A Brave New Digital Journalism in Latin America

  • Ramón SalaverríaEmail author
  • Charo Sádaba
  • James G. Breiner
  • Janine C. Warner
Part of the Studies in Systems, Decision and Control book series (SSDC, volume 154)


In recent years, journalism in Latin America has been undergoing profound transformations. Confronting the stagnation or even decline of a large part of the big media industry, hundreds of digital native publications are surging up to challenge the traditional journalism landscape of this region. From the Caribbean to Patagonia, all 20 Latin American countries are witnessing the emergence of innovative online media projects that, in some cases, have already reached a high degree of consolidation. This chapter analyzes the origins, models and challenges of this emerging Latin American journalism. Firstly, it shows the historical evolution of these digital native media outlets. Then, their current characteristics are analyzed, focusing on their innovative ways to explore sustainable business models. Finally, the challenges for the future consolidation of these emerging digital media are examined.


Digital journalism Latin America Digital native media Innovation Business models 

1 Digital News in Latin America

The evolution of news media industry since the end of 20th century has gone far beyond technology. Digital technologies have boosted the changes, indeed, but their effects in the media have been overarching. According to Hass (2011), digitalization has caused the media industry to undergo more profound and structural changes than other industries, given that its value proposition is an intangible object: information. Although technology has traditionally been placed at the service of content creation, the focus has always been on how to apply creative skills and capacities. Technical teams and engineers, who for decades performed a supporting role in the media industry, are now at the heart of the creative process. Technological skills have quickly become essential to content creation, something that many managers have yet to explicitly acknowledge and do not always know how to handle successfully (Küng 2013). In sum, technological innovations have driven a general reconsideration of the overall media system.

These far-reaching changes have moved the news industry to respond with new forms of media, which were hardly imaginable just a couple of decades ago. Digital technologies have not just changed how journalism is practiced, but also who, what, where, when and even why. All five W’s of journalism have transformed into something new.

Moreover, this evolution has been global (Dragomir and Thompson 2014). Not only the most technologically developed and economically powerful countries have seen a rapid expansion of digital media within their boundaries. Although at slower pace, the less developed countries of the world, especially those with emerging economies, have also witnessed the birth and growth of digital forms of media (He and Zhu 2002; Köroğlu and Tingöy 2011; Mabweazara et al. 2014). One of the regions where, despite its structural difficulties, this evolution has been more profound is Latin America (Salaverría 2016; Harlow and Salaverría 2016; Mioli and Nafría 2017).

Composed of 20 countries—all the 19 Central, Caribbean and South American countries where Spanish is the main language, plus Portuguese-speaking Brazil—, this extensive region with 600 million inhabitants has seen a significant shift in its media landscape. That change has had more to do with the increasing albeit uneven penetration of the internet (see Table 1). By 2015, the median usage of internet among the 20 countries was 52.7%, although there were differences of more than 50 points between the leading and the last ones. Not surprisingly, the Latin American countries with higher internet penetration rates are those where the digital media industry has developed faster (Salaverría 2016).
Table 1

Percentage of individuals using the internet in Latin America (2000–2015)






Population (1 July 2015)































Costa Rica












Dominican Republic












El Salvador
















































Puerto Rico


















Source ICT Facts and Figures 2016 (ITU 2017) and World Population Prospects (UN 2016)

1.1 Digital, Digital-Only, Digital Native

One of the spheres in which the pervasive digital technologies have boosted innovations is the typology of news media. The multiplication of online media publications has had not only quantitative effects but also qualitative. The digital “fourth media” (Gang 1998), which joined the print press, radio and television since mid-1990s, has enjoyed in recent years such a fast process of diversification, that today it has a broad variety of digital media models.

Indeed, today it is no longer enough to consider all digital media under just one comprehensive category. On the contrary, it is becoming evident that, depending on their origin, structure and publishing platforms, the types of digital media are increasingly different from each other (Salaverría 2017). Digital media outlets begin to show differences at multiple levels: from very specific aspects, such as their different degree of adoption of innovations (García Avilés et al. 2016), to much more general aspects related to their disparate mode of understanding and practicing journalism (Suárez Villegas 2015; Arrese and Kauffmann 2016; Harlow and Salaverría 2016).

The typologies of digital media can be built over many different theoretical criteria: platform, temporality, topic, reach, ownership, authorship, focus, economic purpose, and dynamism (Salaverría 2017). But apart from these categories, it is also possible to see differences in relation to the origin of the media outlets. In fact, research is beginning to find contrasts between digital publications derived from traditional media and those born directly on the internet (Nicholls et al. 2016). Digital media created as internet versions of printed publications or broadcast media follow patterns and structures that clearly resemble their parent media. On the contrary, internet-born publications show forms and models that are increasingly specific, not inspired anywhere else (Kilgo et al. 2016).

It seems therefore necessary to distinguish between digital media in general and digital native media, and even digital-only media. The label “digital media” refers to all those publications that, regardless of their origin, are published in online networks. For its part, we use the term “digital native media” for those that are born directly on the internet, without being the alter ego of any previous offline publication. Finally, by “digital-only media” we mean those publications that are published solely in digital format, although they may have been originated either outside or inside the network. This label applies, for instance, to those newspapers and magazines that, due to their economic losses, need to stop their printed edition, but keep their digital edition running. In this case, we have a digital-only medium, but not a digital-born publication.

