Velocidad Helps News Startups Grow Membership and Revenue as Program Enters Second Phase

By: 11/05/2020

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, 10 Latin American news outlets working to become more financially sustainable are already seeing results, as part of the Velocidad accelerator program for independent media.

In the program's first six months, participating newsrooms grew revenue by more than $350,000. They also launched innovative products, grew membership programs, created robust alliances and strengthened their management capacity.

And that’s just the beginning.

In November, six of the 10 Velocidad grantees will progress to the second phase of the program and will receive an additional $600,000 in direct investments and more than 2,000 consultation hours, among other benefits. This translates to a total investment of $950,000 and 3,000 consultation hours since the beginning of the accelerator program in February 2020.

Velocidad is a pioneering business media accelerator program designed to help independent digital media in Latin America build more financially sustainable organizations. The program is run by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and SembraMedia with support from Luminate Group.

The organizations selected for Phase 2 are: Ponte Jornalismo (Brazil), El Surti (Paraguay), Red/Acción (Argentina), El Pitazo (Venezuela), Posta (Argentina) and CIPER (Chile). They were chosen based on their performance during the first phase of the program, their proposals and their potential to achieve sustainability. All are independent, public-interest media that uphold high journalistic standards.

“Selecting the six news organizations to continue onto the second phase of the program was a difficult process given that all 10 media outlets showed excellent growth and development during the first six months of Phase 1,” said Vanina Berghella, Director of the Velocidad Fund. “Nonetheless, following an exhaustive evaluation process based on our monitoring of their performance in different areas, and their proposal for their path towards greater sustainability, we consider that these six media hold the greatest potential for the accelerator in Phase 2.”

The four news outlets that were not selected to move on to Phase 2 will continue to receive some strategic consulting support and help with promoting their projects, among other benefits.

Developed in 2019, Velocidad is designed to stimulate and sustain the financial growth of independent Latin American digital news outlets that address issues of public interest in their region and live up to the highest of journalistic standards. Over 350 news media startups in Latin America presented their projects to participate in the initiative.

“We are very proud of the institutional growth and development of the organizations that took part in the first acceleration phase of Velocidad,” Gabriela Hadid of Luminate said. “We see very promising changes in terms of their audience metrics, in the organization of their work teams, in the incorporation of diversity and inclusion policies, and in their experimentation with different sources of income. We trust that these changes will make a positive impact in the quality of journalism that they produce and in their future sustainability.”

Guided by Velocidad’s team of consultants, five of the grantees launched or grew membership programs; two grew member donations by more than 85%. New revenue came from four primary sources: new clients (43%), new grant funding (28%), growing revenue from existing clients (19%), and new donors (9%).

“It’s crucial that we find ways to make independent news organizations financially strong, and this impressive group is blazing the path,” said Joyce Barnathan, president of ICFJ. “They will serve as models for other media outlets working to build vibrant businesses that serve the public interest.”

During the first phase of Velocidad, the 10 organizations received grant support, training and strategic consultation. They participated in 15 digital seminars, for a total of 17 hours of skills training on everything from media management and membership to impact measurement and social media.

“I am so impressed by how a little financial support combined with business consulting can transform a digital media organization,” said Janine Warner, co-founder and Director of SembraMedia. “One of the key factors we have discovered in our research at SembraMedia is the value of having at least one person on the team that focuses on developing new sources of revenue. In Velocidad, we made hiring a business development or sales person a priority for all of the grantees.”

The program’s backbone lies in the work carried out by a team of strategic consultants who, during the initial phase, dedicated a total of 960 hours working closely with media leaders to support the development of their organizations.

Grantees also received 547 hours of personalized professional training and tactical consulting from 42 specialists in management, human resources, audience engagement, publicity and more. 

“Consulting is a critical component of acceleration because it allows us to strategically allocate funds and monitor this investment, ensuring it creates significant impact for the organization,” said Mijal Iastrebner, co-founder and General Director of SembraMedia. “This also establishes a cycle of learning among the consultants and media outlets, which enrichens the journalism ecosystem, one of the main objectives of this initiative.”

About the Winners

El Surti (Paraguay) will aim to expand its visual storytelling consulting company, developed in Phase 1 of Velocidad, to the regional level.

“Progressing to Phase 2 of Velocidad means having the opportunity to rely on this great team to help us navigate the winding path of innovation in order to become a news organization of the highest level in this complex context,” said Alejandro Valdez Sanabria of El Surti.

Posta (Argentina) will focus on positioning itself as a regional model in the podcast industry through the production of both news and branded content. 

“The first phase of Velocidad allowed us to begin to construct a new way of listening to the news. During Phase 2, we will focus on bringing the best news podcasts to listeners in the entire region,” said Luciano Banchero of Posta.

El Pitazo (Venezuela) will seek to improve the membership model implemented during the first phase, with the goal of enabling easy access to its payment platform.

“Being selected implies a commitment from all of us; a commitment to continue along this virtuous cycle of producing ideas and solidifying the projects that will lead us to prolonged sustainability for the organization,” said César Batiz of El Pitazo.

Red/Acción (Argentina) will design and develop a department specialized in branded content for socially responsible brands in Latin America, and will also work on an integrated strategy to grow membership.

“The selection of RED/ACCIÓN to move onto the next phase of Velocidad makes us feel grateful and motivates us to face our most urgent challenge: that of growing and expanding the reach and impact of our human-focused journalism in order to consolidate our sustainability,” said Chani Guyot of RED/ACCIÓN.

CIPER (Chile) will work to strengthen membership as their principal source of income. Their sustainability strategy will also include the development of workshops and an annual event.

“For CIPER, being a part of Phase 2 of Velocidad confirms that we are on the right path to achieve sustainability as a news organization,” said Claudia Urquieta of CIPER.

Ponte (Brazil) will move forward with the membership system they implemented during the first phase of the program, and will explore a new content sales model and workshops.

“We want to ensure the sustainability of Ponte and strengthen our journalism committed to the fight for human rights and for democracy, which is so necessary in today’s Brazil,” said Fausto Salvadori of Ponte Jornalismo.

Who Makes Velocidad Possible

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) empowers an unparalleled global network of journalists to produce news reports that lead to better governments, stronger economies, more vibrant societies and healthier lives. Since 1984, ICFJ has worked with more than 150,000 journalists from 180 countries. 

SembraMedia is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices in Spanish by helping digital media entrepreneurs become more successful and sustainable. The organization offers business and technical training, market intelligence, and networking opportunities created by and for a community of more than 800 media organizations in 20 countries in Latin America, Spain, and the U.S.

Luminate is a global philanthropic organization that aims to empower people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies. The organization supports and funds for-profit and non-profit projects working on four interconnected areas: Civic Empowerment, Data & Digital Rights, Financial Transparency and Independent Media.

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