The digital magazine Plaza Pública uncovers corruption and reports on historical crimes in Guatemala. It has become a byword for innovation. Editor in Chief Alejandra Gutiérrez recently spoke at the republica conference.
Alejandra Gutiérrez has specialized on social themes, justice and violence. For almost 15 years, she’s worked for various in-depth journalism magazines in Guatemala, and in academic research.
Historical crimes are another main focus of Plaza Pública. Can you expand on this?
We focus on cases of transitional justice: In Guatemala, we had almost 36 years of war – and although it ended in 1996, many crimes are only now being addressed and the perpetrators brought to justice. What's being done to achieve accountability? We follow the trials and proceedings very closely. In Guatemala, like in other Latin American countries, the media have been reluctant to investigate crimes of the past, or haven't had the resources to do so. The country is still struggling to come to terms with its past. We use issues of transitional justice that are being dealt with today as bridges to the past. We do further research using the archives and find background information. We get in touch with witnesses, victims or the victims' families – and also with the people who were responsible for the crimes. The National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) is a great resource. This is how we bring historic accounts into the digital world. And many of the stories are being told for the first time.
Which digital technologies do you use at Plaza Pública?
Data journalism is vital to our work. We use statistics, maps and visualizations to support our stories and provide more detailed information on other levels – through numbers or historical data for example. At Plaza Pública, we have created some tools, but we don't try to invent everything new. There are already many tools and ideas on the internet - we try to be creative with what is out there. Of course, we embed videos and voice recordings, for example witness reports. Providing background information for the core story -that's what we do, and we use different digital formats for that.
How easy is it for you to conduct your work? How free are you as part of the media?
Plaza Pública was the first native-born online media voice, so we didn't have to make the transition from traditional to online media. That means the digital language is our “mother tongue." And our funding model is kind of unique. Plaza Pública was founded through a university initiative that wanted independent media. This private university (Universidad Rafael Landívar) supplies 65 percent of our funding and the rest comes from different organizations. This makes us more independent than other media and more sustainable in the long run. In fact, other countries are trying to replicate this funding model. Sustainability is a challenge for online media, so journalists are trying to form alliances with universities.
We are 15 staff members in total working at Plaza Pública, 8 of them journalists. In addition, we have five students who are given a full-range training program: We value journalism education and teach them about investigative methods and online journalism.
What's the biggest challenge faced by journalists in Guatemala?