This triple distinction is important because, as we will explain later, within the Latin American news market digital publications, in general, are gaining momentum. But, more especifically, digital native publications are shaking the market with a new wave of fresh journalism.

1.2 Origins of Digital Native Media in Latin America

In Latin America, the history of digital native media begins as early as 1995. That year, when many large Western media companies still had not even launched their first online publication, in Nicaragua a humble online news bulletin called Notifax started to be distributed exclusively through the internet (Solórzano 2016). This bulletin never became more than a simple collection of news, but it inaugurated the history of the digital-born publications in the region.

A few years later, in 1998, the first truly relevant digital native medium of Latin America appeared: El Faro of El Salvador, a publication still working today (Harlow and Salaverría 2016; Tamacas 2016). Its launch as a medium exclusively on the internet was more out of necessity than out of conviction: its promoters, a group of independent journalists, wanted to publish a print newspaper but lacked the financial resources to do so. In these circumstances, they decided to provisionally launch a news website only on the internet, at least until they could raise funds to publish a “true” newspaper. The economic difficulties, however, continued, to the point that, during the first years, the founders of El Faro worked practically without being paid. However, their good journalism led them little by little to receive funds from international foundations and to win recognition, in international journalism contests and prizes. This support allowed them to consolidate the project. Today, twenty years after its launch, El Faro is a fully consolidated medium and an essential reference among digital media in Latin America.

Many other digital native media have followed El Faro’s trail. In May 2017, the Observatorio de Nuevos Medios (New Media Observatory;, a comprehensive directory of Spanish-language digital native media, recorded 1,678 publications, of which 875 were distributed among the 19 Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. Although the list of Latin American digital native media is very long, not all of them have reached the same degree of consolidation and recognition, of course. However, today in all the Latin American countries digital native media outlets can be found, some of which are thriving and have achieved remarkable longevity and influence (Salaverría 2016: XXIX–XXXI).

Some publications can be highlighted, thanks to their consolidated editorial structure and high social media reach. In Argentina, among others, Infobae (launched in 2002), (2007) and MDZ Online (2008) stand out. In Brazil, Agência Pública (2011). In Chile, El Mostrador (2000) and Ciper (2007). In Colombia, La Silla Vacía (2009) and Las 2 Orillas (2013). In Costa Rica CRHoy (2012). In Cuba, 14ymedio (2014), an independent publication promoted by intellectuals and anti-government journalists. In Mexico, Animal Político (2010), Sin Embargo (2011) and Aristegui Noticias (2012). In Nicaragua, Confidencial (2010). In Peru, besides older digital native media such as La Encuesta (1996) and Pueblo Continente (1996), there are also more recent projects such as IDL-Reporteros (2010) and Ojo Público (2014). In Puerto Rico, NotiCel (2011) should be highlighted, whereas in the Dominican Republic, in addition to the pioneering Diario Electrónico Dominicano (1996), which soon closed, another closed publication stands out, Clave Digital (2004–2010); after its closure, that news website was followed by Acento. Venezuela, a country with a especially troubled political life in recent years, has also been a hotbed of digital native media: among many others, Noticiero Digital (2009), La Patilla (2010), Run Run (2010) and Efecto Cocuyo (2015).

The list of digital native media in Latin America is growing fast. Some of them were launched in the first decade of the 21st century, and a few of them even in the 1990s. However, the blossoming of digital natives began after 2010 mainly. It seems that the decline or, at least, stagnation of the legacy media has opened up the opportunity for the emergence of many digital native publications in all countries of the region. And they have done so with an undeniable commitment to regenerating journalism (Harlow and Salaverría 2016).

It seems, indeed, that these new digital media are managing to do quality journalism. Two digital native publications, Connectas of Colombia and Aristegui Noticias of Mexico, were among the reporting partners on the Panama Papers investigation that won the Pulitzer Prize (ICIJ 2017). Also, for the first time, all five of the winners of the prestigious Gabriel García Márquez Awards in fall 2016 were digital natives (FNPI 2016). The increasing impact of these digital native publications can also be measured by the fact that dozens of them have seen their original research picked up by the national and international press, including The New York Times, BBC, Al Jazeera, and The Guardian (Warner et al. 2017).

2 Models of Sustainable Digital Native Media in Latin America

The rise of digital news media over the past 25 years has prompted various efforts to catalogue and categorize them as a way of understanding them. Journalists, scholars, and media development organizations around the world have created lists with various goals in mind (Breiner 2017a). Many of the studies attempt to show how the new digital media ecosystem is functioning and what strategies are showing the most promise for achieving sustainability (Harlow 2017).

