Independent media from the Northern Triangle are strengthened, but do data journalism with limited resources

Corruption, inequality and violence are some of the characteristics shared by Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, countries of the region known as the Northern Triangle.

Yet, in recent years, independent journalism in this region has been strengthened by various training initiatives in data journalism and monitoring that have been coordinated and led by organizations such as the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism (FNPI) and international non-profit organizations like Internews.

As part of the panel “Independent journalism in the Northern Triangle” at the 12th Ibero-American Colloquium of Digital Journalism, journalists from the region expounded on their experience with journalistic investigations that they developed using data journalism and by applying solutions journalism. Presented on April 14 at the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, the panel was moderated by Alejandra Cruz, director of the New Journalism Workshops at FNPI.

Ximena Villagrán (2019)
Ximena Villagrán, data journalist, El Intercambio
(Guatemala) (Erika Rich/Knight Center)

In order to identify the regional phenomena that affect Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, three years ago Guatemalan journalists Ximena Villagrán and Elsa Cabria began to produce multimedia, narrative and data journalism and recently now solutions journalism for El Intercambio, based in Guatemala. They produce multi-platform journalistic content for media.

Their first allies are the foundations and organizations that finance them, like Ford Foundation, Hivos, Oxfam, Seattle International Foundation, among others, Villagrán explained. And their second allies, she continued, are the large and small media outlets that distribute their reports, which they adapt in any format that is necessary for them to be published and reach a larger audience.

They realized in the process that all the issues they were investigating are affected by the public policies implemented by the governments in the region. “We believe that we should not only tell the story of a person and put it in a context of data, but we want to find out who is responsible for what is happening,” and propose a solution using sources and laws that support it, she added.

For their reports, Villagrán explained, they constantly request information from governments and create databases that they then analyze to decide what to work on. Their thematic axes are violence and gangs, women and prisons, education, childhood and inequality, Villagrán explained.

Specifically in Honduras, the request for public information from state institutions is not a simple matter. “I do not have access to certain documents for my investigative reports,” said Honduran journalist Helen Montoya, who works for the digital magazine Expediente Público.

Montoya said that the ‘Official Secrets Act’ really makes it difficult for journalists in Honduras to have access to state information.

As for El Salvador, journalist Karen Fernández presented the weekly television magazine Focos TV. This project includes in-depth interviews on political, economic, art, international and local cultural topics. Focos started with weekly editions in TV format but now brings its content to social networks to reach a wider audience.

Karen Fernández (2019)
Karen Fernández, host, Focos TV (El Salvador) (Erika Rich/Knight Center)

The journalist commented that despite the advances of journalism in El Salvador, independent media continue to experience difficulties in accessing sources for sustainable financing. Many times this situation causes journalists to receive insufficient pay for their work.

She also explained that in her country women journalists continue to be looked down upon and suffer constant harassment at work and by the public. She cited a study by Internews and the Ombudsman’s Office for the Defense of Human Rights in El Salvador, according to which 100 percent of the participating journalists said they suffer harassment in their work.

Finally, Joseph Dickens of Internews, an international organization that has a training and monitoring program for Latin America and the Caribbean and that seeks to empower journalists, said that as an organization they can see the progress made by independent journalists in the Northern Triangle.

According to Dickens, Internews has trained 141 journalists in the region in the last three years. These trainings were made after assessing the legal framework of freedom of expression in each of these countries. They also found out what mechanisms to protect journalists and access information there are in each country and made a gender analysis to understand the situation of women journalists.

All this, according to Dickens, is done with the aim of knowing what limitations journalists of the Northern Triangle face to promote greater collaboration between journalistic organizations and civil society organizations.

“Our focus has been to empower journalists with those skills to have a higher quality journalism that helps them to be more sustainable.”