Americas Extra/Pan-Am Highway

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

AMERICAS EXTRA

Latin American newspapers are in a good place right now, as this space discussed in the August issue of E&P. While North American papers struggle to reverse the decline of recent years, Latin American dailies have grown circulation by more than 20% in just the past three years — and are projected to increase revenue at an annual rate of 5.1% for the foreseeable future.
 
It’s not going to last, warns Andrés Cavalier, whose Miami-based firm Fastrack specializes in developing digital content strategy and social media management for Latin markets.
 
“At this point most newspapers in Latin America are still enjoying a good era,” he says. “Most of these newspapers are family-owned and are dominant in their markets. But I think that’s slowly starting to change with more television channels, the Internet and, most especially, mobile news media. Those newspapers that don’t innovate aggressively over the next few years, I think will have a hard time in the future.”
 
In many ways, the future has arrived. Latin America accounts for 57 million of Facebook’s users. In Mexico alone, the number of Facebook users jumped from 5.1 million at the beginning of 2010 to 12 million by June. Soon after the Mexican City daily El Universal opened its Twitter account it had 200,000 followers.
 
And all this is happening in a region with Internet penetration that is low but poised to boom. Most Latin American newspapers find themselves behind the trend — and racing to catch up.
 
They have some good examples to follow in their neighborhood, however.
 
Among the most innovative is El Comercio, the Lima daily that is Peru’s oldest and among the largest with a circulation of 120,000. The paper designed its Website to attract a younger audience with pictures and videos replacing the usual headlines and text. Earlier this year, El Comercio sent traffic surging at its site, elcomercio.pe, by creating a Facebook-like social media site called La Comunidad
 
This summer El Comercio added a feature called Reportube to La Comunidad as a place where users can post video, photos and report the news themselves. Four days after its announced launch, the site had 2,300 postings and more than 1,000 members. Hundreds, too, have signed up to be “Reportuberos,” citizen journalists who can take advantage of a training course offered by El Comercio. An interactive map on the site shows Reportuberos posting from four continents.
 
In Argentina, La Voz del Interior took this homemade strategy a step further. While El Comercio still engages with readers through Facebook and Twitter, La Voz, says Cavalier, “created their own community in order to have the audience go to their Website as opposed to visiting third-party social media sites.”
 
The Córdoba daily, published by the Argentine media giant Clarín Group, created a site called Vos, the Spanish equivalent of “you all.” Members get Twitter-like and Facebook-like accounts to interact with other users and comment on content. Vos’ traffic didn’t soar from the beginning due to technical issues with the site — a hazard of the go-it-alone approach — but has grown well since the problems were resolved.
 
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PAN-AM HIGHWAY
 
MEXICO — Drug cartels that have long intimidated Mexican journalists into silencing coverage of narcotics trafficking took a new tack by intimidating news organizations into broadcasting their propaganda. Four journalists — two cameramen of the Televisa; Javier Canales, a cameraman for the national newspaper chain and TV network Milenio; and Oscar Solís, a reporter for the local newspaper El Vespertino — were kidnapped separately and held captive together for a week in the Durango state by captors who demanded the networks broadcast videos of alleged ties between government officials and a rival drug gang called the Zetas. The four were rescued or released in early August. “Mexican authorities cannot allow criminal groups to control the flow of information,” said Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
 
CHILE — Chile’s Congress is looking at a proposal to amend the national media finance law to give public funds to newspapers and other whose offices or equipment were damaged in the Feb. 27 earthquake, UPI reported.
 
CUBA — With the release and deportation to Spain in late July, reporter José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández became the 11th imprisoned independent journalist to be freed by the Cuban government this month. Izquierdo Hernández, of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro in Havana, was serving a 16-year prison sentence imposed in 2003. He was among 52 independent journalists, economists, librarians and political dissidents rounded up in the notorious Black Spring crackdown of March 23. CPJ said nine independent journalists arrested then remain in prison with no word on when or whether they will be released.
 
VENEZUELA — The pro-Hugo Chavez journalists group Periodismo Necesario (Necessary Journalism) demanded an investigation of the press freedom groups Public Space and the Institute of Press and Society (IPYS), saying they had received $4 million in funding from the U.S. government to attack the Venezuelan leader and destabilize the nation. Both groups noted they receive funding from many sources, including the Organization of American States, and vigorously denied any implication they were involved in partisan plotting.

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