Why We Launched the First Online School in Spanish for Media Entrepreneurs

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SembraMedia's Janine Warner and Mijal lastrebner say La Escuela Virtual offers 25 courses for digital media publishers.
SembraMedia's Janine Warner and Mijal lastrebner say La Escuela Virtual offers 25 courses for digital media publishers.

A few years ago, at the end of a long day of teaching a digital journalism seminar in Ecuador, I had an epiphany.

I had agreed to a late-night meeting with a group of journalists who were working to develop their own digital media projects. We ordered pizza and talked over their questions until late into the night. But long after the pizza was gone, it was clear I couldn’t fully address all the needs of these determined, talented journalists in one meeting.

It was one of many experiences during repeated trips to Latin America that led to the recent launch of an online school for entrepreneurial journalists - a longtime dream that materialized thanks in large part to the support I’ve received as an ICFJ Knight Fellow.

La Escuela Virtual de SembraMedia is the first online school in Spanish focused on journalism entrepreneurship. An international team of experts, including three other ICFJ Knight Fellows, teach the classes, accessible 24 hours a day.

We run the school out of SembraMedia, a nonprofit I co-founded with Mijal lastrebner that is dedicated to supporting Spanish-language digital media publishers. Since 2015 our superstar team of ambassadors, who represent 16 countries, has mapped more than 700 digital media natives in the region - an indication of the appetite in Latin America for the courses we offer.

We launched the school with 25 classes and plan to offer many more over the coming months. Courses include:

In addition to management, marketing and “how to make money” topics, we also offer overlooked subjects, such as “How to manage stress and avoid burnout,” taught by Andrés Aronowicz, a licensed psychologist, and “How to cook healthy meals on a budget,” taught by Maria Virginia Portillo, who publishes a health food blog in Costa Rica.

Classes are designed to be short and practical. Each class takes about an hour to complete and includes 30 to 40 minutes of video lectures, quizzes, templates and exercises designed to help students build their businesses. The system also includes online forums where students can ask questions, compare notes and network with each other.

The demand for these courses is high. That became very clear after I agreed to teach a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in 2014--and to my surprise, more than 5,000 students signed up.

Our goal is to help students learn all the things they didn’t learn in journalism school. That includes everything from marketing to accounting to how to make money without losing your editorial independence (the question I’ve been asked the most over the years).

“The school offers everything you need to conceptualize, prepare, launch, develop and sustain digital media organizations,” said Ismael Nafría, professor and author of the book “The Reinvention of The New York Times.” “It will also help professionals stay up-to-date in areas that are more important for their work every day.”

We take a very journalistic approach to how we teach, and our new online school is based on the same model as our organization. First, study what is working among entrepreneurial journalists. Next identify the best real-world solutions. Finally, share them with others before they become obsolete.

“We see ourselves as students as much as teachers,” said SembraMedia’s Iastrebner. “The digital world is constantly changing. That’s why we study what works and share what we learn as quickly as we can.”

Since that night in Ecuador, I have had hundreds of conversations with entrepreneurial journalists. It was a delight to watch the first students sign up for courses in our new online school, and know that we’ve created a place where they can learn from each other as well as experts. I can’t wait to see what students do with what they learn.

The ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowships are designed to instill a culture of news innovation and experimentation worldwide. The goal is to seed new ideas and services that deepen coverage, expand news delivery and engage citizens in the editorial process. Learn more.

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