Knight Center
Knight Center


Nómada innovates journalism in Guatemala with bold aesthetics, progressive coverage and creative business model

*This story is part of a special project on Innovators in Latin American and Caribbean Journalism.

At 34 years of age, 16 of them dedicated to journalism, Guatemalan Martín Rodríguez Pellecer can already count among his achievements the creation and establishment of two media outlets that have changed the journalistic panorama of his country.

Founded in 2011 and maintained by Rafael Landívar University (URL), Plaza Pública inaugurated a new tradition of investigative digital journalism committed to human rights in Guatemala. Three years after helping to launch that site, Rodríguez left to embark on the adventure of founding his own media outlet. After eight months of preparation, Nómada emerged in August 2014, anchored in journalistic principles of independence and transparency, as well as philosophical or social ideas like iconoclasm, optimism, aesthetics and feminism.

“I founded Nómada thinking of creating a media outlet that would help advance society towards a vanguard society, more transparent, more open to the world, more progressive, and to do it through journalism, the construction of community and innovation,” Rodríguez told the Knight Center.

The lessons learned in the foundation and in the three years running Plaza Pública were very well-applied in his new environment, Rodríguez said. "Without everything I learned at Plaza Pública, without the relationship with Rafael Landivar University, without that first experience of relationship with allies, of building bridges - and of breaking other bridges with journalistic investigations - Nómada would not be what it is today,” he explained.

With well-defined editorial coverage in sections dedicated to politics, corruption, urban and rural Guatemalan social issues, identity issues, feminism and sexuality, Nómada now has a staff of 20 and draws inspiration from such sites like North America’s Vox, Quartz and Vice, as well as El Faro of El Salvador and Colombia’s La Silla Vacía, to make journalism in a more fresh and direct way than traditional media sites, the founder and CEO explained.

“We try to have formats for a greater number of audiences, this is text, video, motion graphics, graphics, stories in Instagram, and in that sense we innovate in journalism,” he said.

But that’s not it: Nómada also innovates with its business model and in the diversity of sources of income to support its journalism. The promotion of events such as lectures, debates, festivals and fairs of artisanal products creates community among readers and brings partnerships with companies, which turn into income for the site. In addition, the excellence of the work of the audiovisual team has been placed at the service of companies from different sectors through a content agency created to strengthen Nómada’s financial inflows.

A fresh look

Rodríguez’s first hire for Nómada embodies this bet on content presentation and innovation: graphic designer Lucía Menéndez, current CDO (chief design officer).

The Nómada team celebrates its 3-year anniversary. (Facebook)

“Design is not only aesthetic, it is a way of seeing the world, an essential part of how narratives are presented,” Menéndez told the Knight Center. “The most important thing I do is to determine how the design and each format can contribute to better communicating each audio, interactive, photographic, video, motion-graphic, infographic, or text report. Another essential part is the innovation part. I am constantly forming the possibilities of the different platforms and ways of telling the stories.”

According to the CDO, the very design of Nómada’s pages and the visual identity of the site were created to connect to the ethos of the site.

“The freshness is reflected in the generous white space, in the daring way of combining different typographies, in the use of the color palette,” Menéndez explained. “The design has been quite innovative for Latin America. At the beginning, when the project came out, some people commented that it looked too 'nice' to be credible. But we show them that something can look good and be true. A few months after Nómada’s release, most media outlets in Guatemala redesigned their websites. Several collectives and media have imitated our graphic line.”

From corruption to feminism

Alongside its innovation in areas of design and presentation, Nómada is grounded in thorough investigative reporting.

Earlier this year, Nómada’s journalists began looking into the tragedy of Hogar Seguro, when in March 2017, a fire in a state shelter for children and adolescents outside Guatemala City left 41 girls dead. Nómada’s investigations pointed to the responsibility of several state agents in the case. They were recognized among the best journalistic works of the year by the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award, which pointed out that the site’s reporting was reviewed by the public prosecutor.

“In three years, Nómada has managed to awaken our consciences and has carried out investigations so that some criminals end up in jail,” the award said at the time.

Martín Rodríguez Pellecer (Twitter)

Nómada was also one of the journalistic outlets in Guatemala that played a central role in the fall and detention of then-president, Otto Pérez Molina, and his deputy, Roxana Baldetti, in 2015 for involvement in a corruption scheme investigated by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the country’s public prosecutor.

