Don’t wait to experiment with transformation, says El Tiempo’s José Antonio Sánchez

By Paula Felps


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Editor’s note: In an ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans. At a time when we have less face-to-face time, we hope this gives members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile José Antonio Sánchez, audience editor for El Tiempo in Bogotá, Colombia.

One thing the pandemic taught José Antonio Sánchez was not to be afraid to speed up your plans. “You don’t have to wait to enhance transformation in your newsroom,” said the audience editor for El Tiempo in Bogotá, Colombia. “That’s why I adopted a more flexible pathway.” 

This year, he began running experiments related to AI and machine learning with Colombian readers who live abroad. At the same time, he is running an experiment related to the uses and gratifications theory within that community.

Such actions are part of his innate curiosity and desire to find answers to questions in every aspect of his job: “We have experienced difficult times and the challenge to survive is exciting by itself. Every morning brings one new challenge and the idea to find the correct answer is striking for me,” Sánchez said.

INMA recently caught up with him to learn more about what he’s been working on. 

José Antonio Sánchez of El Tiempo has been running experiments related to AI and machine learning with Colombian readers who live abroad.
José Antonio Sánchez of El Tiempo has been running experiments related to AI and machine learning with Colombian readers who live abroad.

INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning? 

Sánchez: I would have liked to learn more about how to find and foster engagement among fragmented audiences. Coupled with that, I would have liked to know how to deal with the attention economy challenges and how to apply the possible solutions in the journalism field. Finally, it could be interesting to learn how to build an algorithm by myself. 

INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it? 

Sánchez: I’ve done many crazy projects in my career, such as starting empirical studies about how automated cars can impact the consumption of media in developing countries. At that time, seven years ago, it was impossible to set any kind of experiment in our local context. The publisher looked at me as the crazy guy who wants to live in a different dimension or somebody who used the wrong weed. 

INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of right now? 

Sánchez: We developed a locked content system by which we can predict what kind of locked content could work in terms of the digital subscription business model. It was a great experience with our business intelligence guys and a well-known consultant named Utkarsh Arara. Today, the locked content system is a useful dashboard for editors in daily operations. I have to say this project was the result of Facebook and INMA’s Audience Accelerator Analytics programme led by Greg Piechota in 2021.

INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career? 

Sánchez: Be honest and humble, stay in tune with the audience, and never forget your mission as a social leader in your local context.

INMA: What do you do to relax? 

Sánchez: Many things: ride a bike, play soccer with my sons, and watch soccer games every weekend. I also enjoy going outside for dinner after this long and terrible COVID-19.

INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your back-up plan? 

Sánchez: My back-up plan was to start a psychological career. I have to mention that I started my psychological studies, but I couldn’t finish my classes.  

INMA: What is your favourite thing to read? 

Sánchez: Nowadays, I’m reading several authors such as Jenkins, Baricco, Scolari, and even McLuhan. Media ecology, spreadable media, and cultural transformation are my topics. Next, I plan to read some papers about Artificial Intelligence and machine learning and their effects on automated content and digital reputation. 

INMA: What do you find the most challenging/interesting about the news media industry right now?

Sánchez: The most interesting thing for the media industry is to find and keep its place in a competitive world. The attention economy, I mean this idea of fragmented audiences with scarce time and multiple platforms and super production of information, is challenging for us. The mission to survive among several [types of content producers] in a changing world is exciting for me. We must focus on engagement theories and practices, develop more of our artificial and machine learning tools, and bet on quality and relevant content. 

About Paula Felps

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