Convergencia, Colombia-Style

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

El Tiempo is by far Colombia’s biggest daily newspaper. Add in all Casa Editorial El Tiempo (CEET) properties — its downmarket tabloid daily Hoy, a financial news daily, six news, fashion and men’s magazines, the CityTV broadcast channel and all their numerous Web sites — and it’s the nation’s biggest media presence, period. No surprise then, in a region where newsroom staffing is historically higher than the U.S., journalists from El Tiempo and its sibling media flooded the field at big news or sports events.

“We had five or six people at a soccer game,” recalls  Diego Carvajal Galeano, CEET’s online content and operations manager. Each of those reporters would return to different newsrooms in CEET’s sprawling office complex in Bogotá, where their stories would be vetted separately by five or six editors. It wasn’t just inefficient — it was a system that worked against the reality of the new digital 24/7, want-my-news-now media environment.

Newspaper journalists, in particular, had become accustomed to never collaborating with other CEET media. “Two years ago, if I was a print journalist who had a scoop, I was going to save it for the paper and not share it with anyone — especially with the digital media,” Carvajal says.

When he came to CEET in late 2008, Carvajal brought experience in both print and broadcast journalism, with stints including Rolling Stone in Ecuador and CNN en Español. More important, he had just spent eight years as content and innovation director at Colombia’s largest digital ad shop, advising clients such as Coca Cola and Warner Brothers on digital strategies.

He set out to converge CEET journalism resources physically, structurally and, most challenging of all, culturally.

Carvajal took 80% of CEET’s journalists and reassigned them not to different publications or broadcast, but to themed portals, essentially beats writ large, such as national and local news, sports or entertainment. Their work is now edited in a central news desk, and routed to the various publications and broadcasters. The process also works in reverse, with the CEET outlets asking, through the central news desk, for specific content in their style and for their particular audience.

“The biggest change is not so much the physical building, hard as that was to implement, but the culture,” Carvajal says.

Journalists needed to be retrained to think or a digital era. Clever, pun-filled headlines had to be junked in favor of heds that meet SEO (search engine optimization) parameters. Long interviews needed to be quick, punchy audio clips. Videos could not be rambling and static. And reporters would have to handle the editing themselves.

The culture change has taken hold, with reporters who hoarded scoops now heading to news events with video cameras. CEET properties post hundreds of videos, and just 35% come from its TV channel.

Digital-first convergence has super-charged CEET’s Web audience. Colombia has a population of 40 million, and only 25 million even have access to the Internet. Yet, CEET has amassed an average monthly audience of more than 9 million unique visitors.

 

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