Lessons from feminist journalism in Latin America
Traditionally, journalism has been seen as playing a key role in the life of a democratic society, a watchdog of power, a reflection of what is happening in a society. Some of its key functions are to: question those in power; draw attention to pressing issues and injustices; dig deeply and explain phenomena that affect citizens; process and contextualize information; and even entertain. With traditional business models, the audience’s attention was not fought over by all other media types; in digital societies, however, the “unbiased” model became unviable, while, in highly polarized societies, the audience-and-analytics driven model that strives to accentuate identity politics ends up being a potent agent of polarization (Klein, 2020). Journalists can become points of contention, as exemplified by former US President Donald Trump’s claims of news media as “the enemy of the people”, “fake news” and “alternative facts”. In some of Latin America's nascent democracies, the erosion of democratic institutions placed journalism’s role in an even more confrontational context and made the need for journalism to fulfill its promises even bigger, as situations in e.g. El Salvador and Nicaragua show.
Within this context, a growing consciousness that feminism and working with a gender perspective had a place within journalism grew in Latin America, along with a wave of widespread activism on gender issues aided by digital technologies. In 2005, the Red Internacional de Periodistas con Visión de Género (International Network of Journalism with a Gender Vision) was founded. In 2013, Mariana Santos Founded Chicas Poderosas, a network of female journalists with the “aim to address the gender gap in newsrooms specially in Latin America”. Two years before the #MeTooMovement - in 2015 - the #NiUnaMenos movement was born in the streets of Argentina as massive protests erupted following the murder of a 14-year-old girl by her 16-year-old boyfriend (Díaz, 2021). The slogan then became a hashtag online and spread throughout the region, both digitally and on the streets. The Me Too Movement had resonance in Latin America as well, with young women in particular coming out on social media to tell stories about sexual violence and discrimination. In El Salvador, this included the circulation in 2019 of a list of men, including several journalists, for alleged sexual violence. Parallel to this, women’s incursion into independent journalism grew. In 2018, a Sembra Media Study found that 40% of native digital media had been founded by or was directed by a woman. That year, I myself, along three other female colleagues from El Salvador, founded Alharaca, a feminist news media organization in El Salvador. Already in 2019, there were at least 30 feminist media organizations in the region (Luján, 2019). Three years later, the landscape has expanded even more.
Feminist news media organizations in Latin America (not an exhaustive list)
News media organizations working with a gender perspective (not an exhaustive list)
2021 – Chile – La Otra Diaria
2020 – Peru – La Antígona
2019 – El Salvador – La Brújula
2017 – Puerto Rico - Todas
2017 – Argentina – C
2017 – Guatemela – Volcánicas
2016 – Mexico - Malvestida
2010 – España – Pikara Magazine
1998 – Guatemala - La Cuerda
Colombia – Las Igualadas (opinion section)
Mexico - Corriente Alterna
Mexico – Página 3
Mexico – Lado B
Mexico – Kaja Negra
Mexico – Pie de Página
Argentina – Cosecha Roja
Honduras - Contra Corriente
El Salvador – Gato Encerrado
“Diversity is a cornerstone for quality journalism in the 21st Century”, stated the director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in the prologue of the book Diversity in Latin American Journalism (2021). So why has journalism turned a blind eye when it comes to women, LGBTQI rights and racial disparities?
Considering the function of journalism, the connection to the these issues is quite evident. To question those who have power based on their gender is not to be seen as a personal attack, but rather a fundamental inquiry that every journalist should pursue. To draw attention to the injustices, violence, discrimination and disparities that people from the LGBTQI community face is not a niche subject, but a pressing issue of why a society does not respect the rights of a person based on who they are or to whom they are attracted. To investigate how the history of a country explains the disparities that indigenous and black communities experience in their daily lives and in encounters with the State, should be of importance to every newsroom. How all these issues interconnect is a matter of making governments, public officials and those in power accountable for not treating people equally.
Even though the representation of women in news media has improved over the past two decades, it is still limited. The 2020 report of the Global Media Monitoring Project (Macharia, Sarah. 2020) showed an increase in the proportion of women featured as sources and subjects in news for the first time in a decade, but just by one percentage point. The percentage of women portrayed as sources and subjects rose to 25% in 2020. At this pace, the report forecasts, it will take 67 more years to close the average gender equality gap in traditional news media. However, the situation, becomes even worse when considering specific populations rather than the regional average. In Latin America, only 3% of people represented in the news come from indigenous communities; of that percentage, only one in five is a woman. This not only affects women’s lives and their function in society in general, but also, according the report, shows that “The failure to extend the opportunity for more citizens to tell their own stories in their own words, to tell the stories which are important to them and, also, to a broad range of people, compromises the value of the news to its multiple and diverse publics.”
As guidelines and toolkits from the past decade show, practicing feminist journalism or journalism with a gender perspective, involves a wide variety of processes, as shown in the graph below.
Figure 1. Source: self-development
Feminist practices of collectivity, different ways of understanding power relationships, the valuing of care work and the body have been employed by feminists throughout the world (Martins Roe, 2018). It is, therefore, only natural that the growing number and practices stemming from feminist media outlets and their success with audiences show that the inclusion of gender and diversity practices go beyond the mere tweaking of the journalism method to be more representative and inclusive. To explain these development and practices, I will highlight a few case studies that show how they function. Changes in the ethos of the newsrooms, including internal structures and processes, the inclusion of self-care in a non-commodified manner, the creation of networks with other media companies (and institutions and individuals outside journalism), creating communities around audiences, and the unapologetic focus on women and the LGBTQI community, are just a few ways in which new ways of doing journalism are being implemented. All this, while engaging more with digital media than traditional newsrooms have hitherto, and doing so in an exploratory manner, as well as using digital media as a means of connection rather than a source of revenue, although this does not mean that these projects are necessarily economically unsustainable.
