Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

August 16 2012

16:00

Plaza Pública aims to challenge and improve Guatemala’s journalistic culture

It’s not uncommon for news sites in the United States to evolve into a series of verticals: technology, politics, celebrity news, sports, and the like.

In Guatemala, Plaza Pública is also built around a series of verticals. But here, they’re equity, environment, social cohesion, cultural diversity, and corruption.

“We audit the private sector as part of our mandate,” site director Martín Rodríguez-Pellecer told me. “Traditional media does not cover these issues because they’re afraid companies would remove ads.”

Plaza Pública stands out for a few other reasons. It’s a digital native, but reluctant to set its pace against the 24-hour news cycle. It’s mainly funded by a private university, but it’s seeking a national audience.

The site’s name and concept were inspired by Jürgen Habermas’ idea of the public sphere, where private citizens come together to discuss matters of public relevance. Plaza Pública, which translates to “Public Square” in English, wants to be the place where such conversations not only take place (it has 80 blogs) but where they’re provoked by news stories.

In January, for example, it published an investigation that revealed minors were working on sugar plantations owned by the Guatemalan president’s Chamber of Agriculture. “In Guatemala, as in many other countries in Latin America, media orgs restrain the ‘public interest’ to public officials and public institutions, when it really goes beyond them,” Rodríguez-Pellecer said. “It also includes the links between businessmen and policy-makers, the media-politicians relations and controversial social issues.”

Rodríguez-Pellecer says traditional media have ignored those dynamics. So when it comes to political coverage, Plaza Pública doesn’t just report how an elected official votes. The site also features data visualizations meant to help identify voting patterns between leaders, parties, and around certain topics.

Investigative data journalism is a big part of what Plaza Pública does, though its editors prefer to call it in-depth precision journalism. There’s a reason for that distinction: “During the past 20 years, any sensationalism is considered ‘investigative reporting.’ We try to do a less incendiary journalism,” Rodríguez-Pellecer said.

His team is a group of 15 reporters, coders, designers, and photojournalists. “We all have been in traditional media, but we got tired of not being able to do the journalism that we wanted,” said Rodríguez-Pellecer, who worked seven years as a reporter for Prensa Libre, Guatemala’s most influential newspaper. The newsroom also gets help from 10 students from different universities and in disciplines ranging from archeology to political science and journalism.

Two-thirds of Plaza Pública’s $300,000 annual budget comes from Universidad Rafael Landívar, a private university administered by the Society of Jesus, the Christian religious order. The funding model raises questions about editorial independence: How can a news organization promise autonomy when its main funder is an institution with very clear stances about so many controversial topics?

“Since we started, we [have made it] clear that we were not going to report on the university, the Pope, or the Society of Jesus,” Rodríguez-Pellecer said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not critics of some of the bishops’ points of views on topics like sexuality and gay rights, for example.” In turn, the university does not get involved in the editorial process: “We pick the topics we cover,” he said. But the institution does have the editorial board’s ear. “Always, those differences are discussed after the publication, not before. We appreciate very much the independence they gave us.”

Plaza Pública, which has 65,000 monthly visitors, in part borrows its model from projects like News21 at Arizona State University, and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University London, on-campus newsrooms with access to university resources.

Like News21 and TBIJ, Plaza Pública is a nonprofit. It cannot sell ads because of universities’ tax-exempt status in Guatemala, but the goal is to eventually — at least three years from now — operate within a legal framework that would allow the sale of ads and maybe even data. “We also want to sell services related with the databases we’re building,” he said. Rodríguez-Pellecer says it’s almost impossible for a digital news outlet in Latin America to rely solely on ad revenue. Even successful ventures like El Faro in El Salvador and La Silla Vacía in Colombia have had to diversify their revenue streams. Plaza Pública has ruled out a paywall, but it’s actively thinking about ways to add more revenue channels. (It also receives grant money from groups like Open Society Foundations and Friederich Ebert Stiftung.)

“We think citizens should contribute voluntarily, too, if they want to get journalism that is on the people’s interests side,” Rodríguez-Pellecer said.

Photo of the Palace of the Captains-General in Antigua, Guatemala, by Ray Metzen used under a Creative Commons license.

15:55

Plaza Pública aspira a cambiar y a mejorar el periodismo en Guatemala

Es usual que los sitios de noticias en Estados Unidos se conviertan en una serie de “verticales” de temas como tecnología, política, espectáculos, deportes y similares.

Algo parecido ocurre en Guatemala, pero en Plaza Pública esos temas son más inusuales: equidad, medio ambiente, cohesión social, diversidad intercultural y combate a la corrupción.

“Son temas que no estaban en la agenda noticiosa porque los medios tradicionales tenían miedo de que los empresarios retiraran la pauta publicitaria”, me dijo Martín Rodríguez Pellecer, el director del sitio. “Parte de nuestro mandato es fiscalizar al sector privado”.

Plaza Pública sobresale por otras razones más. Es un medio digital que se resiste a operar a ritmo del maníaco ciclo noticioso de  24 horas y, además, se financia mayoritariamente con fondos de una universidad privada, pero busca una audiencia nacional.

El nombre y el concepto del sitio se inspiraron en Jürgen Habermas y su idea de esfera pública, ese espacio donde los ciudadanos se reúnen para discutir temas de relevancia pública. Plaza Pública quiere ser el lugar donde no sólo ocurran esas discusiones (el sitio tiene 80 blogs) sino también donde sean provocadas por las noticias que producen.

En enero, por ejemplo, el sitio publicó una investigación que denunció la contratación de menores de edad en fincas azucareras propiedad del presidente de la influyente Cámara del Agro. “En Guatemala, como en muchos otros países de América Latina, las organizaciones periodísticas  restringían el ámbito de lo público a los ministros y diputados, cuando el interés público va mucho más allá”, aseveró Rodríguez Pellecer. “También incluye las relaciones entre los empresarios y las políticas públicas, los medios de comunicación y los políticos, y los temas sociales incómodos”.

Rodríguez Pellecer asegura que los medios tradicionales han ignorado esos vínculos y la dinámica de esas relaciones. Así que cuando se trata de cobertura política, Plaza Pública no se limita a informar sobre cómo un congresista vota. El sitio también produce visualizaciones de datos con el propósito de ayudar a identificar patrones de votación entre líderes, partidos y cierto temas.

El periodismo de datos representa una parte importante de lo que Plaza Pública hace, aunque sus editores prefieren llamarlo “periodismo de profundidad”. Ellos tienen una razón para marcar esa distinción: “En los últimos 20 años en Guatemala, la palabra ‘investigativo’ se ha prostituido un poco y cualquier sensacionalismo se considera periodismo investigativo. Nosotros tratamos de hacer un periodismo más sosegado”, explicó Rodríguez Pellecer.

Su equipo está conformado por 15 periodistas, programadores, diseñadores y fotoreporteros. “Todos hemos trabajado en medios tradicionales, pero nos cansamos de no poder hacer el periodismo que queríamos”, me contó el editor, quien trabajó siete años como reportero para Prensa Libre, el periódico conservador más influyente de Guatemala. La sala de redacción de Plaza Pública también recibe ayuda de 10 estudiantes de diferentes universidades y en disciplinas que incluyen desde Arqueología hasta Ciencias Políticas y Periodismo.

Dos terceras partes de los $300.000 de presupuesto anual de Plaza Pública provienen de la Universidad Rafael Landívar, un centro de estudios privado administrado por la “Compañía de Jesús”, una orden religiosa perteneciente a la Iglesia Católica. Ese modelo de financiamiento plantea dudas sobre la independencia editorial del sitio: ¿Cómo una organización noticiosa promete autonomía cuando su principal financista es una institución con posiciones muy claras en temas muy polémicos?

“Desde el principio tenemos claro que no vamos a fiscalizar ni a la Universidad ni a la ‘Compañía de Jesús’ ni al Papa”, aclaró Rodríguez Pellecer. “Eso no implica que no seamos críticos de posiciones  de la Conferencia Episcopal sobre temas de sexo, que hagamos temas sobre los derechos de la unidad gay, por ejemplo”.  A cambio, la universidad no se involucra en el proceso editorial: “Nosotros escogemos los temas que cubrimos”, dice el editor. Sin embargo, la institución sí tiene un espacio en el Consejo Editorial. “Cuando hay diferencias de criterio, siempre se discuten a posteriori no antes de que se publique un artículo. Apreciamos mucho la libertad editorial que nos dan”.

Plaza Pública, que registra 65.000 visitas mensuales, se modeló a partir de proyectos como  News21 en Arizona State University, y The Bureau of Investigative Journalism en City University London, salas de redacción basadas en campus universitarios y con acceso a recursos de esos centros educativos.