Some of the research has focused on the unique characteristics of media markets in Latin America. As noted by Warner et al. in a white paper (2017) by the digital media research and training platform SembraMedia, the 400 million Spanish speakers and 200 million Portuguese speakers (Brazil) in the region’s 20 countries share much history and culture. They also share similarities in the structure of their media markets, where journalists live under the threat of violence and the media’s financial state is often precarious:

News ownership is highly concentrated in these countries, and government advertising is frequently used to reward compliant media outlets. Even in the face of these legal, financial, and physical threats, entrepreneurial journalists are building sustainable businesses around quality journalism. The advent of social media and easy-to-use web design tools has made it possible to launch a digital media venture almost entirely on sweat equity. (Warner et al. 2017, p. 7)

The cutbacks by traditional media have created opportunities for new digital news organizations to fill the gaps in coverage, or to broaden and deepen topics long-neglected by the established media. Many of the new sites were founded by laid-off journalists or those frustrated with censorship, low pay, and poor working conditions. Some were founded by people with no journalism experience whatever but with an interest in informing the public and serving their community. The result is a dynamic ecosystem of digital media that is changing public discourse in the region and challenging the traditional power oligarchies.

2.1 Studies of Latin America’s Digital Media Ecosystem

Besides the aforementioned Observatorio de Nuevos Medios, various organizations and academic researchers have done studies of the digital media landscape of Latin America, with a variety of aims and purposes (Mioli and Nafría 2017; Harlow 2017). Rey and Novoa (2013) studied 650 digital media in Colombia, partly to determine whether digital media were available in all geographic areas of the country. Most of the 650 were focused only on digital (no print or broadcast link) and just over half were journalistic (p. 8). The media organizations, however, were reluctant to cooperate with researchers. Only 61 of the media organizations (9%) responded to a questionnaire, so the data had to be assembled from a variety of public and private sources. The report did not give clues about sustainability. Of the respondents, only three had more than one million monthly users at the time. As for revenue sources, 23 listed advertising, 18 private capital, and six donations. Seventeen carried no advertising (p. 26).

In 2015, Poderopedia, whose software allows users to visually map connections among people, undertook a study of the connections among media owners and the political and business elite of Colombia and Chile. The aim of the studies was to document the level of concentration of media ownership. The studies looked at 509 media organizations in Chile and 220 in Colombia (Mioli 2015). It was financed by the Open Society Foundations and received support from universities Alberto Hurtado in Chile and La Javeriana in Colombia. Among Poderopedia’s findings was that in Chile, the media groups El Mercurio and Copesa dominated the newspaper and digital media sectors. In Colombia, the researchers found that the media were controlled by large business conglomerates. The studies validated the close connection among power elites and their influence over the information available to the general public. However, the databases had no information about revenues or business models of the websites, and spotty information on traffic and audience size.

One of the main sources on digital media entrepreneurs in the region has been the annual Colloquium of Latin American journalists, conducted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas. In 2013, the Colloquium topic was sustainability, and 23 digital news organizations participated. At the time, many reported that they were dependent on foundation grants and lacked the marketing and sales skills to build an audience and attract advertisers and sponsors (Quesada 2013). In addition, participants said the business models of digital media in the U.S. did not translate well to Latin America, where private foundations and venture capital investment play less of a role (Nelson 2013). Among conclusions drawn were that digital media needed to develop multiple revenue sources beyond advertising to survive.

At the 2017 edition of the Colloquium, some 20 digital natives and traditional media discussed their innovations, including some in revenue generation. Among them was Juanita León, CEO of La Silla Vacía, which focuses on politics and power in Colombia. She described how the publication offers brands the opportunity to sponsor sections of the site dealing with topics such as leadership, education, innovation, and gender. She has had no problem selling these sponsorships at USD $10,000 each (López Linares 2017a; Warner et al. 2017).

Among other digital entrepreneurs at the 2017 Colloquium was Silvia Ulloa, director of the digital news site CRHoy of Costa Rica. She said the publication is financed by a banker who favors independent journalism. CRHoy has ten journalists who Ulloa has trained to be multi-skilled, each a “one-man band” in her words. The site was founded in 2012, but has already achieved more traffic than all the other news sites in Costa Rica by focusing on investigative journalism, according to Ulloa.

In recent years, journalism in Latin American countries has substantially changed. New players have emerged, and small start-ups have gained popularity and attention in a short period of time, creating a very dynamic sector still to be systematically analysed. SembraMedia is attempting to do just that. As an organization whose mission is doing research and sharing best practices on new digital media, it has developed a directory of these media. As of May 2017 they had 600 organizations listed (López Linares 2017b). To deepen this data, Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment organization, partnered with SembraMedia to conduct an in-depth study of 100 digital natives in Latin American—25 each from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. This is the largest study ever done of the digital media market in Latin America (Warner et al. 2017). The research, under the supervision of researcher and consultant Mijal Iastrebner, was conducted by a team of seven who spent five months interviewing the founders and directors of the digital news startups. In selecting the 100 media for this study, SembraMedia asked the researchers to seek out the top digital players in each country, while also being careful to include a diverse mix of geographic coverage areas: 44% identified themselves as providing international coverage, 63% national, and 23% identified themselves as not national or international but local or provincial, as some media identified themselves in more than one category. Some of the main results of this research are further explained in the following pages.

