At sixth Ibero-American Colloquium on Online Journalism, journalists debate how to make digital media profitable

Around 70 journalists from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal participated in the sixth Ibero-American Colloquium on Online Journalism, an addition to the International Symposium on Online Journalism with a regional focus.

Journalists from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal meet during the sixth Ibero-American Colloquium on Online Journalism. Photo: Gabriel Pérez for the Knight Center

The Colloquium is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and was also sponsored by the Omidyar Network.  This year, journalists from 14 online media organizations in Latin America and Spain shared their strategies for diversifying funding sources, increasing website traffic, and maintaining financial sustainability.

The Colloquium began on Saturday, April 20 with a talk from Kevin Davis, director general of the Investigative News Network (INN), and John Thornton, founder and board member of the Texas Tribune, a non-profit online publication that recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation.

Professor Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center, said that “something is developing” in journalism in the region as online media in Latin America experiments with new formulas for investigative journalism with small newsrooms and low budgets.  “From Mexico to Patagonia there are dozens of examples,” he said to the newspaper El País last March.

The main challenge of the media is to diversify income, as most media outlets get 60 to 80% of their income from state advertising or philanthropy and “if this source of funding disappears, it will be impossible to keep doing this work,” warned David Sasaki, investment director of the Omidyar Network, which is focused on investment in for-profit and non-profit organizations that promote citizen participation and budget transparency in the governments of Latin America.

Through short presentations, journalists shared their experience as online media directors, their operation models, and their business strategies.

Daniel Eilemberg, president of Animal Político of Mexico spoke of the necessity of breaking with the government as a principal advertiser to achieve financial and editorial independence.  Animal Político has sought to create other sources of income such as social media consulting and event organizing, as well as looking for other sponsors.

Ignacio Escolar, director of of Spain, explained that his organization provides exclusive information to readers who pay for a membership and sends them a quarterly review, while the rest of their readers receive the same information at a later date.

Jorge Simán, co-founder and director of El Faro of El Salvador, said that his site depends on funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and on the sale of announcements at a higher price than the competition, as his site’s visitors are generally wealthier.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of the Nicaraguan website Confidencial spoke about the need to develop connections with TV to speak to a broader public in a country with low internet penetration.

Juan Esteban Lewin, deputy director of La Silla Vacía of Colombia, explained his plans to focus more on journalism and data visualization to create a better investigative journalism at the regional level.

And Martín Rogríguez Pellecer, director of Plaza Pública of Guatemala, explained that his organization also works to prepare journalism students and seek out new columnists with a fresh perspective.

Others presenters included Sonia Budassi, deputy director of Anfibia of Argentina; Gustavo Gorriti, director of IDL-Reporteros of Peru; Francisca Skoknic, editor of Ciper Chile; Gabriel Pasquini, director of El Puercoespín of Argentina; Natália Viana, director of A Pública of Brazil; Carlos Castilho of Observatório da Imprensa of Brazil; Paula Rojo of Mi Voz of Chile; and Patricia Fernández de Lis, of Materia of Spain.

The attendees divided intro three working groups to discuss the topics of medium- and long-term sustainability, diversification of income, and increasing traffic and audience.  The participants in the Colloquium concluded that advertising is no longer a viable source of funding for online media, but that alternatives do exist, including reader support, subscriptions, services, events, and other financing models.