Digital support systems that acknowledge the toll of working while female and/or LGBTQI
Vita active is a help line for female and LGBTQI journalists, activists and defenders of human rights (gender, work, environmental and freedom of expression). The project includes the creation of WhatsApp and Signal groups where information on security, care practices and safe spaces, among other things, are shared with targeted closed groups. One of the highlighted subjects is digital security measures, some of which are open-source guidelines the organization takes from media collectives such as Tactical Tech Collective in Berlin. The organization also offers individual counseling to people in distress.
Transnational collectivity beyond “professional networking” with the help of digital tools
Chicas Poderosas is a global network of female Latin American journalists that supports the development of leadership of women in media through professional development and innovation. Currently, it offers online leadership training courses, as well as forums for collaboration between transnational teams through mediations and transborder investigative journalism projects.
In addition, feminist news media organizations engage with transnational stories that touch on global subjects, while highlighting the particularities of the regions. A few examples are: Latfem’s “Ellas alimentan el mundo (They feed the world)”; Cambia la historia (Change history), a regional project supported by the DW Akademie, including nine media organizations from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador
Gender and Diversity beyond writing about gender and diversity
There is also the publication of stories about women, people from the LGBTQI community and disabled individuals that deal with subjects other than those particular to the communities in general, relating their perspectives in terms of the economy, or security and other important societal issues. “If we ask ourselves what impact an event is having on women or vulnerable communities, we will find underrepresented themes that can be inspiring or the subject of a journalistic piece” (Arce Terceros, Belen, 2021)
Creating community with audiences and within
From my personal experience in the past four years as the editor and creative director of Alharaca, I think one of the most important experiences we have had by doing feminist journalism is the creation of a community within the organization that allows for discussion and debate, as well as changing production processes to be more collective by including all members in key decision-making issues. By making a point of creating spaces in which we can develop a communal rapport with our audiences, we have thus deviated meaningfully from the more top-down journalistic approach.
1. The project monitors gender in media coverage and releases a report every five years. For the 2020 report, 15 teams monitored a sample of 30,172 stories in 2,251 news outlets around the world.
2. I am the co-founder of one of the media organizations in El Salvador.
Alvarado, Mariana. (2021). Diversidad en el Periodismo Latinoamericano. Centro Knight para el Periodismo en las Américas, Universidad de Texas, Austin. https://journalismcourses.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/FinalPDFDiversidadBook-2.pdf
Arce Terceros, Belen in Alvarado, Mariana. (2021). Diversidad en el Periodismo Latinoamericano. Centro Knight para el Periodismo en las Américas, Universidad de Texas, Austin. https://journalismcourses.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/FinalPDFDiversidadBook-2.pdf
Díaz, Jaclyn. (2021) How #NiUnaMenos grew from the streets of Argentina into a regional women's movement. NPR. Accessed on 14 February 2022. https://www.npr.org/2021/10/15/1043908435/how-niunamenos-grew-from-the-streets-of-argentina-into-a-regional-womens-movemen
Estarque, Mariana. 2020. Women lead independent digital media in Latin America, but this is not the case in traditional media. LatAm Journalism Review. Accessed on 1 March 2022 via https://latamjournalismreview.org/articles/women-lead-independent-digital-media-in-latin-america-but-this-isnt-the-case-in-traditional-media/
Holt, Lorenzo. 2015. Proportion of women in Latin American newsrooms grows significantly, study shows. LatAm Journalism Review. Accessed on 1 March 2022 via https://latamjournalismreview.org/articles/proportion-of-women-in-latin-american-newsrooms-grows-significantly-study-shows/
Klein, Ezra. 2020. Why we are polarized. Avid Reader Press, New York.
Luján, Florencia. (2019) Periodismo feminista en América Latina: 30 proyectos a los que la comunidad de Distintas Latitudes recomienda seguir la pista. Distintas Latitudes. Visited on 14 February 2022: https://distintaslatitudes.net/oportunidades/periodismo-feminista-en-america-latina-30-proyectos-para-seguir-la-pista
Macharia, Sarah. (2020) Global Media Monitoring Project. https://whomakesthenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/GMMP2020.ENG_.FINAL_.pdf
Natividad, Ivan. 2021. How did Trump change American journalism?. Berkely News. Accessed on 24 February 2022 on: https://news.berkeley.edu/2021/01/27/how-did-trump-change-american-journalism/
Nosotras. La Otra Diaria https://laotradiaria.cl/nosotras/
Djerf-Pierre, Monika. 2011. The Difference Engine, Feminist Media Studies, 11:1, 43-51, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2011.537026
Sobre. Vita Activa. Accessed on 1 March 2022 via https://vita-activa.org
Photo by Charlota Blunarova on Unsplash
Jimena Aguilar is the coordinator of the master’s program Digital Narratives at the ifs internationale filmschule köln, for which she has also lead seminars on collective memory and collective creation, topics she has focused on from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. Since 2020, she has been part of the organizing team of the Young Academics Workshop for the Clash of Realities Conference, for which she is part of the team of editors of an upcoming anthology publication. She also co-founded, and is the editor and creative director from Alharaca, a Salvadorean feminist news media organization that combines journalism, arts and new technologies to strengthen equality, diversity and democracy in Latin America.