2.2 Independence and Credibility as Economic Assets

A recurring theme in the mission statements and value propositions of the 100 organizations was that they positioned themselves as independent of the traditional oligarchy of shared media-political-business interests that control public discourse in the region. The following mission statement from the Facebook page of Aristegui Noticias, an investigative website in Mexico, was typical:

In societies such as ours, where the control of mass media rests in a few hands, the old cultural inertias that restrict free expression, debate, and accountability continue to define the public life of our country. So we are convinced that journalists and independent professionals should be given the task of developing new projects, creating new spaces, and creating alternatives. Our purpose for this digital age is to exercise, from here, as in other spaces, a liberated journalism.

This commitment to independent journalism is consistent with the findings of Harlow and Salaverría (2016) in their study about the level of “alternativeness” of digital native media in Latin America. According to this research, where content of 69 online native news sites was analyzed, many of them “committed themselves to covering news regardless of pressures from owners or advertisers” (p. 1009).

In various ways, the mission statements of the organizations researched by Warner et al. (2017) expressed dissatisfaction with the traditional media’s collusion with special interests, their failure to report on sensitive topics, and their neglect of impoverished rural areas. These digital natives used terms such as “independent”, “different”, “human rights”, and “investigative journalism” to describe their content. Their manifestos described their products as more interactive, conversational, explanatory, accessible, and user friendly than the top-down product of their traditional rivals. Their positioning reflected a global, industry-wide reawakening to the importance of credibility as a media asset that can be monetized by focusing on readers rather than advertisers as the most important clients of a media organization. The trend was manifested recently in the increase of subscriptions to trusted media brands such as The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others (Newman 2017; Davies 2017; and Doctor 2017).

Many journalists interviewed in the SembraMedia study were inspired to develop new media ventures because they were frustrated by the polarized political discourse in their countries. They aimed to create credible media voices independent of political organizations. In line with the rapid increase in fact-checking initiatives in Europe, the U.S., Southeast Asia, and elsewhere—113 at last count (Graves and Cherubini, par. 1)—11 of the publications in the SembraMedia study said they employ the technique. Chequeado of Argentina is the leader among them. It has shared its fact-checking methods with many other news organizations, including several in this study: Detector de Mentiras (Lie Detector) of La Silla Vacía in Colombia, Truco (Trick) of Agência Pública in Brazil, and El Sabueso Verificador (Bloodhound) of Animal Político in Mexico. The data showing the lack of credibility of news media in Latin America suggest there is a huge opportunity for independent media. Latinobarómetro has been doing surveys of press credibility in 18 Latin American countries since 2004. Consistently over the last dozen years, two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the news media “are frequently influenced by institutions or powerful people” (2016, p. 41). In the same survey, people were asked if they agreed with the statement that “the news media are sufficiently independent”, and the results were equally grim for journalists. Only a quarter of survey respondents thought that journalists were independent, and the four countries of this study were on the low end—24% in Argentina, 22% in Mexico, 21% in Brazil and 20% in Colombia.

2.3 Revealing Corruption Has a Cost

The work some of these journalists are doing poses real risks for their own lives. Almost half (45%) of the organizations surveyed said they have been subject to blackmail, threats, or violence because of their journalistic work. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists because they can be murdered with relative impunity—nine in 2016 alone (Reporters without Borders 2017, p. 5). However, the most commonly mentioned method of reprisal against a media organization was economic, namely withdrawal of government advertising. Law enforcement was another. After Congresso em Foco of Brazil published a list of government officials’ whose salaries exceeded the legal limit, they were subjected to an orchestrated attack of 50 lawsuits by those officials. The publication won 48 of the suits, and two others were pending. In Mexico and Argentina, a favorite government tactic has been to initiate a tax audit of a publication that seems to never end. Half of the organizations have suffered cyber attacks because of their news coverage, ranging from hacked email and social media accounts, to denial of service (DDoS) attacks, to digital smear campaigns.

The most important job of the media is to be a watchdog for the public interest and reveal corruption and self-dealing among powerful political and business interests. Many of the media in SembraMedia’s study have done just that. At times, they have paid a high price for it in the form of economic reprisals (advertising boycotts by government and business), cyberattacks, smear campaigns, threats, violence, and murder. Still, these organizations have made a tremendous commitment to public service and are having an impact. Their work has been picked up and redistributed by national and international news organizations. They have been honored nationally and internationally for their work.

2.4 Strong in Journalism, Weak in Technology and Business

A solid, sustainable digital media operation needs at least three legs of a stool—journalism, technology, and business. However, the focus of the founders of these digital natives is tipped heavily toward journalism. When asked to define their specialty, in terms of experience or education, the founders replied: 53% journalism, communication, content production; 20% business, marketing, or administration; 12% humanities, literature, social sciences (political science, sociology, etc.); 11% web technology; and 4% audio visual production, design.

Not including the founders, these organizations had a median of 10 people involved in producing content (many of them unpaid collaborators), one working on technology and none in business activities such as sales, marketing, and administrative (To be clear, the sites with the most revenue had a median of two people in sales.). One-fifth of the publications had no employees working on technology and instead outsourced web development and other technical tasks to consultants.

Given the lack of business experience on the teams, it is no surprise that they have weak revenue structures. The most common revenue streams are banner ads on the website (31%), followed by creation of native ads or branded content (28%), consulting services (28%), training services (19%), grants (16%), crowdfunding and donations (15%), and Google AdSense (15%). Only 9% reported revenue from events and 5% from subscriptions.

