Ojo en Tinta, the permanent lab (I)
How to put together a digital organization and not die — not kill it — in the attempt. This is a summary of what we have done in Ojo en Tinta , a Chilean digital initiative for reader development.
First part | The podcast: differentiating element
I love written journalism. And the other two founders of Ojo en Tinta — Nicolás Rojas and Pablo Espinosa — are also crazy about written journalism. Written cultural journalism. It was in “Arts and Letters”, the Sunday cultural section of El Mercurio, that we met, at the begining of 2010, some weeks before the February 27 earthquake. At this newspaper we exercise our writing, exchanged interests, and had good and long lunches.
After a few weeks we were aware of the limitations to propose stories, not only because of the editorial constraints of the newspaper but also because of the obstacles that journalism has imposed to itself. An example: the press is obsessed with round dates like “Ten years after the death of Bolaño” or with recent books releases. If something is two months old, three weeks old, it is already stale. If it does not meet the criteria of commemorative date, you must wait. It is an accepted nonsense. I dream that some editor will stop this idiocy publishing something like “14 years and a half after Bolaño’s death.”
But let’s go back to our story. We wanted to do something with books. We wanted to read, a lot, all the time. We wanted to talk to less visible but necessary authors. We wanted, above all, to put together a project where we would control the coverage and do whatever we wanted. If there is a selfish motive for creating a journalistic organization, this is it: being able to do what you are not allowed to do.
If we were crazy about written journalism, Why did we decide to use the radio format to start Ojo en Tinta? I doubt there is a precise moment in which the idea arose, but we were interested in the format. Pablo suggested we should listen to a Spanish podcast, “Would you please read this, please?” . It was a free, handmade proposal, very similar to what we had in mind.
A practical — or perhaps unconscious — reason prevailed: what format would take less time to produce. We were not going to earn a dime for this and we had to do it in our free time. Record an interview, transcribe and edit it could take a day or more. Instead, recording and posting the audio of an interview, with slight additions such as a start curtain and a couple of songs, was faster (although the previous preparation would be the same). We opted for the second.
On June 2, 2011 we uploaded our first podcast with the Chilean poet Leonardo Sanhueza , recorded at Café Waldini in Bellavista, Santiago. During that conversation he told us about his experience in Las Últimas Noticias newspaper and his geology studies. We used a Sony Minidisc (!) and an omnidirectional pocket microphone. In the final recording we could even listened to the cups on the neighboring tables.
Three weeks later, Gonzalo Maier recommended our podcast in Qué Pasa magazine. “The best part of the program, led by Nicolás Rojas, Patricio Contreras and Pablo Espinosa, is that they are far from the hateful pose of the writer. They do not act like intellectuals or pretend to have read everything, much less go for recent releases. It’s much better than that.”
It was the first confirmation that we were doing something right. Something different. Then there would be more than 40 interviews in podcast. But that — and everything else — is flour for another bakery post.
ACHIEVEMENT. Get out of the comfort zone and anonymity of written journalism, build your own media guideline and use an uncommon and practical format.
LEARNING: If in any news organization there is room for your topics or interests, create your own organization. Little, small, handmade, it does not matter. Spend little time, try, do it again. Be selfish, but never forget your audience. And have fun. We still do.
ANECDOTE. There are thousands, but I leave this. The promise of the Sony Minidiscs was that you could re-record a million times without fail. Well, we interviewed Francisco Mouat, author of “El empampado Riquelme”, and the Minidisc failed. We lost all the material. It was humiliation + rage + shame. But it has happened to all of us. And it will happen in the future. “These things happen from time to time — Mouat wrote to me in an email — and they are fatal. All of us who have used tape recorders have stories on the subject.”
This article is part of a series titled “Ojo en Tinta, the permanent lab”, where I will share some of the accomplishments, learnings and anecdotes of this digital initiative that Nicolás Rojas, Pablo Espinosa and me founded in 2011.