When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the ICFJ Digital Path to Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Latin America (ECA) program pivoted to an online model. Latin American journalists selected for the program participated in a virtual orientation and embedded with U.S. newsrooms remotely. As a new offering for this pandemic format of the program, participants also received seed funding and mentorship for their proposed projects.
Here are three projects from the fall 2020 cohort designed by grantees who chose to provide resources to the Latin American journalism community, keeping the complexities of the region in mind
Colectiva: Mental health information in Spanish
Upon recognizing a need for more media content in Spanish related to mental health, Mexican journalist Natalia Guitérrez started writing Colectiva, a Spanish-language newsletter that covers a range of mental health topics, from burnout, to grieving, to toxic relationships. “I read a lot about mental health, but everything is in English,” she said. “I know English and I can do it, but what about all the people from Latin America who are not able to read in English?”
Guitérrez noticed a lack of other mental health resources in Mexico, as well. There is a suicide prevention hotline, but she said very few people know it exists. "Every time that I [write] about struggles with suicidal thoughts, I don't have a lot of resources to [refer people to].”
With her newsletter, she specifically aims to serve journalists. “My goal is to start conversations around mental health — especially around journalists and mental health,” she said. Gutiérrez is also working to normalize discussion of self-care for Latin American media workers, which she says can be difficult, but are needed. She invites experts, including psychologists, to write columns for her newsletter, and the ECA program’s seed funding helps her to compensate these contributors. Currently, she is focused on growing the newsletter’s subscriber base, a process she knows will take time.
Propulsorio: News product resources
Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, ECA fellows Felicitas Carrique and Maximiliano De Rito identified through their work that they could provide news product resources to media professionals in the region. “We wanted to create product resources for journalists that were developed in Spanish with a Latin American perspective,” explained Carrique.
Carrique and De Rito’s project, Propulsorio, features a free, online interactive handbook designed to help people learn about product thinking for newsrooms. They plan for Propulsorio to empower Latin American product thinkers to take part in specialized discussions happening worldwide, too. “Communities like the News Product Alliance are starting to emerge and we want to be a part of that,” Carrique said.
The initiative is based on Carrique and De Rito’s research and experience. They both work in hybrid roles that move between journalism, technology and media business models. "We discovered on our own that we were product thinkers, but we never had a formal education or a guidebook on how to learn all these things. We just learned along the way,” Carrique said.
For De Rito, Propulsorio is also a tool to help Latin American journalists identify that they are part of an industry. “There are probably lots of people that work in product and they don't know they are product managers,” De Rito said. “They are [working] at the intersection of audience, design, tech, business and social media, and product development. We want to provide visibility to the newsroom product world, show its relevance and foster new product managers in Latin America.”
Carrique and De Rito said their overall goal is to impact the news product ecosystem in Latin America. They aim for Propuslorio to have a societal impact, as well. “Our mission is to support the creation of high-quality information for Latin American communities, which contributes to those communities being informed, and by extension, promotes healthy democracies in the region,” Carrique said. “We believe that product thinking and its audience focus are key to achieving this larger goal.”
The Propulsorio site and handbook have now launched.
A community for Latin American border journalists
Through his ECA fellowship, investigative journalist Diego Granda has laid the groundwork to create a network of Latin American border journalists.
“In Latin America, we lack networks that connect border journalists, although we have many border areas… Journalists are not teaming up [across borders to cover] border-area conflicts,” said Granda, who is based in the northern Argentine city of Jujuy, along the country’s border with Bolivia.
Granda has worked for years covering borders, with projects including a short documentary with Al Jazeera English about human trafficking along the Argentina-Bolivia border. He is now surveying border region journalists in countries like Bolivia, Brazil and Mexico about the main challenges they face as border reporters. Using this information, he plans to list key issues impacting them that can serve as a starting point for a border journalist network. His goal is for that community to help reporters create stronger content in the region, while supporting one another.
Granda, however, has encountered obstacles with the project due to the pandemic. His and fellow journalists’ ability to move between countries for their reporting has been greatly limited. Granda plans to host a future webinar to showcase his findings about the needs of Latin American border journalists.