Creating content for third parties, either as an editorial or advertising product, is proving to be an important way for these publications to support independent journalism. Native ads and branded content are especially important on mobile devices, as they evade ad blockers. Training in best practices—particularly ethical standards—could be a promising way to build native advertising as a revenue source. It may also be advisable to build a network of native ad content creators, to take advantage of the increasing demand for this advertising product.

  • Small-scale Businesses. These media are mostly very small businesses, and only a few have potential to scale. Their revenues are modest. When calculated in local currency, and converted to dollars at the year-end exchange rate, the 2016 revenues of the 90 organizations that shared financial information totaled USD $15.1 million—an average of USD $168,000. To put that USD $15.1 million in perspective, the combined revenues of all the media in our study were less than the 2016 revenues of ProPublica (USD $17.2 million), the Pulitzer-prize-winning digital news organization in the U.S., which has a staff of 50 journalists. Although comparing figures is imprecise because of inflation and exchange rates, the gross numbers for the Latin American media are inarguably small. This is not the kind of revenue stream that can create a strategically important media sector.

  • Few Audiences Are at Scale. The average number of Twitter followers was 174,000 for all the media, but that number is skewed high by some publications that have community managers dedicated to developing the audience and a strategy for these channels. The median number of Twitter followers was just 10,000, meaning half had more, half less. With Facebook, the average number of followers was 456,000, the median 16,800; YouTube average 16,700, median 350; Instagram average 18,200, median 1,800. All the sites surveyed except one use both Twitter and Facebook; 70% use YouTube, and 62% Instagram. LinkedIn, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Telegram all are used by 12% or less.

A small number of the publishers had developed significant audiences: 18% had 1 million or more unique users monthly; however, 30% had less than 10,000 unique users. Many of the publishers evidently did not know how to measure their audiences: 12% did not answer the question about the number of unique users, and 20% did not answer the question about traffic from mobile devices. The last data point was particularly troubling given that the majority of publications in SembraMedia’s survey were getting at least half their traffic from mobile. In addition, 38% of respondents said they did not have a database or mailing list of their users, another indication of a weak knowledge of how to connect with their users. Email newsletters are an important way for digital organizations to monetize their audience. Links in a newsletter carry users directly to the publication’s own content and advertisers and thus avoid competing with Google and Facebook for digital advertising. In this way the publication can own its audience and advertisers, deepen the relationships, and groom potential donors and sponsors.

  • Survivors of Multiple Crises. An explosion of new technologies and tools, many of them free, has aided the development of new digital media: 51% of those in the study were founded since 2013. However, it is notable that despite volatility in the digital sector, a global recession, and various national economic crises, half of the 100 have survived more than four years. Older and more experienced does not exactly correlate with higher revenues or readership.

  • Nationally Focused Sites Do Best. The survey respondents could identify themselves as serving more than one geographical audience—hyperlocal, provincial, national, and international—and many did so. The locally focused media had the most precarious financial position and were the most vulnerable to attacks by the local political and business powers. If they were in poor regions providing information to underserved populations, there was almost no chance of getting business or government support if they revealed corruption and self-dealing. Most of the 10 highest revenue generators in the SembraMedia study, those who are bringing in $500,000 or more per year, “are blending entertainment and political coverage to drive millions of visitors (the median was 3.7 million sessions per month)” (p. 29). In the second tier of revenue, 14 media with revenues from $100,000 to $499,000, “the types of journalism being produced varied widely, but general news and political coverage were the most common, with a smattering of culture, science, environmental, and human rights coverage.”

  • Women Take Charge in Digital Media. One of the most notable pieces of data to emerge from the SembraMedia research was the role of women in these startups. In traditional media in Latin America, women make up a tiny percentage of the management teams (Vega Montiel 2014). In the survey, more than 60% of the media organizations had women among their founders. Women also accounted for 35% of the directors named in the survey: 23 were executive directors or CEOs, 13 were editorial directors, 14 were directors of sales/marketing/commercial, and 13 were in administration, human resources, and finance. There was only one woman director of technology.

These numbers are more remarkable when compared with Vega Montiel’s study of Mexican media, possibly the most detailed study of women leaders in Latin American media. Among her findings:
  • Owners: Women made up only 1% of the owners of major television properties in Mexico, 13% of radio, and 0% in major newspaper groups. Many of the women owners in radio inherited their shares.

  • Directors: There was not one woman among the 52 board members of Grupo Televisa and Televisión Azteca, the two dominant television groups, nor among two other prominent TV groups. In radio, women have 8% of the board seats, and in newspapers, 11%.

  • Executives: In television, no women had any senior executive positions—not in administration, finance, or editorial. In radio, they had 11% of these strategic positions and in print media 13% (2014, pp. 198–205).

Vega Montiel observed that women’s lack of access to positions of authority in the media in Mexico “leaves them marginalized in one of the most important sectors of global capitalism: the cultural industries” (p. 205). This has other implications as well for Mexican society, she observed: Gender inequality is perpetuated, the rights of women are not a subject of public discourse, and sexual stereotypes are reinforced in news and entertainment (p. 206).

