Super Amigos campaign for Colombian indy journalism ends Thursday

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Since Colombian news and politics website La Silla Vacia was created in 2009 it has come to receive 500,000 page views a month. The site continues to grow with a staff of seven, about 60+ unpaid contributors and crowdfunding.

Leaders of the website believe financial independence makes editorial independence possible.

Workshops, consulting and donations from groups like Open Society Foundation and The Ford Foundation have kept cash flowing to La Silla Vacia but crowdfunding has also been a part of the company’s financial makeup.

Now in its third year, their Super Amigos fundraiser became an Indiegogo campaign this year.

At the time this post was published the campaign has collected $2,167 toward a $5,000 goal.

The campaign ends Thursday.

Journalist Juanita León created La Silla Vacia to demystify the political power in her country and to show the inner workings of a political machine.

“We want to tell stories that explain and analyze the power in Colombia,” said journalist Juan Esteban Lewin of La Silla Vacia at the Sixth Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism, an event organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

In Colombia the emergence of online media is a relatively young and a growing industry, which share many of the same tendencies and challenges of their U.S. media counterparts, a dependent, interconnected relationship of linking, sharing, excerpting, and building upon each other’s work, even working closely together on large projects.

“What we publish gets quoted each week by mainstream media like the newspaper El Espectador, Carcol radio, or Semana magazine,” said León, a former Nieman fellow and editor-in-chief of La Silla Vacia, in a 2010 Nieman Journalism report.

What Does La Silla Vacia Mean?

Imagine the indigenous people of Colombia from Cauca to Cali marching by the thousands to meet with then-President Álvaro Uribe. The topic: the right to own land.

They walked, some reportedly for days, to attend the meeting, but Uribe was a no-show. So they had their meeting and left his chair empty. He was, in best terms, “una silla vacia,” an empty chair in waiting.

In Colombia, “una silla vacia” is symbolic of a political system where those with concentrated power do not face the powerless. At least this is what La Silla Vacia took from the 2008 march.

Independent, Niche Reporting in Colombia

Blogs and journalistic niche websites like La Silla Vacia are becoming a large force in Colombia’s media ecosystem, filling a political, in-depth reporting niche.

A recent survey, conducted by a collection of journalism and media organizations in the country found that the majority of sites are still tied to traditional outlets.

88 of the 391 sites, or 22 percent, are online-only news organizations. Digital innovations, from infographics to data journalism to new angles and narratives for stories unexplored or ignored by mainstream media make La Silla Vacia unique.

This strategy has cemented La Silla Vacia’s reputation and given the site a unique position to differentiate itself as a source for multiple well crafted and centered pieces of journalism, from its scoop on the courts stopping then-President Álvaro Uribe’s efforts to seek a third term in office to an incredibly detailed database of the most powerful people in Colombia.  

To learn more about La Silla Vacia’s push for a fresh new take in news for Colombia, see this video of Lewin from an interview by the Knight Center in Spanish or just visit La Silla Vacia’s website.

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Carlos Moreno
Carlos is a freelance photojournalist and part-time fashion staff photographer at Designer Studio Inc. He is based in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico and does freelance work across California, Baja California and beyond. Carlos is the co-founder and photography / Latin America editor of Through the Cracks. He is also a photo contributor at Getty Images. When he is not taking photos, he is a photo mentor at Las Fotos Project branch of Tijuana.

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