Maite Fernandez provides an overview of how news organisations have taken to the web in Uruguay
In Uruguay there are nearly 50 information websites, of which only five are considered as the main competitive news websites in Uruguay:
- www.elpais.com.uy (from the newspaper El País)
- www.observa.com.uy (from the newspaper El Observador)
- www.espectador.com.uy (from the news radio El Espectador)
- www.180.com.uy (independent)
- www.montevideo.com.uy (independent)
Two of them are part of newspaper companies (El Pais.com and Observa.com), one is from a news radio company (El Espectador.com), and the other two are independent. 180.com.uy started last October.
I studied El Pais.com, comparing it to the Argentinian news website Clarin.com. I’ve found that, in general, news companies in Uruguay do not yet see the Internet as a field to invest in, and they still invest money and hire employees for the paper publication (in the case of websites that come from newspapers).
That translated into a poor quality of news website. El País.com did not use video journalism extensively, they did not have a participative journalism area and exclusive breaking news stories were often held back to be published on the newspaper the next day (just to name a few aspects).
The newspaper had a total of 50 journalists, whereas the website had only six, counting journalists and the editor.
In the case of El País, this strategy was justified by saying that the newspaper still reaches more readers than the news website.
The case in Clarín was quite different. At the time I visited the company they were merging both newsrooms, and there was a lot of fear and uncertainty on how that would work.
Clarin.com had a staff of 53 journalists and editors. In Clarín it was clear that they were putting the site first, and the newspaper was starting to be seen as an alternative form of publication.
Clarín CEO Ricardo Kirschbaum explained in an internal memo that news is a 24 hour activity that is published in paper once a day, and that he expected newspaper journalists to adapt to the new times and learn how to film an edit video, among other skills.
Before the merge took place a team of Clarín visited several news companies such as The Guardian and Spanish newspapers, and they were advised by experts from Spain and Columbia University. What determined the merge according to some decision makers of Clarín was that the news website was reaching more readers than the newspaper. In fact, its main competitor in Argentina, La Nacion.com, had merged its newsrooms too.
Not late to the net
Uruguay’s case seemed unusual. The first news website appeared in Uruguay in September 1995, before The New York Times or some of the most prestigious Argentinian websites (which are a frequent reference point in Uruguay). So the actual situation of a relative backwardness compared to other countries cannot be explained with the argument that the news companies decided to go digital rather late.
Apart from that, the country has always shown a good internet penetration rate (33% of more than 3.000.000 inhabitants according to the latest studies).
In addition to that, there is a government program called “Plan Ceibal” (more details here). The program is an adaptation of Nicholas Negroponte’s “One laptop per child”, using Uruguay as a study case.
The plan has already given 100.000 laptops to public school kids, and it is intended to be extended to elementary teachers and to high school education (more than 300.000 between students and teachers).
If the program shows good results, as it is showing already, it can be expected that in the next 5 to 10 years those kids could be fully integrated to the digital culture, and therefore, more likely to consume news from the Internet. I guess newspapers managers should keep that in mind.
On the other hand, in the case of El País more than in the rest of the news websites, it was very clear that the site had not yet managed to make profits. This was a strong argument against investing and innovating more in the website.
Uruguay has one of the lowest rates of advertisement investment on Internet compared with other countries of the region (1,8% of the Gross Domestic Product, whereas Argentina has 2,06% and Brazil has 3,3%). This is supposed to change in the next years according to the advertisement managers of some of the news media, mainly because the Interactive Advertisement Bureau (IAB) has recently opened an office in Uruguay, which would help to develop the market and to attract more advertisers.
I guess that the conclusion regarding digital news in Uruguay is simply: the best is yet to come.
Note: the analysis of Clarín.com and El País Digital was conducted from May to August 2008. El País conducted a major redesign of its website in September, including more videos and participatory journalism.