2.5 Collaboration as a Solution

Traditional media and digital natives have begun to join forces on transnational projects as a way of multiplying the impact of their scarce resources of money and time. The most obvious of these was the aforementioned Panama Papers project, which revealed how businesses and individuals were using offshore corporations and bank accounts to avoid taxes and scrutiny, sometimes illegally. However, there is a larger trend in Latin America of cooperation on cross-border investigations. López Linares (2017c) provides an excellent overview of the many projects under way across the region, such as this one:

“Memoria Robada” (Stolen Memory) is another emblematic project of collaborative transnational journalism based on huge databases which required the use of special tools that facilitated the sharing and visualization of information. This project –which presented a database on the illicit trafficking of cultural pieces in Latin America – is an investigation of Peruvian site Ojo Público in collaboration with La Nación of Costa Rica, Chequeado of Argentina, Plaza Pública of Guatemala, and Animal Político in Mexico.

Connectas of Colombia, one of the organizations in the SembraMedia study, has positioned itself as a coordinator of journalists, NGOs, publishers, and other organizations from across the region to produce in-depth reports on topics such as the plunder of the Amazon region’s natural resources in the name of economic development (Torres 2017). Univision, the Spanish language broadcast and digital outlet in the U.S., has begun to partner with media outlets throughout the region—including many digital startups such as El Faro in El Salvador and Animal Político in Mexico—to expand its audience and impact (Mioli 2016). This also increases the reach, impact, and influence of the digital media.

3 Future Developments and Challenges: The Road Ahead

During the last twenty years media companies worldwide, but especially in Latin American countries, have lived through massive economic and technological disruptions. The effects of digitalization are still going on but are not the only ones being noticed: the economic development of most of these countries in recent years and the profound societal changes have substantially modified the general and the particular context where media, and journalists, work. More and better educated citizens are getting more active roles as audiences, and the public demands to control the traditional political-business-media oligarchy are also growing. Digital technology offers new and creative ways to deal with these demands: as some of the examples depicted in this chapter show, a lot of the initiatives started using the internet as the only possible way to use a real journalistic approach to serve the information needs of citizens.

In this context, five elements could be decisive to understand the future of media in Latin American countries as well as to define the main challenges media companies will face in the coming years: (1) women, (2) sustainability, (3) training, (4) market orientation and (5) collaboration.

Digital media have opened up a reservoir of talent in Latin America by bringing previously unheard voices to public attention. And women are clearly eager to make their mark in a sector where many of the traditional barriers to their advancement are lower, as the figures on women founders and directors indicate. From the point of view of creating democratic societies that are more fair and just, these new media seem to be in the vanguard. That should make them more attractive as an investment vehicle for organizations that support gender equality and human rights, such as social impact investors like North Base Media and the Media Development Investment Fund, which have made some investments in Latin America (Breiner 2017b).

At the same time, there is still a long way to go in order to fulfill this goal. While women have a more central role in starting and leading some of the new journalistic initiatives, their presence still has to be consolidated in the top leading positions in the traditional media companies. According to the “Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media” published in 2011 by the IWMF, women in the region were 43.7% of those in the senior professional level, and their representation was even higher, 45.8%, in the junior level. They were also doing well in the two management occupational levels: 46.4% in senior management and 40.5% in middle management. But the report also found women’s representation was particularly low at the top of companies, where they were only 21.5% of those in governance, and less than a third (30.5%) of those in top-level management. Women’s marginalization was also clear in the creative and technical aspects of news production, where women held less than 25% of the positions (Byerly 2011). Some organisations, such as IWMF, are focusing their efforts on training women in journalism.

Sustainability is one of main worries for both traditional and digital media. In recent years, many media organizations have chosen to deal with the economic crisis by reducing costs, which has had an impact on production (fewer pages printed, reduced services, broadcasters and publications closed) and the workforce (salaries reduced, early retirements and layoffs). Although this restructuring may have been necessary in certain cases, many organizations have made these cuts with the aim of holding out until the economic situation improves. Other organizations, in contrast, have understood that the recession can also be an opportunity to redesign the future and develop more sustainable business models. But at the same time, the publications clearly are not capitalizing on all of the assets that they have, given the market opportunities created by the shrinking traditional media and the lowered barriers to entry made possible by digital tools for publishing and distribution. Either because of neglect or lack of know-how, they are not taking advantage of digital measurement tools to identify opportunities to increase the size or loyalty of their audiences. By missing those opportunities, they are of course missing revenue opportunities.

But digital media are suffering from a different set of problems regarding sustainability: when evaluated on a purely economic basis, very few of these digital startups have the scale or the profit possibilities that would interest traditional investors looking for a monetary return. Their greatest value can be calculated not in the value they create for advertisers but for readers, users, and members of the general public. The key to assessing the value of these organizations is to take into account not only their economic value as centers of profit and loss, assets and liabilities. Their value lies in the information service they provide their communities, in the horizontal networks of communication they provide to strengthen those communities, and the democratic values of participation that they encourage. When that value is taken into account—the social value, or the social capital, to use the language of sociologists—then these organizations can be attractive to the social-impact investors discussed above. Helping these organizations achieve economic stability to support their public service will be the key for transforming the media ecosystem of the future and re-establishing the Fourth Estate as a pillar of modern democracies.

