Agence France Presse in Latin America invests in journalism through hard times

By Mauricio Romero

Bogota, Colombia


Recent years have made times made the Agence France Presse in Latin America not only adapt to the new situations but also to “go full throttle” in terms of innovation, digital transformation, and multimedia.

Argentinian María Lorente Estrada, director of AFP for Latin America, talked about the opportunities that the agency has managed to see and use for their own benefit and that of good journalism in INMA’s recent Webinar The case of Agence France Presse in Latin America.

“These past few years have been turbulent for us,” Estrada said. said. “They were also times for reflection … in which we had to look at absolutely everything. … Check, analyse our identity, our mission, and our values.” 

María Lorente Estrada is the director of AFP for Latin America.
María Lorente Estrada is the director of AFP for Latin America.

Apart from the technical and journalist aspects, the company had to put in place a new editorial, commercial, and human resource strategy that would allow them to thrive.

The agency is one of the largest and most widely known in the world, which “provides a timely, extensive, and verified coverage of the reality in the world,” Estrada said.

With operations in 151 countries, AFP considers itself a global leader in data and fact-checking. It has also hired about 2,400 journalists of 100 different nationalities and six distinct languages who are in charge of producing high-quality text, video, graph, and multimedia content.

AFP has editorial team members in 151 countries.
AFP has editorial team members in 151 countries.

AFP’S goal is very ambitious: Become the leading agency for media outlets between 2023 and 2028, said Estrada, who added the idea is that they become “indispensable” for their client media outlets in terms of quality and “all they [the outlets] might need.”

A tough road ahead

Estrada acknowledges it is no easy task to tackle the current reality and become an indispensable leader. She mentioned the challenges her company face in 2023, such as generalised global inflation, crisis in the media markets and technology platforms, information saturation, lack of trust, disinformation, and Artificial Intelligence. These are shared challenges for media companies.

“More than a year of war in Ukraine and more than three years of a pandemic have hit the global economies,” she said, meaning that the latter two situations have increased the crisis for many media companies.

Estrada mentioned the rise of technology platforms during the pandemic but also the beginning of their fall after the war in Ukraine: “In the past few years, these platforms became the focus of attention and cash; however, the impact of the war is affecting these big techs and now they are experiencing a fall in terms of their users, investors, and benefits.”

Many users are pulling away from reading news on media platforms because they feel tired of so much “negative” news and that poses new challenges for content producers, Estrada said.

She also referred to the use of Artificial Intelligence to produce editorial content to favour efficiency in the newsrooms and warned this may bring “a more sophisticated form of disinformation, one more difficult to verify.”

The danger of doing good journalism

Mexico and Haiti were the worst countries for journalists in 2022. These countries had the highest number of communicators killed in the world, with 30 journalists who lost their lives violently, more than half the number of all the lethal acts against journalists in the planet, including Ukraine.

AFP continues to cover stories in parts of the world that are quite dangerous for journalists.
AFP continues to cover stories in parts of the world that are quite dangerous for journalists.

Even governments and social media focus their hatred against journalists in those countries, where some communicators are harassed, killed, or imprisoned, Estrada said. Almost all the journalists killed in Latin America last year covered corruption-related news, environment, or violence between gangs.

Despite the risks, AFP has decided coverage in the field must not stop. On the contrary, they have reinforced the number of journalists that cover aspects of society such as migration, diversity, and environment, and produce stories that generate impact, mostly among younger audiences.

In Latin America, there are about 300 journalists that report on formats such as text, photos, and video.

“Every day, we feel the pressure to make multimedia, original, exclusive, high-quality production,” she said. To improve multimedia production, AFP decided to train text-only journalists to make them produce video content which added value to the stories.

The stories started to be told by joining text, video, and photo journalists, Estrada said. This created more compelling stories which, in turn, increased the number of clients (media outlets) and therefore favoured the agency’s business aspect. Also, journalist awards started coming.

The success of multimedia stories is such that half of the revenue of the company comes from images, she said.

The agency has also implemented other initiatives:

  • Stories that explain what happens and try to come up with solutions or proposals.
  • A useful kind of journalism that promotes positive debate.
  • Podcasts.
  • Socially oriented content.
  • Fight against disinformation by creating specialised groups of fact checkers. The number in the region grew from four journalists dedicated to verifying information (in Spanish) in 2018 to 32 members in 2023 scattered in 20 countries among which are Spain, the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico.
  • Coaching and training for journalists and journalism students, free of cost.

Through their “follow the sun” strategy, AFP has journalists around the world that allow them to have a 24/7 operation without writers, editors, photographers, or videographers having to do a night shift, a fact that contributes to employees’ welfare.

They also promote diversity in the newsroom, which means more young people (between 20 and 25 years of age) to produce stories for the young and more women doing photo news and covering sports.

Estrada is an example of diversity because now she’s the director of the agency for Latin America, a position that up until a year ago was “reserved” for male French executives.

From the business perspective, Estrada said media outlets are working on how to keep their subscribers, whereas in the case of the agency the equivalent of subscribers are the media companies that buy their content.

To do that, she said, they must adapt to the media ecosystem, offer high-quality content, and become allies not only of large and small media outlets but also of institutions, companies, foundations, and digital platforms.

About Mauricio Romero

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