The so-called "Guatemalan spring" –in reference to the mass protests in Guatemala City calling for Pérez Molina's resignation– shook the country and renewed public interest in investigative stories about the shameless actions of the powerful. Nómada continues to dedicate itself to covering the political crisis in the country, now governed by President Jimmy Morales, who also does not pass unscathed by the site’s investigative team.

If coverage of the innards of public power is what is expected of a journalistic milieu committed to transparency, the adoption of feminism as principle and north of journalism produced by Nómada also makes sense for a site that proposes to help improve the society of which it is a part, as explained by Rodríguez.

“We claim that we are a feminist media outlet because we believe that the epidemic of violence against women and of impeding the development of their lives with all the rights is such, that we believe that we must pay special attention to guarantee the rights of women,” Nómada’s director said. “And it is such an important battle for our generation that we believe that we should remind readers all the time, and we must remind ourselves that we have that debt as a society that we must fulfill.”

Translating this commitment into journalistic work involves dedicating much of the site to coverage and investigations on women's rights and sexual and reproductive rights. The most recent example of this engagement was the creation of Volcánica magazine, “a magazine of Latin American blogs and opinion about feminism,” according to Rodríguez. The new publication is edited by Colombian journalist Catalina Ruíz-Navarro, who is based in Mexico City.

The magazine, according to what the editor told the Knight Center, is aimed “at Latin America’s millennial community” and “seeks to be a space to raise transnational and cross-sectional debates on all contemporary feminism themes, such as indigenous feminism, decolonial feminism, Afro-feminism, land and territory, sex work, transfeminism and other themes.”

A recognized feminist activist in the region, Ruíz-Navarro said she wants Volcánica to be more than a traditional digital magazine.

The editor’s intention is “to engage Latin American feminist millennials in a regional conversation that allows us to do to advocacy, activism, get acquainted and familiarize ourselves with different themes of feminisms that may be alien to our immediate surroundings and that allows us to connect and empathize with other feminists in the region,” Ruíz-Navarro said. “In this way, we can better organize ourselves and begin to weave networks that give us strength to do activism in the region and in each one of our countries.”

“Nómada is one of the few media sites that assumes a feminist viewpoint from the beginning and this is a very important political position,” the Colombian journalist said. “The birth of Volcánica shows that Nómada wants to take that feminist position to the end, they are opening a space for community and discussion.”

For Ruíz-Navarro, this space is even more important because of what she perceives as a negative reaction to the advance of the feminist movement in the public debate in recent years.

“On the one hand, there are many journalistic publications that are becoming more openly progressive and activist, but they are very few,” she said. “I think it's the opposite: the spaces are closing, and we are in a generalized moment of backlash in the movement where preserving spaces that claim to be committed to being feminists, such as Nómada and Volcánica, is of vital importance.”

Rodríguez, the founder and director of Nómada, said the site is activist in two fields: transparency and feminism. “The fact that we are activists for the rights of women or for transparency of media does not make us a less journalistic media outlet,” he said.

“We are part of the generation of journalists who believe that making our ideology transparent makes our readers more demanding. But it makes us journalists who, beyond the search to promote an ideology, are searching for the truth,” Rodríguez said.

Financing, content for companies and events

Nómada is part of a generation of digital native media in the region that has innovated not only in format and content, but also in ways of sustaining itself– perhaps the main concern of journalists wanting to create their own ventures.

Before starting Nómada said he spent three years learning from Open Society Foundation grantees and from the Knight Center’s International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ). “I found that a mixed model of grants for investigative journalism along with a commercial area, could be the most useful, most attractive,” he explained.

This mixed model consists of an S.A. with 20 members whose names are public –among them are Menéndez, CDO of Nómada; Luis von Ahn, Guatemalan founder and CEO of the language teaching platform Duolingo; and the Coordination of NGOs and Cooperatives of Guatemala (Congcoop). Each shareholder has between 1 percent and 2 percent of the shares –with the exception of Rodríguez, a founding shareholder– initially worth U.S. $10,000 each. Rodríguez is also the chairman of the Nómada Board of Directors and the members are part of the administration secretariat.

