Journalists from 13 Latin American countries are trained in Hyperlocal Journalism - Journalism Courses by Knight Center

June 20, 2011

Journalists from 13 Latin American countries are trained in Hyperlocal Journalism

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The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas concluded its online course, “Hyperlocal Journalism,” with a record 95 percent completion rate among its students. Award-winning, Argentinian journalist Sandra Crucianelli taught the four-week course in Spanish for the second time. She was assisted by Knight Center employee Rachel Barrera.

Out of 60 journalists representing 13 countries, 57 successfully completed the course which ended May 29. “Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most successful courses I’ve ever taught,” said Crucianelli, “not only because of the high number of completions but for the high quality of the interaction that occurred among its members that doesn’t always happen in virtual learning.”

The countries represented were: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States and Venezuela

The course focused on the creation and operation of websites dedicated to local coverage and was divided into weekly modules. “Hyperlocal media is a trend,” said Crucianelli. “It’s about media outlets whose content covers a specific geographical area. Their content doesn’t generally appear in traditional media and the sources vary — from community neighborhoods to digital sources that are rarely explored.”

The course also included an emphasis on the use of social media by local news websites. One journalist who found inspiration in Crucianelli’s words generated controversy and debate in Mexico when he applied what he learned and sent out a tweet.

Ernesto Alonso Lopez, director of the website, tweeted that Sinoloan Governor Mario Lopez Valdez raffled off three cars for journalists and used public funds to do so. “They (cars) cost 240,000 pesos, (approximately $20,000 in U.S. dollars), according to what the governor himself stated, and later justified saying that it was an allocation in the budget for the public press,” explained the journalist.

While the car raffles in honor of “Freedom of Expression Day” were announced by the governor’s office, the lottery was not mentioned in the mainstream press. This troubled Lopez. “The matter wouldn’t have received much notice from the corporate media if we had not reported on the cost of the cars, who obtained them and how they did it. That is, we informed the public of an action that was very questionable from an ethical point of view — a collusion between the government and the corporate media.”

Because of the tweets, the story was eventually picked up by bloggers, a radio station and other media outlets, prompting heated discussion about the appropriateness of using public funds for media giveaways. Lopez was pleased that the practice of using public funds to give journalists gifts was being debated but worried that the discussion was dying down.

“(This) is an example of how social networks provide an important service for journalists not only to find sources, but to also get scoops,” said Crucianelli, upon hearing about Lopez’ efforts. “When we, the teachers, (who are also journalists), work to inspire our colleagues — I feel that we are part of an important evolutionary process within digital journalism, a process that will surely leave an imprint,” she added.

In addition to the class presentations, online discussions and forums helped give the journalists from different countries another perspective. “What I always like best is to learn about other journalists’ experiences and different ways of thinking and how they work in their own media outlets, also learning about their perspectives,” said Lopez.

“I was surprised by the interactivity in the course. I have to be clear that a percentage of the commentaries were merely social but the participation, suggestions and opinions of the majority added much,” said Venezuelan journalist Hans Graf.

Most of the students were pleased with the course and praised Crucianelli for teaching them about online tools that could help in their everyday jobs. In evaluations that they posted anonymously, one wrote, “The uses of geolocation tools, among others, were extremely helpful and allowed me to immediately apply them in my work.”

“I learned about many digital tools which I had no idea could be used to search information for news production,” said another.

But in the end it was Crucianelli’s concept of hyperlocal journalism that had the most impact on the journalists. “I’ve learned how to do hyperlocal journalism and take care of the needs that are, in reality, the demands of the people,” wrote a student. I’ve also learned to give a voice to those who don’t have one.”