Working towards a sustainability model would first require rethinking what is sustainability. According to Nieto (1973), media companies’ profitability should take into account the very particular nature of their core business: to attend a public need, which implies an effort of constant market adaptation that makes it difficult to obtain high profits. Business models are usually badly understood, focusing only on how to generate more revenue and not on a broader picture, including the definition of the whole value chain.

Both journalists and media managers have to be trained differently now. The biggest missing element in the digital natives was in the skills related to business, marketing, sales, and administration. With the right support and training, these organizations could move relatively quickly from surviving to thriving. Key to this training would be helping digital media develop multiple revenue streams, the lack of which was illustrated earlier. The second biggest need was training in better use of technology, particularly to generate multimedia, expand into new platforms, and measure and track audience response and growth. Many of the startups had simply migrated their old journalism products, production methods, and distribution strategies to the digital format, where they did not function as well. At the moment, these abilities, skills and capabilities are being gained through a varied set of courses offered by institutions and professional centers, including the media organizations: one-fifth of the organizations in the SembraMedia study generate revenue from training. Providing grants to support their training efforts could have a double impact, on the revenue of the media organization and on improving journalism standards in the region. Universities and Schools of Communication, with a long tradition in the Latin American region (Ferreira and Tillson 2000), are now starting to adapt their curricula to these new needs, but there is still a long way ahead for most of the countries (Sádaba 2016).

Market opportunities and changing consumer behavior also have a growing influence over the innovation strategies of companies in the media industry. In terms of digital products and services, the internet constitutes a global marketplace in which the range of content available to users is multiplied. This also increases the level of competition faced by domestic press organizations, as they are not only competing with rivals within their own countries, but also with media outlets in other countries and with content that is offered in other languages and even in other formats. Thus, competition also helps set the pace of innovation.

In addition, in terms of consumer/audience behavior, the increase in mobile phone usage has radically changed the way people access content, including news content. Market orientation is a must in this new scenario, and the ability to read and understand trends and behaviors should also be addressed in the training of future journalists and media managers.

Finally, collaboration with international and national media organizations appears to be a promising opportunity for startups. Helping small companies build content-syndication relationships with larger media outlets could represent a lucrative new revenue stream and help them build their audiences. If the digital natives collaborate more administratively, they might also be able to reduce costs via shared services for accounting, legal, and other professional services. But this collaboration also makes strong sense at an editorial point of view: cases such as the Panama Papers (ICIJ 2017) show that different media outlets, big and small ones, could work together to exploit the big data the internet makes possible, to offer both a global and a local picture of the news.

4 Disclosure

As indicated in the bylines, one of the authors of this chapter, Janine C. Warner, is co-founder of SembraMedia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and quality of digital media in Spanish in the Americas. Another one, James G. Breiner, visiting professor at University of Navarra, is a board member.


