Friday, March 28, 2008

Web training in Latin America

A survey of 43 major web operations in Latin America has found that their biggest training needs are in the area of creating multimedia packages and writing for the Internet. More than half the sites do not rewrite print stories for their web editions.

The researchers, Guillermo Franco, Julio César Guzmán and Mauricio Romero, are all editors with El Tiempo and eltiempo.com in Colombia. The survey, published on the Poynter Institute's website last year, was done by web and telephone and includes the leaders of these online operations as opposed to a random sample.

Staffing levels and training
"The Internet continues to be a marginal operation in most of newspapers in Latin America. Evidence for this is the small number of journalists who work in Web departments (42 percent of the newpapers operate with three or fewer journalists, whereas 66 percent employ eight or fewer people)."

Forty-five percent of the journalists working on these sites have degrees in digital journalism.

"In 71 percent of the Web sites, the average age of their journalists is between 20 and 30 years old (down from 87 percent in the previous survey [in 2004])."

These news operations generally focus on editing and rewrite. Only 7 percent say that reporting is their main focus. This gibes with the heavy dependence on the print edition for their content.

At the same time, two-thirds of these web operations report that they have autonomy in terms of writing headlines, choosing story angles and establishing story hierarchy.

Other notable findings
- Only half the organizations provide the email addresses of the reporters with their stories.
- 59 percent of all surveyed media stated they had no e-commerce operation whatsoever, and 70 percent do not see the Internet as a threat to their classified ad business. (Evidently, they don't have anything like craigslist competing in their markets.)
- 68 percent consider user content generation a revolution for journalism. However, 30 percent think users should be controlled so that they do not cause more harm than good.

The authors cited limitations in their research. An examination of websites included in the survey found major discrepancies between what some said their practices were and what was actually observed. "For example, when asked about Flash-generated content, 52 percent say that they do it systematically and frequently. By surfing their Web sites, it is revealed that this is not so true."

My own recent experience of looking for a place to rent in Mexico's second-largest city, Guadlajara, found virtually no online classifieds on the daily newspaper sites. As of yet, there does not appear to be a strong online competitor for classifieds there.

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