Velocity fund helps Latin American digital media to professionalize organizations, diversify and be sustainable

By virtue of the financial and strategic support of a program for digital media in Latin America, 10 media outlets managed to grow as organizations, create and strengthen products, in addition to increasing their audience despite the general crisis caused by the pandemic.

The six media that went on to the second phase of the program shared their experiences with the Velocity fund during the panel “In search of sustainability: what it means to accelerate a digital media outlet in Latin America,” as part of the 14th Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism, on May 1, 2021. Due to the pandemic, and for the second consecutive year, the colloquium organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin was held virtually.

The Velocity program is run by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and SembraMedia, with financial support from Luminate. In 2019, the program selected 10 media out of dozens of applicants to help them accelerate their business models, refine processes and strengthen their sustainability. Only six media went to the second stage to achieve the best results within the program.

“Velocity is a program that has two phases. The first took place last year between March and September 2020, in which ten selected media participated after a process in which more than 350 media from Latin America participated,” said Aldana Vales, ICFJ product manager and panel moderator .

In this first phase, she said, the selected media achieved revenues of more than $350,000 from projects linked to the Velocity program. The second phase started in December 2020 and will culminate in September 2021, she added.

El Surti, from Paraguay; +CIPER, from Chile; Ponte Jornalismo, from Brazil; El Pitazo, from Venezuela;Red/Acción and Posta, from Argentina, as beneficiaries of the second phase of Velocity, agreed in the panel that they underwent internal transformations after receiving financial support and consulting from the program.

According to Vales, the program identified that it should support these media in four areas: finance, accounting, administration, and audiences.

Diego Dell’Agostino, co-founder of Posta, said that through the program, at Posta they were able to better define the processes and the policies of the media outlet, as well as identify the different revenue streams. "Being able to focus not only on maintaining order and being able to continue improving ourselves based on new processes and new tools, but also on working on [regional] expansion,” he emphasized.

Posta managed to double the number of collaborators, quintuple the revenue in 2020 and minimize the time of payment processes, Dell’Agostino said.

Giving a bit of context, moderator Vales added that all the media accelerated by Velocity go through a double approach: on the one hand, strategic consulting, and on the other, tactical consulting.

Regarding tactical consulting, Fausto Salvadori from Ponte Jornalismo said they did not have a sustainability model, because they focused mainly on the journalistic part.

“What really helped us was looking at ourselves, looking at our organization understanding what were the functions we had today and what were the functions or capabilities that we would need to have looking to the future [to be a sustainable project], in addition to the journalistic work,” he pointed out.

Salvadori explained that they began to make decisions and create new positions with new capacities, professionalizing their organization. “This selection process based on the work positions also meant understanding and addressing social and racial diversity. We are a much more diverse organization from a gender and race point of view, with people who are trans.”

For El Pitazo, one of the things that they proposed to Velocity was the creation of its membership and loyalty program, according to Yelitza Linares, strategy and business manager of the Venezuelan media.

“We had already started on this path of looking for other means of income, because we precisely want to build muscle to seek autonomy more and more. And we considered this membership program because we wanted the support of the readers, not only to contribute money, but also to help us make the story ideas,” Linares said.

They created a diverse business team, different positions, and rearranged the staff they had on the team, according to Linares. "We were trained with the tactical Velocity consultants and now we have profiles such as a membership editor, a monetization coordinator, someone dedicated to newsletters and an audience editor."

Before the Venezuelan diaspora, most of El Pitazo's audience was in Venezuela, Linares said, and now 40 percent of it reads the site from abroad, therefore, she added, last year they introduced the membership model. However, she confessed that one of the great barriers they have is learning the technological aspects due to the limitations they have as a country for the use of platforms.

“Financial planning has an important impact on the journalism we do,” Chani Guyot, founder and director of Red/Acción, said of his experience.

The first phase of the fund helped Red/Acción strengthen its membership model, the director said. In the second stage, Guyot said, they are focusing on the digital content agency, without compromising its journalistic integrity.

“In these three years, we have developed a formula that we call human journalism, which seeks, on the one hand, to hack, let's say, the extreme negativity that is quite widespread in the ecosystem, through solutions journalism, and also to hack the one-sidedl, unilateral model or broadcast model through what we call participatory journalism, which transforms our journalism on many occasions into a conversation with the audience, with our members and others,” Guyot said.

Regarding sustainability, especially to face the challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis and its impact in Argentina, they created a content agency. The short-term results have been very good, according to Guyot, working from the agency on climate crisis, education, health and gender issues, with emphasis on “all dimensions of a digital product: technology, design, audience and content.”

For the +CIPER team, it has been a great advance to specifically understand its strengths thanks to Velocity, said Claudia Urquieta, community editor for the Chilean media outlet.

CIPER is 14 years old, Urquieta said, and until 2019 they had a Chilean businessman as a patron who supported them financially so that they could investigate independently. When this break in financing happened, they had to reinvent themselves, according to the journalist.

"When we got to Velocity, we already had membership, but Velocity allowed us to open our eyes and understand that this was not only one of CIPER's spaces, but that it was a very important space," Urquieta said. “In March 2020, Velocity arrived, and now we have 4,200 partners. This year we want to reach 6,000 ”.

Thanks to the program, CIPER now has a sustainability team, and although the goal is for membership to be the main source of income, they continue to look for other alternatives, such as organizing events, workshops, etc., Urquieta explained.

In Paraguay, Velocity asked El Surti to capitalize its products around its identity, said Jazmín Acuña, co-founder and editor of the portal. El Surti's target audience is young people, for whom they create visual content that explains complex issues. "Visual journalism as an added value," Acuña said. It is on the basis of that value that they began to think about its sustainability.

The strategy to be sustainable was to seek regionalization.

“This is how Latinográficas was born, it is our regional program to promote visual journalism in Latin America. Thanks to Velocity, we are able to understand that what we do can be useful for other newsrooms in the region, that we need to reflect much more about what we do, systematize it, understand that what we do can be a methodology and offer it to others," Acuña said.

They seek to continue with new editions of Latinográfica and project themselves with a membership program for those who are interested in having access, receiving mentorship and having a network of connections. "We want to consolidate a regional network and why not, a global one," Acuña said.

To view mini-biographies of the Colloquium speakers, click here. You can watch videos of the entire Colloquium in Spanish and Portuguese. The annual meeting, traditionally held after the International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas with the support of the Google News Initiative.