The State of Online Journalism in Latin America

By Guillermo Franco and Julio César Guzmán


Most Internet journalists at Latin American newspapers are between 20 and 30 years old. They earn less than their print media counterparts. And their print colleagues see them as being at a lower professional level.


The work of these online journalists is focused on writing and editing, but very little on reporting. And even though they typically don’t have an educational background in online journalism, they feel the need to acquire it — especially in learning how to create multimedia content.


Most of the Internet departments that online journalists work for are small. According to their employers, that’s because revenues that these business units bring in typically don’t support their own operation.


These are some of the results of an online survey of Latin American news media that we conducted recently. The research was done on behalf of our employer, Eltiempo.com, the most visited website in Colombia, with support from Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP), Grupo Diarios de América (GDA), and Fundación para el Nuevo Periodismo Hispanoamericano, spearheaded by Gabriel García Márquez.


The survey was answered by more than 70 leaders of websites, Internet units, or newspapers’ dot-coms. The latter group includes market leaders of almost every country in Latin America. (See list at end of this article.)

What follows are, in detail, the main findings derived from this research.

Payroll



  • Sixty-eight percent of Latin American newspaper dot-coms are operated with eight or fewer journalists. At other websites, small newsrooms are more common: 81 percent have eight or fewer journalists.
  • Internet journalists’ payrolls represent five to 10 percent of the total newsroom’s payroll (print plus online).

Updating



  • Only 10 percent of the newspaper online operations in Latin America update their content 24 hours a day; 61 percent update it between 15 and 20 hours. On weekends, only five percent update 24 hours; 67 percent update between 12 and 20 hours; and nine percent do not update. Nevertheless, 78 percent say they update their sites as many times as needed.
  • At the other websites, updating is less important; roughly 60 percent of the participants in the survey update their content for 12 hours or less on weekdays, and 22 percent don’t even have news coverage on weekends.

Profile of the online journalist



  • Most of the online journalists (87 percent) at newspapers in Latin America are between 20 and 30. At the other websites, only 63 percent are that young.
  • Most of the leaders of newspaper online operations in Latin America believe that online journalists are seen as “of a lower level” than their colleagues of the print edition. A lower percentage, although a significant one, think that digital journalists are the future.
  • About half of the journalists of newspapers’ online editions earn less than journalists of the print editions, and 43 percent earn the same as their print edition counterparts. Only one newspaper reported a higher wage rate for online journalists.

Training for the online journalist



  • More than half (53 percent) of newspaper’s online journalists in Latin America don’t have an academic background in online journalism, whereas 47 percent do. Of those that do, 17 percent got their new-media education outside their countries; 30 percent got it in their home country.
  • Sixty-one percent of the new-media academic programs offered in their countries are taught as courses or seminars; 13 percent are at the undergraduate level and 13 percent at the postgraduate level. More than half of the journalists asked say that the quality of such programs is not good.
  • 70 percent of the people responsible for the new-media departments at Latin American papers believe that their greatest need in terms of training is in the creation of multimedia content; the second biggest need is how to write for the web (17 percent).
  • Only 43 percent of the media surveyed offer in-office digital journalism training for their journalists.

Content



  • None of the Latin American papers’ online operations consider reporting to be the focus of their journalists’ activity; the vast majority believe their focus is text writing and editing. A small percentage think it is the generation of multimedia content. On the other hand, at newsy websites not affiliated with a newspaper, reporting is the focus for 28 percent of those.
  • Ninety-one percent say they edit content from the international wires to some extent. However, 78 percent say they do not rewrite text from the print edition.
  • The sections where newspaper dot-coms concentrate the largest amount of content that they generate on their own are, in order: breaking news, entertainment, sports, and technology.
  • Only 14 percent of the newsrooms at newspapers generate real-time content for their online editions. Nine percent create original online content out of their own initiative; 63 percent just do so occasionally; and 14 percent never do it.
  • Only 19 percent of newspapers’ online operations say that the largest share of their content comes from the print edition.
  • Although 92 percent of the newspaper dot-coms say they are autonomous at defining the focus of their publishing, 55 percent mentioned that sometimes content is withheld in deference to the print edition’s wishes.
  • 43 percent of the Latin American papers’ dot-coms say they use audio and video on their sites. Out of that percentage, half use it systematically and half use it primarily for special projects. 71 percent say this audio and video is processed by their own team of journalists.

Revenue



  • Eighty-three percent of the Latin American papers’ online operations have discussed the issue of charging for their content. Sixty-one percent already have adopted some model of user registration.
  • At 39 percent of the newspaper dot-coms that responded to the survey, the income they receive supports their operation. On the flip side, 28 percent of those surveyed reported that their websites don’t even generate revenue.
  • Fifty percent of the newspapers do not sell Internet ads or report a minimal income related to advertising. Just 15 percent say that advertising-related revenue represents 75 percent of their total income.
  • Barely 10 percent of the newspapers participating in our survey reported revenue from the sale of their content to the end user, such as archives or databases.
  • Only one newspaper reported its classified ads as an important source of online income (it represents 40 percent of the paper’s total revenue).
  • Just 25 percent of the newspapers reported online service subscription-related revenue, and only one of them said that this represents a significant amount of income.
  • Likewise, just 25 percent reported significant revenue due to subscriptions to the print edition submitted through the Internet.
  • On the other hand, 50 percent of the newspapers reported income from licensing content to third parties. Additionally, in at least five of those companies, it represents their most important source of income.




About the researchers


Guillermo Franco (guifra@eltiempo.com.co) and Julio César Guzmán (julguz@eltiempo.com.co) are journalists in Colombia. Franco is content manager of the new media unit of Casa Editorial El Tiempo and editor of eltiempo.com; he is also a professor for postgraduate programs in online journalism in Colombia and Ecuador. Guzmán has been an editor at eltiempo.com since 1997; he also was the Colombian correspondent for Conexión Discovery, a technology program of the Discovery Channel.





Appendix: Participating Newspapers

These newspapers responded to the Latin American online journalism survey. All of them are leaders in their respective markets:
In addition to this list, dozens more websites throughout the continent took part in the invitation made by Eltiempo.com, despite not having a print counterpart. Their interesting answers show the dynamism of new media in Latin America, but are broken out and presented separately.

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