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May 11 2011

19:02

No Gloom Here: In Latin America, Newspapers Boom

If you spend much time in U.S. newsrooms these days, you might contract a serious case of gloom and doom. Talk is still focused on declining circulations, aging readerships, and the absence of new business models to pay for the production of quality content.

But it would be a mistake to assume that this is the case for the rest of the world. In fact, in many regions, the newspaper business is booming. Some countries' newspapers are pulling in record advertising and those double-digit profit margins that were common in 1990s America.

I recently had the chance to observe this phenomenon firsthand at the Bogota, Colombia, conference of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), where there was little gloom or doom to be found.

eltiempofrontpagescreengrab.png

Instead, newspapers were reporting extraordinary growth in advertising sales from 2005 to 2009: 62 percent in Argentina, 70 percent in Brazil, and 57 percent in Colombia itself. (These figures, drawn from a ZenithOptimedia forecast, contrasted with 34 percent drops in the U.S. and the U.K. over the same period.)

Newspaper circulation is growing sharply in Brazil (29 percent), modestly in Argentina and Bolivia, and holding steady in Colombia and Chile. (It was down more than 12 percent in the U.S.)

But what's most striking about the Latin American news industry is the sense of dynamism. The digital revolution is coming to Latin America -- but it's arriving hand-in-hand with the news organizations, and that makes all the difference.

Multi-Platform Success

That point was reinforced with a visit to the newsrooms of El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily. The newspaper understandably prides itself on the way it has implemented newsroom convergence. Its expansive headquarters are a few decades old, but look freshly minted, refitted top to bottom with new technology. They include the daily paper, two television channels (CityTV and Canal El Tiempo), as well as a vast array of online products.

In El Tiempo's model, information is endlessly produced and recirculated across platforms. Pieces that air on the television channels are recut by a team of young online editors into two- and three-minute pieces that can circulate online. Breaking news goes out on Twitter, leading traffic back to the website and the newspaper. Each platform is carefully monitored for editorial quality.

According to newspaper director Roberto Pombo, "We had to appoint a journalist to be our Twitter editor because we had a report that went out on Twitter that diverged from the story on ElTiempo.com. It was a garden-variety error, but it convinced us we needed editors to be responsible for social networks."

Pombo has shaped the paper's news to be platform neutral. "We're going with everything in every medium, and the audience can stay where they are," he said. Pombo said the newspaper El Tiempo, whose staff create much of the core content, generates about a 9 percent profit, which is augmented by profits from the television and online operations. "Our newspaper readers are not diminishing, our online audience is growing, and the ads are holding," he said.

Online earnings are smaller but are growing more rapidly. The company has no plans to charge for online content, but goes to great lengths to leverage cross-promotion.

robertopomboeltiempo.jpg

Spanish Ownership

"You can't carry out convergence as a cost-cutting measure -- but you save money in the long run," Pombo said. "All I care about is that if somebody gets a news update on Twitter and somebody asks, 'Where did you get that,' they answer 'Tiempo.' It's all about the brand."

El Tiempo was founded in 1911 and long operated under the leadership of the Santos family. In 2007 the paper was sold to Planeta, a Spanish publishing group, which had to readjust to the Colombian market.

"The owners are living two realities. There's an economic crisis in Spain, but things are fine here, so we have to explain it to them," Pombo said. Spain's newspapers are suffering worse than those in the U.S.

El Tiempo is not alone in its prosperity. Sebastian Hiller, director of La Vanguardia Liberal in the city of Bucaramanga, said, "Most of the major Colombian papers are making 15-20 percent profits, and some of them 30 percent, especially if they've been investing in convergence." (One exception is the venerable Bogota paper El Espectador, which has recently struggled back from the brink of extinction.)

Slow, Steady Economic Growth Good for News

What explains the robust health of these Latin American news organizations?

The first answer is the local market. The Andean nations have largely dodged the 2008 economic downturn, and have been experiencing steady growth in recent years.

Second, this growth has been more evenly distributed than in the past. Many Latin American countries are seeing incomes rise among the urban poor, and with them disposable income. This is a sweet spot for newspaper sales, since there may be discretionary spending for a daily newspaper, but not enough for a computer and an Internet connection.

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, there has been a boom in new tabloids and glossy consumer magazines, many of which subsidize quality broadsheets in the same company. Some of these tabloids have reached circulations of 2 million to 3 million within two years of their launch.

Capturing Digital Sales

Third, and perhaps most intriguing, digital is arriving in Latin America, but more slowly than in the U.S. and Europe. This has allowed news organizations to learn from other markets' mistakes, and claim larger shares of the online advertising space before the search engines and aggregators can dominate it. The managers don't care whether the advertising ends up on paper or online -- as long as it ends up with them.

One of the side benefits of this development is a dramatic rise in quality. A number of papers in the region have expanded their foreign coverage and investigative journalism, and have won the prizes to prove it. (For a striking example, look to Costa Rica's La Nacion, where exemplary reporting in 2004 landed two past presidents in jail.)

This is not to say that everything's rosy south of the border. Mexican newspapers are under attack from narco traffickers and corrupt government officials, while Argentina's leading newspaper, Clarin, is locked in a bitter contest with the government. On the other hand, news media are playing a stronger role in Latin American society than ever before, and their business models may buy them precious time to forge a path into the future.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and teaches an international teleconference course at Bard College. She is a senior consultant on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. She is on Twitter as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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November 01 2010

16:00

Getting lapped by innovation abroad? Mario Garcia’s path to better designed newspapers

In seeking out inspiration for its print redesign, Canada’s Globe and Mail didn’t look south of the border, as one might expect. Instead, the national daily focused its gaze overseas, pilfering design tips from newspapers in southern Europe, Latin America and Asia. Editor-in-chief John Stackhouse went so far as to call the U.S. market “fairly depressed in terms of newspaper innovation.” It doesn’t get more blunt than that.

Not to flog a dead horse, but newspaper design guru Mario Garcia reported a similar sentiment back in 2008, this time from an anonymous Indian editor expecting to ooh and ah while touring American newsrooms. The editor was less than impressed.

“I am disappointed, to be honest,” he told Garcia. “I went to the U.S. to learn, to get ideas on how to improve our newspapers here, but in every case, I was faced with newspapers that are hardly innovative. Why are American newspapers less willing to experiment, to take that leap into the future, to analyze their products and to adapt them to the realities of a multi-platform world?”

To be fair, that was two years ago and major dailies are, slowly but surely, becoming multi-platform vehicles. Still, the disappointment expressed by Stackhouse and the Indian editor speaks to what Garcia calls the general dearth of innovation in American newspaper design. For whatever reason — financial difficulties, tradition, sacred cows — American design innovation has stagnated. (For the record, design consultant Ron Reason is more optimistic than Garcia on the point.)

“When you look at newspaper design overseas — like Spain and Latin America — they’re much more adventurous, much more interesting, much more magazine-like,” Newsonomics author (and Lab contributor) Ken Doctor says. “It’s all about presentation; there’s a visual surprise.”

The surprise, however, has more to do with information architecture — how papers structure headlines and sections — rather than color and typography. “Pure design is just cosmetic,” Garcia told me last week. “It’s not going to solve the problem.”

Garcia, a sort of newspaper-design Carmen Sandiego, has consulted newsrooms in over 96 countries, including Hong Kong, where he’s currently working with the South China Morning Post, and Colombia, where he recently helped re-launch the Bogotá-based El Tiempo, which he chronicles, step-by-step, on his blog in refreshing and lengthy detail.

Garcia readily admits the continued (and often growing) interest in print overseas has given foreign newspapers some of its room to innovate. American editors are “plagued by a sense of malaise, that print is going to die,” Garcia says. Foreign newspapers, on the other hand, take a more carefree approach: As circulation increases, why not take some risks? The outcome might be a fresher, more navigable newspaper. “American newspapers think of death and dying; foreign newspapers think of birth and renewal,” Garcia says.

Over the course of our interview, Garcia laid out some design innovations popping up in the foreign market, citing the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News, which devotes an entire, editor-run page to online citizen journalism, and New Delhi’s Hindustan Times, which reaches its millions of readers by publishing nearly 20 regional editions. It’s as if The New York Times ran an edition for each of New York’s five boroughs.

Foreign newsrooms, he argues, are well attuned to the newspaper’s role in the online/mobile/print/tablet nexus. Papers are usually considered supplementary, rather than top-dog, all-that-matters news sources. Here are three ways Garcia sees international newspapers innovating design:

Information architecture comes before design

In its redesign, El Tiempo eschews traditional sections in favor of a more guided approach. The paper splits into three sections: Debes Saber (What you must know); Debes Leer (What you must read); Debes Hacer (What you must do).

Debes Saber covers local, national, world, sports, and business news. Garcia describes it as the “kitchen,” where you hastily gather news over your morning coffee. Debes Leer, the “living room,” provides opinion and analysis; it’s the newspaper’s salon, a more leisurely, end-of-the-day read. Debes Hacer, the “outdoors,” covers health, fitness, food, and fashion.

Garcia writes in his blog that he was “thinking like a reader” when he sat down to help overhaul El Tiempo. Indeed, El Tiempo’s compartmentalization gets to a news consumer’s most basic needs. “It’s about how you get the content flowing better for people who have less time,” Garcia says.

Respect the cult of personality

“People desire to hear the opinions of others, even if it’s nonsense,” Garcia says. Analysis should be on the front page, not reserved for back-page editorial sections. English-language weekly The Moscow News, which will be relaunched as a daily — under Garcia’s guidance — in early 2011, will publish celebrity journalist commentary on A1. Garcia concedes American papers might find this unseemly — where’s the objectivity? where’s the integrity? — but a newspaper, he says, should be the most obvious place to find must-read writers.

Sound like tomorrow, not yesterday

“To find your place, you need to relinquish your time advantage,” Garcia says. Online provides the five w’s as they happen; print needs to find, and accept, its place as an ancillary source of information.

Foreign newspapers are less afraid to publish “headlines in the future tense, running second-day headlines on the first day,” Garcia says, pointing to Spain’s El Pais, which routinely pushes stories forward by focusing on what comes next, not what happened yesterday. More recently, The Independent’s Metro-style i, the UK’s first new national daily in quite some time, scatters snappy news briefs around ideas-driven articles, refusing to dwell on yesterday’s news .

American newsrooms may be handcuffed by traditions and finances. Garcia thinks they see him as an “interior decorator,” which may explain why he hasn’t consulted stateside in three years. But American editors, like Stackhouse, may be wise to pay attention to design changes in the foreign market: Before long, they may be the ones globetrotting to international newsrooms.

August 23 2010

12:37

2010 INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS WORLD REPORT (5): THE CASE OF EL TIEMPO

2010-08-23_1330

INNOVATION’s Director Marta Bitero writes about one of the most radical and successful editorial and management multimedia integrations in the newspaper industry: the case of El Tiempo in Bogota, Colombia.

Get the full report here.

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