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Innovation in tools and digital storytelling to report complex social phenomenon is extending to Latin America

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World News Publishing Focus
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Innovation in tools and digital storytelling to report complex social phenomenon is extending to Latin America

Digital transition in the journalistic industry has brought a great amount of new tech and tools that allow media companies to tell stories in a more appealing way with friendlier, more didactic, more entertaining, and more creative formats. 

These stories are worth spreading to the highest possible amount of people to build a better-informed society that is aware of the issues that are affecting it. Digital platforms are an essential vehicle to make this possible.  

Violence driven deaths in Brazil, threats to Venezuelan migrants, Hurricane Maria’s aftermaths in Puerto Rico, or the forgotten investigations on missing Peruvian women are all phenomena that either have not been reported enough, or have been reported from a wrong angle. However, several media brands in the region have devoted their resources and best talent to cover those stories in a more innovative way, this past year. 

O Globo launched an animated 14-minute documentary titled “The Brazilian War,” which narrates Brazil’s violence’s true magnitude; it has caused a total of 786 thousand murders in the past 15 years. These deaths are greater in number than those from Syrian and Iraqi wars, as well as all the terrorist attacks worldwide during the same period. The script was written based on information from 10 Brazilian and international databases, compiled by the authors. After its publication, print media, broadcasters, and websites from 11 Latin American and European countries shared the video. 

The Agence France Presse (AFP) built upon the same violence in Brazil and took the initiative to report the favela’s inhabitants’ tough realities, who are surrounded daily by violence, police abuses, and impunity. “Stray Bullets” puts a face and a voice to all those people that anonymously lose their lives in crossfires between cops and traffickers, by sharing their families’ testimonies through video, short texts, interactive maps, and overall graphics. Sobriety and simplicity in formats strengthen such heartbreaking stories. 

Violence also spreads to Peru, specifically against women. In 2017, Peru registered a total of 77 femicides, more than 20 thousand cases of violence against women at home, and 756 women that were rescued from human trafficking networks. RPPData, the Peruvian media company RPP’s data team, found the topic’s coverage so scarce that they launched the video documentary “Desaparecidas. Las mujeres olvidadas por el Estado peruano” (Missing. The forgotten women by the Peruvian State), where they aim to explore the problem from its roots and to shed lights to the protocols followed by The Peruvian National Police, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Public Prosecution Office. Four chapters compose it, each with short and long texts and a linear storytelling, but also with the option to browse amongst them in a more didactic way.  

This investigative project was first launched in digital; however, it translated into radio reports and video transmission its news TV channel, reaching 11.7 million people in radio and 1 million viewers, thus capturing the attention of the State which reactivated its searching efforts.

Social issues might also arise from natural disasters and resources exploitation. The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo launched the site “Viaje a las entrañas de Hidroituango” (A journey to Hidroituango’s entrails), composed by audiovisual language on an animated video-infographics, digital maps, and a VR lab in order to report the real extent of the hydroelectric dam’s crisis in Ituango, Colombia. Thanks to this coverage, one can understand how and why the biggest hydroelectric project in the country is affecting nearby municipalities with landslides, damming, and droughts.

Also in 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by one of the worst natural disasters in history: Hurricane Maria. The tragedy was widely reported worldwide but that information only reached the Puerto Rican diaspora in the US, whereas it never reached to inhabitants of the island. This happened for one simple reason, which is that the island just recently recovered all of its electric power that the hurricane had frustrated, leaving thousands of Boricuas with no access to the Internet. Almost every media company in Puerto Rico were unable to broadcast or produce digital content after the hurricane destroyed 92.7% of telecomm towers. 

GFR Media took the initiative to launch a microsite named “María, un nombre que no vamos a olvidar” (Maria, a name we won’t forget), which gathered the most important news about the devastation, linked to each of the 78 municipalities in the island, to have them at hand when their audience regained access to electricity and the ability to be online. The site counts with 84 articles, 343 pictures, 59 videos, 4 maps, and interactive content, as well as digital replicas of the most important print newspapers’ front pages during that period. 

Newspapers have also covered the Venezuelan crisis. The Colombian Data Unit from El Tiempo, in alliance with the Venezuelan digital site Efecto Cocuyo, conducted the collaborative and investigative journalism project “Venezuela a la fuga” (Venezuela on the run), to tell, from their core, stories from so many people that have been forced to flee the country and seek refuge in 7 Latin American capital cities: Bogota, Quito, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and La Paz. Storytelling by video, data visualization (migration routes), chronicles, and documentaries tell how it is like to run from an economic crisis and look for jobs in foreign countries, as well as stories from Colombians who were living in Caracas and had to go back home. 

It is clear that digital transformation in the journalistic industry brings several challenges to the table, mostly regarding the business models’ evolution in the long run and, overall, regarding the economic sustainability of media companies. 

Nonetheless, this transformation also brings an infinite number of tools that media companies can use to tell more and better stories than ever, about issues that are affecting their respective societies, making the role they play a more essential and fundamental one.


These projects have been selected as finalists for WAN-IFRA’s LATAM Digital Media Awardsunder the categories Best Data Visualization and the Jury’s Special Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism Projects. 

To discover the winners in both categories, don’t miss the Awards ceremony during the conference Digital Media LATAM 2018, to be held in Bogota, Colombia on 14-16 November.

Editor's note: This article was modified on September 10, 2018 in order to add some information to the project "Desaparecidas. Las mujeres olvidadas por el Estado peruano" and clarify that the investigation was not just a digital project, but a multiplatform one, with significant radio and TV components. 


Daniela Pena


2018-09-06 22:12

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