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KNIGHT CENTER NEWS

Austin Forum has repercussions in online journalism through the Americas


Inspired by her participation in this year’s digitally themed Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas, Paraguayan investigative reporter Mabel Rehnfeldt and the newspaper ABC Color recently conducted a digital journalism training workshop to help reporters learn to incorporate the latest multimedia technologies into their reporting.

Just two months after the seventh annual Austin Forum wrapped up, Rehnfeldt’s training workshop already was making an impact: participants produced a seven-minute online special report, complete with digital maps and photos, detailing step-by-step the kidnapping of cattle rancher Fidel Zavala and the role of the rebel group The Army of the Paraguayan People. The first such multimedia project in a digital newspaper in Paraguay, the report was viewed more than 6,000 times in the first 24 hours it was online.

Rehnfeldt, founder of The Paraguayan Journalists' Forum (FOPEP), is just one of several Austin Forum participants from throughout the Americas who have begun to look for opportunities to integrate new technology into their storytelling, puting into practice the ideas, techniques and other suggestions devised during the forum, Sept. 11-12.

The Austin Forum, sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Open Society Institute’s Media Program, is a network of organizations focused on media training and development in Latin America and the Caribbean. This year’s forum, Digital Journalism and Democracy, brought together 48 participants from more than a dozen countries.

After taking part in the Austin Forum, Cesar Molinares Dueñas of the Website Verdad Abierta (Open Truth) in Colombia was motivated to employ more multimedia tools in the site’s efforts to cover paramilitary action in Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict. Photos, videos, testimonials, statistics and other information have been incorporated into the site’s “Reconstructing” section, which aims to recount victims’ personal stories.

“We have tried to apply what we learned in Austin,” Molinares said. “First, I believe that now we are thinking about linking users to the development of the site via social networks, looking for them to tell us what they want to know about the process of justice and peace with the paramilitaries, but also motivating them to use the content and reproduce it among their friends.”

He also said they have made changes to the site’s design, making it “clean, clear, navigable and user friendly, beyond including all of the multimedia parts with videos and audio.”

Similarly, Austin Forum representative Carolina Fuentes of CNN Chile is pushing for a project that integrates online technologies and citizen journalism. The site, called Ventana Abierta (Open Window), would be directed at under-represented Chilean communities, allowing community members to actively participate in content creation.

Online technologies, Fuentes said, have made a huge difference in the amount of news CNN Chile can disseminate in just three hours of news each day.

“Now, thanks to tools like Twitter, we can transmit 18 more stories every three hours than what we did before,” she said. “People receive more information, processed and put into context by the producer, than what they could receive before.”

For Fuentes, the most important part of the Austin Forum was “feeling there was no competition between the digital world and journalism, but rather with creativity both worlds can work together, mutually supporting each other and in the end offering more and better information for people.”

Carlos Dada of El Salvador, who also took part in the Austin Forum, likewise has found ways to use more multimedia reporting tools in the online newspaper he helped found, El Faro (The Lighthouse).

For example, El Faro just completed a project tracking migrants on their journey through Mexico. The series includes slideshows, travel notebooks, photo galleries, radio stories, and a documentary, and even has incorporated social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Taking the multimedia concept a step further, Dada and the others produced a “trailer,” a short video previewing the news report.

In Argentina, Austin Forum member and Knight Center instructor Sandra Crucianelli also has reported technological advances in storytelling for her digital magazine, Solo Local.info.

Using audio, video, hyperlinks and other documents, Crucianelli produced an online series reporting on the mayor of Bahía Blanca’s trip to Germany when he was supposedly at work in Argentina. His time away also exceeded the maximum time allowable for a head of state to be gone without appointing a replacement. This series of articles scooped traditional media, as the online magazine broke the story.




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