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El Faro is the first web-only news organization launched in Central America, and it is based in El Salvador.
It was founded in 1998, as an independent alternative to traditional media outlets, then perceived as highly partisan or corrupt. The original idea was it to be a printed newspaper, but its founders -Carlos Dada and Jorge Siman- didn’t have enough money to run an expensive operation like producing and distributing a daily paper.
What Dada and Siman did have was experience working with Internet, so they decided to launch a website while they could afford to print El Faro. It was a risky idea because in 1998, only 2% of El Salvador’s population had access to the Internet. It was risky, too, because back then most of the newspapers websites were just a mere copy of the printed edition. So, why would you want to produce original content for the Internet? It was more a matter of principles than of business (although the founders wanted El Faro to be self-sustainable.)
El Faro (The Beacon) started to shed light over issues constantly overlooked by mainstream media. However, the business model didn’t take off from there. During 5 years, El Faro relied on unpaid staff and on Journalism students who wanted to learn from Dada, a well respected reporter in El Salvador.
During that period of time, Dada and Siman agreed not to accept funds from NGO’s. El Faro didn’t want to depend solely on one source of funding because other media outlets that did so, were not able to continue working after the foundations drew the support. Finally, the website accepted – and still does – money from aid agencies, (like the Open Society Foundations) but only to develop specific projects (elections coverage, e.g.)
El Faro is not profitable but it attracts advertisers. The challenge is big because they cannot compete with newspapers that give advertisers free web ads when they buy ads on the printed edition. However, according to Dada, up to 50% of the website expenses is covered with advertising money. That revenue stream has helped hiring reporters, editors and photographers. In 2012, the newsroom is formed by 20 members.
The main focus of this news organization is investigative reporting, but also shows how much you can do with very few resources.
Bayosphere was a short-lived user-driven local news site in San Francisco. Bayosphere was launched in 2005 by former San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor and Michael Goff and received investment funding from Mitch Kapor and the Omidyar Network. Gillmor shut the site down in January 2006, and the site was bought later that year…