Media Factory, the world’s first news accelerator, wants to invest in Latin American projects
If there is anything that the current journalistic scene in Latin America is lacking, it's money and faith in new independent sites that are seeking to flourish in the region. And Mariano Blejman seems to have found a way to offer both.
Blejman is a recipient of the Knight International Fellowship, and as part of his work to promote media innovation in the region, he recently created Media Factory, the first accelerator for news organizations in the world.
Media Factory will serve as a channel for venture capital and offer financing, training and other types of support to help new media sites create sustainable projects.
“We are looking to create media outlets from scratch," said Blejman in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Media Factory is scheduled to launch in January 2014 and is currently looking for the first beneficiaries of the initiative. The company will recruit five teams of three journalists in Latin America interested in founding new media sites focused on politics and business.
Those selected will be relocated to Buenos Aires, where they will work four to six months with the other teams in developing their projects.
Media Factory will offer $75,000 per company through its investment partners, the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), Vivid Growth and Indie Voices, a new crowdsourcing platform created by MDIF founder Sasa Vucinic. In return, Media Factory will obtain a 17% share in the new companies.
Blejman's project comes at a moment when the question of sustainability has become a vital issue in Latin America. During the Sixth Ibero-American Colloquium for Digital Journalism, organized this past April by the Knight Center, dozens of journalists from around Latin America agreed that the most important issues that they face today are how to diversify their sources of income and how to grow their audiences.
As a result of the Colloquium, 10 independent media sites formed last month ALiados, a new organization that looks to strengthen mutual cooperation and jointly find new forms of sustainability.
Media Factory is focused on helping the selected teams develop a business model and a plan to grow their audience, using the best practices from the most successful, digital-native media platforms as their guide.
Blejman, editor, media entrepreneur and founder of the successful Buenos Aires chapter of Hacks/Hackers, said that part of Media Factory's challenge will be to eliminate the dissociation between journalists' idealism and the reality of starting a business -- which he discovered to be a large gap in journalism training in Latin America.
“Journalism in Latin America does not teach much on entrepreneurship; it teaches you the craft and how it was during the more prosperous days, when traditional medial outlets were successful and journalists only dedicated themselves to writing," he said. "For many that is probably good, but those journalists who want to create new outlets need to think in terms of entrepreneurship and understand how to do it."
But in addition to helping new digital media sites in the region, Blejman thinks investing in them could turn into a successful business. For him, the pessimism about the state of the media industry that characterized previous years has been slowly replaced by enthusiasm rooted in the opportunities that a more mature digital era is now offering.
And while it's true that not many people have invested in the region's media projects for several reasons -- investing in technology, for example, tends to be more profitable and, as a business, the growth of media outlets in Latin America has been limited by their immediate geography -- for Syed Karim, director of innovation at MDIF, investing in media is a better bet than in technology, because it is easier to measure the product's impact and the overhead costs are much smaller.
Karim added that the conditions are right for investing in new media in the region because it is an underutilized market. More people have gained access to the internet in the continent, and the traditional media outlets have failed to take advantage of the digital era's opportunities. And sometimes it is best to start something new in order to respond to an audiences' needs with more agility.
"My belief is that content is currency", he said. "It's essentially about brokering attention; that's what's driving the bottom line for companies like Google and AOL, and it's had value for the last several years. We’re talking about billions of dollars that people are still paying for eyeballs. There's no way people can't make a living out of that."
Visit Media Factory's site to learn more about how to register your project.
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