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A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
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March 14, 2012, 10 a.m.

How are online media connected in Colombia?

A recent survey shows online media is a relatively young, and growing, industry in Colombia that shares many of the same tendencies and challenges as the United States.

Online-native news operations share a dependent, interconnected relationship with one other, linking, excerpting, and building on one another’s work. It’s that structure that lends itself to people using terms like “ecosystem” when they talk about the state of online media. But if I remember my high school biology right, most ecosystems are clearly defined by their borders and the species and subspecies that live within them. We need a chart. Or at least a good map.

And it turns out, we now have one, at least for Colombia. A collection of journalism and media organizations in Colombia have finished what they believe is the first comprehensive study that shows who the players are in online media, how they operate, and the ways these different sites are all connected.

The report, “Periodismo digital en Colombia: El quien y el comma de los nuevos medios” (“Digital journalism in Colombia: The who and how of new media” — it’s in Spanish), surveys nearly 400 media sites from around the country to learn more about their production, coverage areas, and perhaps most importantly, business plans. The creators of the report, including current Nieman Fellow Carlos Eduardo Huertas, see the study as the first real map of online media in the country. It’s also a glimpse at how, as many differences as there are among media around the world, some things are universal. For instance, you won’t be surprised to learn that Colombian media rely on social media to drive traffic to content, with the majority of sites having presences on YouTube and Facebook (just edging out Twitter 58 percent to 56 percent).

So what else we know? For starters, 74 percent of the websites in the survey launched between 2001 and 2010. Of course that in some ways mirrors the U.S., where incumbent newspapers, magazines and TV stations had a presence on the web in the 90s, but real growth of online news took place in the last decade. In the Colombian survey, the majority of sites are still tied to traditional outlets — 88 of the 391 sites (22 percent) are online-only organizations.

Colombian outlets have the same issues with generating digital revenue as the U.S. counterparts. The report says online advertising remains an elusive target for news sites, with many organizations relying on subscription dollars as well as revenue from training programs. (One interesting tidbit: 67 percent of the sites were launched with less than 5 million pesos, which is roughly US$2,800.)

One of the most fascinating parts of the report is that it shows the connections between the various media outlets, essentially illustrating the role each plays on a macro and micro level. While much of online media is concentrated in the capital of Bogota, sites also cover areas like Antioquia, Vall de Cauca, and Santander, with a focus that you could probably call (hyper)local. At a broader level, what the report shows is that many of these sites, whether local, national, or niche, share a level of interconnectedness. For example, El Tiempo, the country’s largest newspaper, acts as a kind of hub for daily general news, while La Silla Vacía (founded by ex-Nieman Fellow Juanita León) is the facilitator of government and politics news.

The report is well worth looking (make sure you brush up on your Spanish or have good translation software) at if you’ve got an interest in the growth of online media in Colombia or Latin America and what commonalities exist between the U.S. media and the rest of the world.

POSTED     March 14, 2012, 10 a.m.
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