Como News21 y TBIJ, Plaza Pública es una organización sin fines de lucro. Debido a que en Guatemala las universidades están exentas de pagar impuestos, el sitio no puede vender publicidad pero la meta es eventualmente -al menos dentro de tres años- operar dentro de un marco legal que les permita vender anuncios y hasta datos. “También queremos vender servicios relacionados con las bases de datos que estamos construyendo”, me contó Martín.

El reto es grande. Rodríguez Pellecer reconoce que es casi imposible para un sitio web de noticias operar sólo con el dinero que ingresa por publicidad. Incluso proyectos exitosos como El Faro en El Salvador y La Silla Vacía en Colombia han tratado de diversificar sus fuentes de ingreso. Plaza Pública ya descartó cobrar por el contenido, pero está evaluando otras formas de abrir nuevos canales de financiamiento. (También recibe donaciones de grupos como Open Society Foundations y la fundación Friederich Ebert Stiftung).

“Creemos que los ciudadanos también deberían aportar de manera voluntaria si quieren disfrutar de un periodismo que vele por sus intereses”, concluyó Rodríguez Pellecer.

Fotografía del Palacio de los Capitanes Generales en Antigua, Guatemala, por Ray Metzen utilizada bajo una licencia Creative Commons.

December 15 2010

20:43

J-School Incubator News21 Balances Investigations, Innovation

 USCad68x68.gif

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

During the slow news week of Thanksgiving, two articles about the shortcomings of the National Transportation Safety Board were published on the websites of Fox News and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland. On the busiest travel week of the year, their story selections would be unsurprising were it not for their provenance. Both were written over three months earlier by students taking part in News21, an immersive journalism education program.

So what exactly is News21? The program's full title is "News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas" and it is part of a three-pronged journalism education initiative of the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The incubators referred to in the name of the program are high tech school newsrooms, which for 10 weeks each summer are hosted by some of the many journalism schools participating in the project. These temporary bureaus have been working to produce not only original reporting, but also a fundamental shift in the way journalism is taught and practiced.

Those are lofty goals for a summer program, but there's evidence News21 is making progress toward achieving them. To chart News21's progress and challenges, I spoke with students who had recently gone through the program as well as administrators both past and present. While the student reporting has been solid and has received distribution in mainstream media outlets, there's still room for improvement in community involvement, continuity over the years and innovative forms of journalism.

(Disclosure: News21 has been a sponsor of MediaShift in the past.)

The Foundations

Merrill_Brown10.jpgFirst, a bit of history. In the summer of 2006, the first class of News21 fellows collaboratively examined the balance between liberty and security in the U.S. From 2006 until 2008, News21 had "kind of an ad hoc home" at the University of California-Berkeley, according to News21's former national director Merrill Brown.

Brown coordinated 44 fellows from UC-Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of Southern California (USC) and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. All but Harvard hosted their own incubators. Each summer the schools used their combined journalistic firepower to cover a broad American issue: Liberty vs. security the first year, religion in the second, and finally the 2008 elections.

The program gained great exposure in its first year when CNN devoted a full hour of "Anderson Cooper 360" to the reporting by the UC-Berkeley students, who examined the personal lives of U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions around the world. By the second year, it was also producing informative and innovative storytelling tools like this still useful Moral Compass, which allows users to quickly compare the answers that nine different religions have for common questions of morality.

Inevitably, there was overlap between the topic areas chosen by the different incubators. When PBS MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser reported on News21 in the fall of 2007, many fellows complained to him that their newsrooms featured "more competition than collaboration among the schools involved" for stories and resources.

The Additions

A more wide-angle focus for the project in 2009, Changing America, seems to have reduced intra-school rivalry. Although a new grant from the Carnegie-Knight initiative in 2009 added incubators at Syracuse University, University of North Carolina, University of Maryland, and Arizona State University (ASU) to the mix, the umbrella theme for summer was so broad that it would have been unlikely for the eight bureaus to step on one anothers' toes. (The universities of Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas at Austin also joined as associate schools like Harvard.)

The renewed grant also included funding to hire a three-person administrative team for the program, now based full-time out of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. During the summer, News21 national director Jody Brannon travels the country to ensure the increasingly decentralized incubators have the digital tools and editorial guidance they need to produce top-notch journalism. In addition to helping alleviate the perceived resource crunch, Brannon also helped organize the launch of a second newsroom at ASU in 2010.