  1. Arrese, Á., Kaufmann, J.: Legacy and native news brands online: do they show different news consumption patterns? Int. J. Media Manag. 18(2), 75–97 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Breiner, J.: Mapping the world’s digital media ecosystem: The quest for sustainability. In: Berglez, P., Olausson, U., Ots, M. (eds.) What is sustainable journalism? Integrating the environmental, social, and economic challenges of journalism. Peter Lang, New York (2017)Google Scholar
  3. Breiner, J.: Investor sees ‘great returns’ from new digital media. News Entrepreneurs (2017b)Google Scholar
  4. Byerly, C.M.: Global report on the status of women in the news media. International Women’s Media Foundation, Washington, DC (2011)Google Scholar
  5. Davies, J.: Road to 1 million: guardian has gone from 15,000 to 200,000 ‘paying members’ in the past year. Digiday (2017)Google Scholar
  6. Doctor, K.: Newsonomics: Trump may be the news industry’s greatest opportunity to build a sustainable business model. Nieman Lab (2017)Google Scholar
  7. Dragomir, M., Thompson, M. (eds.): Mapping digital media. Global Findings. Open Society Foundations, New York (2014)Google Scholar
  8. Ferreira, L., Tillson, D.J.: Sixty-five years of journalism education in Latin America. The Florida Commun. J. 27, 61–79 (2000)Google Scholar
  9. FNPI: Estos son los ganadores del Premio Gabo (2016).
  10. Gang, G.: Facing a coming era of the fourth media. Journalism & Commun 3 (1998)Google Scholar
  11. García-Avilés, J.A., Carvajal-Prieto, M., De Lara-González, A., Arias-Robles, F.: Developing an index of media innovation in a national market: the case of Spain. Journalism Stud. 1–18 (2016)Google Scholar
  12. Graves, L., Cherubini, F.: The rise of fact-checking sites in Europe. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2016)Google Scholar
  13. Harlow, S.: Quality, innovation, and financial sustainability. Central American entrepreneurial journalism through the lens of its audience. Journalism Pract. 1–22 (2017)Google Scholar
  14. Harlow, S., Salaverría, R.: Regenerating journalism: exploring the ‘alternativeness’ and ‘digital-ness’ of online-native media in Latin America. Digit. Journalism 4(8), 1001–1019 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hass, B.H.: Intrapreneurship and corporate venturing in the media business: a theoretical framework and examples from the German Publishing Industry. J. Media Bus. Stud. 8(1), 47–68 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. He, Z., Zhu, J.: The ecology of online newspapers: the case of China. Media Cult. Soc. 24(1), 121–137 (2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. ICIJ.: Panama Papers wins Pulitzer Prize. (2017)
  18. ITU.: ICT Facts and Figures 2016. (2017)
  19. Kilgo, D., Harlow, S., García Perdomo, V.M., Salaverría, R.: A new sensation? An international exploration of sensationalism and social media recommendations in online news publications. Journalism (2016).
  20. Köroğlu, O., Tingöy, O.: Online journalism in Southern East Europe. AJIT-e: online academic. J. Inf. Technol. 2(3), 1–15 (2011)Google Scholar
  21. Küng, L.: Innovation, technology and organisational change: legacy media’s big challenges. An introduction. In: Storsul, T., Krumsvik, T. (eds.) Media innovations, a multidisciplinary study of change, pp. 10–12. Nordicom, Göteborgs Universitet, Sweden (2013)Google Scholar
  22. Latinobarómetro: Informe Latinobarómetro. (2016)
  23. López Linares, C.: Journalists from Ibero-America share innovation projects at the Knight Center’s Colloquium on Digital Journalism. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. (2017a)
  24. López Linares, C.: SembraMedia reveals digital media growth in Latin America, but says organizations still face challenges. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. (2017b)
  25. López Linares, C.: Journalistic investigations without borders: Latin American journalists innovate with transnational projects. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. (2017c)
  26. Mabweazara, H.M., Mudhai, O.F., Whittaker, J. (eds.): Online journalism in Africa: trends, practices and emerging cultures. Routledge, London (2014)Google Scholar
  27. Mioli, T.: “Media map” project reveals ownership concentration in Chile and Colombia. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. (2015)
  28. Mioli, T.: Univision and Latin American journalists collaborate to fact-check final U.S. presidential debate. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. (2016)
  29. Mioli, T., Nafría, I. (eds.): Innovative journalism in Latin America. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Austin, TX (2017)Google Scholar
  30. Nelson, A.: 6th Ibero-American colloquium on digital journalism: region’s budding news sites discuss sustainability. Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.’s-budding-news-sites-discuss-sustai (2013)
  31. Newman, N.: Fake news, algorithms and guarding against the filter bubble. Journalism, media and technology predictions 2017. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. (2017)
  32. Nicholls, T., Shabbir, N., Nielsen, R.K.: Digital-born news media in Europe. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford (2016)Google Scholar
  33. Nieto, A.: La empresa periodística en España. Eunsa, Pamplona (1973)Google Scholar
  34. Premio Nacional de Periodismo. (2015)
  35. Quesada, J.D.: El boom de la prensa digital latinoamericana. El País (2013)Google Scholar
  36. Reporters without Borders: Roundup 2016 of journalists killed worldwide (2017)Google Scholar
  37. Rey, G., Novoa, J.L.: Medios digitales en Colombia 2012. Consejo de Redacción y Centro Ático de La Universidad Javeriana, Bogota (2013)Google Scholar
  38. Sádaba, C.: Epílogo. Innovación en el sector de los medios. In: Salaverría, R. (ed.) Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica, pp. 423–433. Fundación Telefónica & Editorial Ariel, Madrid (2016)Google Scholar
  39. Salaverría, R. (ed.): Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica. Fundación Telefónica & Editorial Ariel, Madrid (2016)Google Scholar
  40. Salaverría, R.: Typology of digital news media: theoretical bases for their classification. Mediterr. J. Commun. 8(1), 19–32 (2017)Google Scholar
  41. Solórzano, R.: Nicaragua. In: Salaverría, R. (ed.) Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica, pp. 255–272. Fundación Telefónica & Editorial Ariel, Madrid (2016)Google Scholar
  42. Suárez Villegas, J.C.: Nuevas tecnologías y deontología periodística: comparación entre medios tradicionales y nativos digitales. El Profesional de la Información 24(4), 390–395 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tamacas, C.M.: El Salvador. In: Salaverría, R. (ed.) Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica, pp. 145–167. Fundación Telefónica & Editorial Ariel, Madrid (2016)Google Scholar
  44. Torres, F.: La carretera que corta el corazón de la Amazonia. Connectas (2017)Google Scholar
  45. UN: World Population Prospects, the 2015 Revision. (2016)
  46. Vega Montiel, A.: Igualdad de género, poder y comunicación: las mujeres en la propiedad, dirección y puestos de toma de decisión. Revista de Estudios de Género. La Ventana, 5(40), 186–212 (2014)Google Scholar
  47. Warner, J., Iastrebner, M., LaFontaine, D., Breiner, J., Peña Johannson, A.: Inflection point: impact, threats, and sustainability: a study of Latin American Digital Media Entrepreneurs. (2017)

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramón Salaverría
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charo Sádaba
    • 1
  • James G. Breiner
    • 1
  • Janine C. Warner
    • 2
  1. 1.Facultad de ComunicaciónUniversidad de NavarraPamplonaSpain
  2. 2.SembraMediaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations