more pronounced in the coming years and that will continue to change. One aspect that will generate greater diversification will be the relationship to mobile devices,” Salaverría said.

He added that while there now are roles that for 10 or 15 years did not exist, such as social network editors, employees responsible for visualization, among others, there are still no journalists who specialize in the creation of information for mobile devices.

With respect to online journalism and its relationship with freedom of expression, Salaverría said that digital media – due to format and low cost – have opened spaces for alternative journalism, enriching the overall information landscape in Latin America, which was previously in the hands of oligopolistic media companies. He cited, as an example, the transcendence and national and international impact of the free blog of Yoani Sánchez, Generación Y.

The author also looks at the role of “online media” as a counterweight to censorship in many Ibero-American countries, calling the internet “the best ally of freedom of expression.”

Regarding whether traditional media will disappear in the near future, Salaverría replied “I will die without seeing the printed newspaper disappear, but I will not die soon.”

Printed newspapers and traditional media, especially in Latin America, will continue to have advertising and editorial dominance, as creators of publish opinion, for about five more years, he added.

However, traditional media, the author concluded, “will follow the path of media of developed Western countries, in the sense that they are on the decline, thus the creation of opinion in these countries has spread into the realm of cyberspace.”

You can download, for free, the digital version of the book Ciberperiodismo en Iberoámerica, Salaverría R. (ed)(2016), de la Editorial Ariel y Fundación Telefónica, by clicking here.


*Disclosure: Rosental Calmon Alves, director and founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, authored the Introduction in this book.

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.