In addition to the partner’s investments, the initial capital of Nómada came from a U.S. $350,000 bank loan contracted by Rodríguez. From that point on, Nómada started to count on international funders of investigative journalism around the world such as the Ford Foundation, Hivos, the Open Society Foundation, Free Press Unlimited and Planned Parenthood. These sources accounted for 55 percent of Nómada’s total budget in 2017, which stood at around $650,000, Rodríguez told the Knight Center. The remaining 45 percent comes from “[advertising and event partnership] sales, sales of shares and [capital] in credit."

“The assessment [of the business model] is somewhere between harsh and positive,” the founder said. “Harsh because it is not easy to start a media outlet and above all it is not easy to maintain a level of cash flow in the first three years as in any start up that begins with credit. And positive because we hope that next year between grants, commercial sales, and the content agency that we began in this quarter, we can reach a point of equilibrium.”

The Nueve agency was founded based on Nómada’s experience forming partnerships with companies from various sectors to produce journalistic content. Among them are cbc - The Central America Bottling Corporation, which sponsors the Perfiles series, featuring videos about cultural initiatives in Guatemala, and the Chinese technology company Huawei, which sponsors the site's Travel Guide section.

According to Lucía Menéndez, partnerships with companies have been successful for the site and for its readers. "For Nómada, it is a part of the profitable and innovative business model. And for our readers, it's always interesting content,” she said.

The agency, however, intends to go beyond journalism and produce commercial content for companies with an initiative inspired by North American media and Ecuadorian site GK, Rodríguez said. The content for companies will not have "the Nómada logo, but will have the quality of motion graphics and videos from Nómada, to provide us with another source of income," he said.

The founder of the Guatemalan website highlights another lesson from ISOJ: the production of events as community building and as a source of income for journalistic media. With this goal in mind, Nómada has combined academic events such as debates and lectures, and playful events such as parties and street fairs, Rodríguez said.

Among the first was TEDx Media Ninjas, which brought journalists from various countries in the region to Guatemala City in March 2016 to talk about innovation and digital journalism, and the DIXIT, conferences with experts who reflect on what they have learned over the course of their careers. In 2017, the topics covered were "Women with Power" and "Technology for change," always with sponsorship.

Among the playful events are Nómada’s themed birthday parties – such as this year’s Halloween bash –and fairs for brands and artisan crafts such as the recent Barrio Nómada and Sexo Avenida - Mercadillo Erótico. All events are open to partnerships with institutions and companies that want to sponsor them in some way, and among those who have participated are Hyundai, Stella Artois and the U.S. and Mexican embassies.

Nómada holds special events, like cultural gathering Barrio Nómada, to help fund the site. (Facebook)

“Most events are profitable,” Menéndez said. “Our commercial alliances also build brand identity. This contributes to the ‘Nómada brand.’ It also allows us to get to know our community firsthand and have a personal approach. Having such closeness to our community through the events is quite unusual in Guatemala. The entire Nómada team is always present at parties, often at the entrance greeting the attendees.”

In addition to these sources of income, Nómada also recently launched a crowdfunding campaign, “Periodismo por vos” (Journalism for you). According to the site’s director, the goal is for this mode of income to account for 10 percent of Nómada’s total funding.

“The key, as in all businesses, and this is part of the learning I have had in these four that to ensure the lasting prosperity of the business we have to think about a large number of sources of income,” Rodríguez said.

In this sense, Nómada will soon have a new general manager, a professional with experience with business development and who will help increase sales collections and obtain new financing. According to Rodríguez, "these are the two biggest challenges: how to grow and how to innovate."

“Nómada tries to be a media that is very rigorous and very political, tries to take life a little less seriously, and tries a vocation more oriented to service for the community of readers in the sense that we want to do everything possible to inform society,” Rodríguez said. “For this, we have to leave our comfort zone of text to make videos, graphics, motion graphics, forums, and everything we can, and we have to invest a lot in design and a commercial model and we have to borrow 350 thousand dollars, let's do it.”

All this without losing the playful spirit that characterizes Nómada, the founder of the site said: “I think that this vocation is a lesson, too, and I think another lesson is that life can be trying to change the world from Monday to Friday, and enjoying life from Friday to Sunday.”

The "Innovators in Journalism" series, made possible thanks to generous support from Open Society Foundations, covers digital news media trends and best practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. It expands upon our previous series and ebook, Innovative Journalism in Latin America, by looking at the people and teams leading innovative reporting, storytelling, distribution and financing initiatives in the region.

Other stories in the series include:


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