This new national incubator is probably the most important addition to News21 since its inception. Having drawn one top student from each of the 12 member schools, it is News21's most diverse incubator by composition. The focus of the newsroom is also nationwide. Last summer, News21 fellows collaborated with two data specialists from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in Washington, D.C., to examine sprawling databases from the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Inside the National Incubator

Gilger.jpg

When the incubator opened for business, management of the project was split between two highly experienced editors. Kristin Gilger, an associate dean at ASU's Cronkite J-school, was essentially the managing editor of the national project and worked closely with the fellows in Tempe.

"I did the first thorough 14th edits -- or however many it took -- on all the stories," Gilger said, only partially kidding.

In addition to Gilger, final copy was reviewed by Leonard Downie Jr., a professor at Cronkite and former longtime executive editor at the Washington Post. Downie was also in contact with CPI and the Post, where much of the team's work would be published.

The Post ran four News21 articles on transportation safety during the last week of September. The newspaper's website linked to additional reporting from the national incubator on the landing page for the series, Traveling Dangerously in America. In the same week, MSNBC.com ran another four stories on trucking and aviation safety, which Gilger said, "prompted huge conversations online."

Commenting on the accomplishments of the national incubator, Christopher Callahan, the founding dean of the Cronkite School at ASU, described it as "the formula for success...The work of those 11 students had more distribution than the work of the entire News21 program in its history combined."

And like all News21 content, the 23 stories produced by the national project are freely available to any interested publication. Speaking with Gilger before the holiday, she was keen to point out that, in addition to it being great investigative reporting, most of the national project's output was "fairly evergreen." Her observation is anecdotally supported by the clips from Thanksgiving weekend. Both were drawn from the archives of the "Traveling Dangerously" series.

Innovate or Investigate?

Those two text-heavy stories embody the challenge at the heart of News21: The program seeks the widest possible exposure possible for its students, but it is also focused on fostering innovation. With a deep investigative project like the "Traveling Dangerously" series, there was just not much scope for innovative storytelling.

This reliance on text-based reporting is partly due to the fact that it is much harder to get innovative projects published in national news outlets.

"Breaking a story or breaking new ground on a story is way easier to get attention for than analytical, feature-y work," said Brown, the program's founding director. "One of the ambiguities that people involved in the program have [to deal with is] we all know that investigative journalism is hard to do and when you do it well you get attention for it. The stuff that's deeper, richer, more multimedia is harder to get the larger media to pick up on it, see it for what it is, and distribute it. That's one of the balancing acts the program has."

The current administrators are aware of the challenges this dual focus poses.

"Our mission is to do innovative and investigative journalism. It is difficult for a single project to be both," said Brannon, the current national director. "Those are both measures of success."

No Time To Reinvent the Wheel

apaley-profile.jpg

Groundbreaking investigations or cutting edge innovations would both be better served by more preparation for the intense summer program. Whether, like in the national incubator the work began in the spring, or, as was the case at Medill where student Andrew Paley said they had only a "handful of meetings" before the summer, all the fellows I spoke with felt News21 would work better with more lead time.

The Medill incubator made great strides in soliciting audience feedback -- something previous iterations of News21 lacked -- but these efforts were hampered by time constraints. Talking about how his team elicited 300-word blog posts from Latino community leaders, Paley said, "that's one of the things we really hit our stride on six weeks in. It's probably something we would have explored more," had they started community engagement options sooner.

In place of staging preparatory sessions during the school year, administrators could also save students time for reporting by making the website design process more streamlined. As it stands, some five years' worth of project websites are currently scattered about the web, loosely connected by various iterations of the News21 host site.

"I'm quite interested in visualization and ways to tell stories that are non-traditional and scalable," Paley said.

Sustained Focus in the Future?

News21 administrators often steer the program in an entirely different direction each year. Which raises the question: What happens to all the leads and issues that were exposed but left unexplored?

"We hoped at the beginning that there would be a way to institutionalize things far more than we were then," Brown said. "It would be really good for more and more experimentation to take place in all 12 months so that the coverage doesn't die with the start of the new school year. These schools could really become mini-ProPublicas, where the faculty and students are engaged in covering a topic quasi-permanently."

