This article is part of the Digital Freedom and Control Project produced exclusively for the World Policy Journal by students from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
By Connie Preti
In the last decade across Latin America a new form of journalism has emerged. Although the model is not the same in all the countries, they do have something in common: all strive for better quality journalism, have some investigative journalism activities, and all operate predominantly online.
The Forum of Argentine Journalism (Foro de Periodismo Argentino – FOPEA) was created in 2003 in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the return of democracy. The organizers, ranging from journalism professors to some of the country’s top professional journalists, wanted to create a space to promote good quality journalism, especially investigative journalism, as a key to maintaining a healthy democracy.
The organization quickly saw the need to do more than just talk about investigative journalism, said executive director Andres D’Alesandro.
So far FOPEA has published three investigative pieces online. The projects were partly financed by FOPEA and written by members. The first project documented allegations of corruption within the government of President Cristina Kirchner. Next was a project that placed the spotlight on alleged irregularities in the mining industry. The last project, published in April of 2010, examined excessive fishing and its effect on the price of fish for Argentines.
FOPEA is financed by dues from its members. It also accepts donations from journalism schools and foundations. To ensure its independence, however, the forum does not accept financing from governments or any private company.
D’Alesandro said investigative journalism had been on the decline in Argentina. The problem, he said, was unwillingness of media companies to spend money on investigations due to declining advertising revenues since the country’s 2001 economical crisis.
Acceptance of government advertising was another key factor that has crippled investigative journalism. “Many media companies depend on this income and therefore were pressured to choose self-censorship and close down investigative teams,” D’Allesandro said.
With Internet penetration at 49 percent, one of the highest in Latin America, online journalism has a very important role in Chile.
The country has several innovative and successful online news organizations. (See separate article in this series on the investigative journalism website CIPER).
El Mostrador, created in 2001, has become an economically viable all-Internet newspaper. In 2008, Miguel Paz joined El Mostrador as deputy director. He said he and his team managed to remove a paywall that was stifling readership.
Traffic increased from 120,000 unique visits per month in 2008 to the current rate of 1,057,000 unique visits, representing growth of almost an 800 per cent. According to Paz, the increase in traffic resulted in increased advertising revenue and attracted additional commercial investment, which is used to maintain the website. El Mostrador also benefited from a court decision allowing obligatory legal notices to comply with the law by being published in online media.
El Mostrador tries to differentiate itself from other media by presenting better quality, exclusive information.
“Our mission will always be to have the backstage, the extra information, the interpretation and the opinion of people across the political and social spectrum,” said Paz.
El Mostrador has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. That is twice as many followers as La Tercera and El Mercurio, Chile’s two major newspapers.
In addition, the fledgling online journalism site ArchivosChile.org combines investigative journalism with systematic use of the new Transparency and Freedom of Information law. The organization was established by the US-based nonprofit CIINFO (Center for Investigation and Information) in 2009 and is based at the university of Chile’s journalism school. Its counterpart in U.S. journalism is the National Security Archive of George Washington University, with which ArchivosChile has a close association. Its first investigative project, published by La Nacion newspaper last year, exposed the existence of more than 150 secret laws of Chile’s former military government, which were used to hide hundreds of millions of dollars of secret transfers from the treasury to military establishments.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) was founded in 2002 by a group of Brazilian journalists looking for ways to expand investigative journalism. The Association is one of several in Latin America organized with the assistance of the University of Texas based Knight Center for Journalism, directed by Rosental C. Alves.
ABRAJI is fully financed by its over 2.000 dues-paying members. Its closest counterpart in the United States is the organization Investigative Reporters and Editors, many of whose activities and online services are emulated by ABRAJI.
The association organizes meetings and events to promote investigative journalism, and provides technical resources and training for journalists interested in perfecting their skills as reporters.
The website is also a platform for defense of journalists against recent attacks on press freedom in Brazil. It also shares information on events of interest with members and functions as an outlet for books on journalism and books written by members.
Consejo de Redacción started of in 2006 as a group of about a dozen journalists sharing their experience in the field through emails. The organizer was Carlos Eduardo Huertas, leader of the investigative unit at the magazine Semana.
With the support of the Knight Center for Journalism, the group became a formal organization and website Consejoderedaccion.org in 2008. It has a small membership of 32 journalists in 14 cities across Colombia.
The innovative website includes a blog that calls attention to high quality investigative articles published all over Latin America. It is one of the only venues allowing journalists all over the region to read each other’s best investigative work.
The Consejo organizes workshops on journalism techniques and investigative methods. It also acts as a network for journalists to discuss professional issues such as press freedom and violence against journalists, which have been persistent problems in Columbia.
Connie Preti was born in Argentina and raised between Brazil and Colombia. She received her Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2011. She has been blogging for over nine years and loves to tweet. Currently she's interning at Mashable.com. Follow her on Twitter.
The following video is in Spanish. An explanation in English from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas is included below.
According to Gorriti, one of the panelists at the 12th International Symposium on Online Journalism, various independent reporting initiatives in the region are experimenting with different models of financing, as the crisis impacting traditional media has decreased funding for investigative journalism in general.
In an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Gorriti recounts the efforts of various countries to move forward with in-depth investigative reporting. Several of these initiatives count ondonations from international organizations, but this type of financing is not permanent and the challenge is to find a sustainable model for the long-term. In the case of IDL-Reporteros, “we live from year to year and ours is 'do or die,'" he explained.
One of the alternatives Gorriti has considered is the creation of a model of "fair advertising" (similar to fair trade), that would allow the investigative journalism teams receive funding from responsible corporations interested in transparency.