Latin American Journalists Create New Websites Aimed at Improving Public Service

Jun 92009

Latin American journalists trained at Knight International’s Digital Journalism Center in Mexico have created a host of multimedia Web sites on such issues as swine flu in Mexico, elections in Costa Rica and pollution in El Salvador. One participant created an interactive site on taxi driver crime in Peru that has already spurred government action to address the problem.

The Digital Journalism Center at the University of Guadalajara is the first such program in Latin America and has attracted more than 100 journalists from 15 Latin American countries. The program is led by Knight Fellow James Breiner.

A recent course sponsored by the AT&T Foundation taught 35 journalists how to apply digital tools to public service journalism. They learned to produce multimedia stories and create graphics and maps using databases. Many of the participants are putting their new skills to use online.

  • A Peruvian participant produced a multimedia project to help improve taxi service in Lima, where taxi drivers have been tied to crime. In response to the journalist’s interactive map and “Safe Passengers” blog, where users complained about the problem, authorities announced that taxi drivers will be required to display an official identification card starting in 2010.

  • A journalist from El Salvador created a multimedia story about pollution and the impact of climate change on Río Lempa, one of the country’s most important rivers. Published on Earth Day, the story includes an interactive map with pictures and data.

  • A Costa Rican journalist's multimedia sites focused on the country’s elections, showing each candidate’s stand on important issues and on the economic crisis in Latin America.

  • A Bolivian participant’s multimedia package looked at the impact of climate change on water supplies.

  • In Mexico, a journalist produced an interactive map showing outbreaks of the swine flu epidemic.

"I was impressed with the commitment of these journalists to serving their communities," Breiner said. "They figured out very quickly how to use multimedia tools to improve their storytelling techniques and create greater impact. They're going to be agents of change."

A new course focusing on Entrepreneurial Journalism is giving an additional 35 journalists from eight countries the business and technical skills they need to start independent digital media. Projects include Web sites aimed at women entrepreneurs and builders seeking green-construction materials. The course, running through May and June, will take the journalists from idea to fruition. The value is in promoting true independence, Breiner said: "Many media now survive or die based on a handful of sponsors or advertisers, who use their power to control the message. This course will help them broaden their sources of funding."

The Digital Journalism Center's Web site has information about the center's courses for 2009 and news about top digital portals and innovators in the field. Spanish-speaking journalists can access a virtual library of books, articles and links with tutorials and developments in journalism.