By way of example, Brown suggested Columbia could cover Wall Street while USC could stay on issues related to immigration and borders. The stories they produced could then be available to newspapers and television stations for nationwide syndication. "That was one of the things we dreamed of. And maybe we'll get to that sooner or later," he said.

cronkite2.jpg

The program's administrators are likely considering that among many other possible models for the future of News21 at their next bi-annual meeting. As ASU's Callahan told me, because the Carnegie-Knight grant only runs through the end of the summer of 2011, it will be "the last year of News21 in its current configuration." And for the next grant period, "there is literally nothing that's not on the table."

"Could I foresee New21 growing over time where you have multiple projects throughout the year?" he asked. Not next year, Callahan said, but "could I see it down the road? Yeah, I could." Echoing Merrill Brown, Callahan went on to say, "I think the analogy would be more like a ProPublica or Center for Public Integrity: A project-oriented multimedia site."

News21 has already come a long way since its founding under Brown and it appears to be moving in the right direction with Callahan, Gilger, Brannon and Downie. The new leadership still has a number of issues to address, namely the balance between investigation and innovation, and the continuity of design and focus. But if they do, the quality of reporting from News21 incubators and innovations to journalism they have produced will likely continue to improve.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.

 USCad68x68.gif

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 11 2010

16:40

Programmer-Journalists Apply Talents to News21 Multimedia Project

Manya Gupta and Andrew Paley are the first Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners to participate in the News21 multimedia reporting project, an initiative in its fifth year that engages some of the nation's top journalism master's students.

The Northwestern University team that Manya and Andrew are part of is focusing on young urban Hispanics and "how they are transforming American politics, media and education now and will continue to do so over the coming decades" said Steve Duke, director of Northwestern's project and associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism.

Gupta, Paley and their teammate Kennedy Elliott are developing the website for the Northwestern project. Paley is building the technical infrastructure and developing a "data wall" with information about Hispanic voting patterns, elected officials, population growth, educational attainment, and more. Gupta is developing graphics and interactive pieces for stories written by her and other News21 reporters.

Here are their reflections on the experience, which wraps up later this month

ManyaGupta-238px-wide-withcaption.jpg

Describe your role in the Northwestern project

Gupta: As a true multimedia journalist, I am reporting and writing a media story, creating the introductory info graphic for the project, building data driven flash packages for two stories and helping in Web design and development of the Northwestern News21 website -- serving as media reporter and web developer.

Paley: Most of my work at News21 has been focused on database-driven, geolocation-specific visualizations that cover a wide array of datasets compiled from the Census, the American Community Survey, NALEO and other sources. The idea is to supplement the team's reporting with a "data wall" that presents the user with a trove of pertinent information based on his/her location -- down as low as the county level whenever possible (when data's available at that level). Beyond that, my work here has also comprised web development, technical assistance on other members' projects, WordPress theme building, and server administration where necessary (in concert with Medill's IT department).

What have you gotten out of the experience?

Gupta: The fact that the Hispanic population is growing at a rapid rate is well-known. But during the course of reporting on my media story and working with other people on different stories, I have learned how the market, institutions and the American landscape are evolving to cater to this audience. I was always interested in web development and creating interactive graphics, but this was the first time that I attempted a data-driven infographic using the Adobe Creative Suite tools. I came up with a simple design and used colors strategically to represent multi-layered data in a clean, accessible format. I am thrilled to have received great feedback on it and have become a more confident designer.

apaley-238px-wide-withcaption.jpg

Paley: I suppose the valuable piece of all of this for me has been the opportunity to continue to work with databased-driven visualization techniques. A lot of what I'm doing now was informed by my prototyping of the American Visualizer project, though I'm now working with a different visualization library (based in Javascript instead of flash).

Other thoughts?

Gupta: I think News21 is a great platform. It not only gave me an opportunity to use my technical and journalism skills in creating some wonderful news pieces, but also further proved to me that today's world of news has several opportunities for programmers like me, who can use their technical skills, learn journalistic skills and blend them all together to create news packages that are appropriate for today's audience.

Paley: It's been interesting to have the experience of working with a team of journalists outside the guided classroom environment. Our experiences in News21 have been largely self-directed on a day-to-day basis -- though the overall topic and focus was chosen by Medill -- and that self-direction has afforded us some room to experiment and collaborate in ways that we might not have had otherwise.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl