Recalling 25 years of news in Spanish
CNN en Español, and one of its pioneers, celebrate an anniversary
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What follows is my translation of Ismael Nafría’s interview of Juan Andrés Muñoz, digital director of CNN en Español, on its 25th anniversary. The original interview, in Spanish, appeared on Nafría’s newsletter, Tendenci@s, on April 11, 2022. I have edited the original for length and clarity. It is published with the permission of Ismael Nafría and Juan Andrés Muñoz.
Muñoz and I share a connection — the University of Navarra in Spain. He studied journalism there in the 1990s, and I later taught media economics there for several years. We share many friends among the faculty.
Nafría introduces Muñoz here:
Born in Pamplona (Spain), passionate about journalism from an early age, and hooked by the internet since practically the beginning of the web, Juan Andrés Muñoz is one of the great pioneers of digital journalism in the Spanish-speaking world.
He studied journalism at the University of Navarra, and in 1997 an internship at CNN in Atlanta (United States) opened the door for him at the media company. He was invited to join CNN Interactive the following year as part of the team that launched the CNNenEspanol.com news site. And today, after performing various functions and participating in different projects, he is the digital director of CNN en Español.
He is in charge of the digital editorial content of CNN en Español on the network’s various platforms — web, podcasts, video, social networks — in addition to having charge of digital innovation and coordination with business development.
Juan Andrés Muñoz has never stopped studying and learning — it is something he recommends to all professionals — and he maintains an active presence on social networks.
The CNN en Español network has just celebrated its 25th anniversary, a perfect excuse for Juan Andrés Muñoz to be the guest in this edition of Tendenci@s. In the conversation, Juan Andrés talks about his professional career, his daily work and that of his team, the distinguishing values of CNN en Español, how to do good journalism, and the future of the news media, among other topics.
Ismael Nafría: CNN en Español has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. How is the network doing? What have been the main achievements you have achieved, in general and in the digital field?
Juan Andrés Muñoz: This is an excellent moment to celebrate that we continue to exist after a quarter of a century in such a complex industry, in constant evolution and subject to so many ups and downs. And to give thanks to the company for its commitment to reporting in Spanish, and to our audience for their trust, and at the same time review what we have achieved so far to set new goals and continue to improve. The president of our channel, Cynthia Hudson, always insists that every day we have to aspire to do things a little better than the day before, and that is how we have been building what we are today.
The network is experiencing a moment of great excitement, with the changes that I am talking about so typical of the industry. And all this while we are immersed in a war, the one in Ukraine, which we have been reporting on the ground for weeks with an enormous deployment of human and technical resources.
As for our achievements in these 25 years, we have consolidated ourselves as the leading information channel in the world in Spanish for breaking news, with a model of innovative adaptation to multiple platforms, and with powerful social networks. We are competing side by side with the most prestigious media in English. In addition, we have achieved a level of collaboration and synergy with our colleagues at CNN Digital in English that allows us to magnify our reach and generation of content and products in different areas.
Nafría: What are the differentiating elements of CNN en Español's value proposition?
Muñoz: In our newsrooms, both in English and Spanish, we say that it is more important to report the news well, with rigor, precision and quality, than to report it first. So I would say that the quality of our information and our editorial processes is the pillar of everything that sets us apart. Everything else is built on that.
Our network of journalists and reporters throughout the region and in the main news centers in the world is another of our pillars. In addition, we have implemented in our digital newsroom the paradigm of what we call assertive journalism, which is the acronym (or pseudo-acronym) for Anticipation, SERvice and InteracTIVE. What does this mean? That we always try to give our audience the information they're going to need before they even know they're going to need it; we place the user at the center and seek to provide information and content that helps improve their lives every day; and lastly, we do it in such a way that the user can interact with our brand and feel that they are an integral part of the process.
Nafría: You have been working at CNN en Español for more than 24 years. What elements would you highlight from your professional career, both before coming to the network and during your long period at CNNEE?
Muñoz: I decided to study journalism because I was fascinated by designing and creating news products. As a child I made maps of worlds that I invented. As a teenager I wrote and laid out fictional football magazines, and in high school I enjoyed designing book covers. So when I started journalism at the University of Navarra, I focused on infographics and journalistic design. Everything that touched content and technology I was passionate about. That's why, around 1994, when the web and email came into my life, I realized that this was my thing.
I entered the university's Multimedia Communication Laboratory, which was then directed by María José Pérez Luque, and I began to create multimedia experiences and web designs. In the summer of graduation, María José suggested I consider the possibility of doing a summer internship at The Associated Press news agency in New York or at CNN in Atlanta. When I heard those three letters pronounced I thought she was joking. I had dreamed of working at CNN ever since I heard about the network during the first Gulf War. When I finally landed in Atlanta in the summer of 1997 to do those internships, my dream had come true. After three months, I briefly returned to Spain, and within two months I was being called to interview for a position as a writer for the new Spanish-language digital service that CNN was going to launch. They hired me and since February 1998 I've been doing what I've always dreamed of: working at CNN.
During these years I have been a web writer, web editor, television news editor in prime time, I have helped launch digital projects such as CNNMexico.com . . .
Nafría: How did you get to your current position? What does your daily job consist of?
Muñoz: Continuing with the previous question and connecting with this one, when I worked in television, as an editor for prime time newscasts, I felt a bit lost, out of my comfort zone, which had always been digital. However, it was an experience that taught me many things: I learned to manage time, stress, adrenaline. I like to compare web journalism to a marathon and broadcast journalism to a 100-meter dash or a very intense sprint. Working for six years in television taught me many things that have made me a better digital journalist. After all, digital integrates all media and platforms, and video and television is a very important one.
When Cynthia Hudson became president of the channel, in 2010, she made a strong commitment to digital. She decided to combine what a small digital video team was doing with another small radio team and put me in charge of the operation. We relaunched the website, transitioned from radio to podcasting, and beefed up the video team to build a strong digital business. We also promoted social networks to make them undisputed leaders in news in Spanish. And I also evolved as digital gained more weight within the structure of CNN en Español, until today, when I am in charge of the digital and product operations of CNN en Español.
My day-to-day consists of supervising the editorial content that we generate for the different platforms, from the CNNEE website, to the podcasts, to the general strategy of video and social networks. I also coordinate with the business development team to launch new products and take advantage of new monetization opportunities both on social media platforms and streaming services. In addition, I am at the forefront of digital innovation for CNN en Español, working with various third-party technology partners who help us create features and products that extend our content creation and distribution capabilities.
Nafría: What are the main objectives of CNNEE's digital activity? What goals do you set for yourself at CNNEE for the future?
Muñoz: Our goal is always to be the leading news source in Spanish for the global audience so that at all times each person can find the relevant information they need to live better and make the best decisions. This is a very ambitious and broad objective, and it’s about doing it better every day, taking advantage of the tools and the evolution of technology, which is more powerful every day, to personalize more, to be more relevant, more timely, more precise, faster — more essential.
Nafría: How is the CNNEE team set up? How is work organized? Where are you based and where do you have teams?
Muñoz: For many years before the pandemic, I designed my team to work in a decentralized and remote way. We have a fairly horizontal newsroom in which the entire team is involved in the news process, from the SEO area, to social networks, design, infographics, writing, video, audio . . . Everyone participates in our editorial meetings both in the morning and in the afternoon, and everyone contributes.
I have a team in the United States, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Spain and Colombia. I am one of the few on the team that is based at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. The rest are in our bureaus in Mexico, Argentina, Miami, or from their homes in the aforementioned countries. For many years I have been experimenting with collaboration tools. I remember when we started working with Slack, Trello and Quip. With Slack we were partners when very few newsrooms used it, and we gave them a lot of feedback based on our needs. And it could be said that several of the functionalities that the tool has today were born from our feedback. The same thing happened with Dataminr, another tool for which our feedback was essential. With these tools it became possible to manage our projects, our content assignments, remote video editing, etc.
We keep a videoconference open practically 24 hours a day, with the camera off and the microphone off, but anyone can speak at any time as if they were sitting in the same newsroom as the rest, just not physically present. The writing team works hand in hand with the video, social networks, SEO and interactive, and also with the audio. Each article is enriched with different multimedia elements that maximize recirculation and dwell time, as well as providing more levels of reading to the user.
Nafría: Do you have open places right now? What professional profiles are you looking for?
Muñoz: Right now we don't have any openings, but I'm always looking for good journalists who are passionate about reporting to the world from CNN's international perspective. Last year I hired 15 people in different areas, and I reaffirmed that for me the most important thing is not to have a skill, but editorial judgment. If editorial judgment is lacking, everything is lacking. With discretion, skills are acquired and developed. In addition, companionship, team spirit, good humor, and a solid work ethic are essential for me to perfectly finish each piece of content that is worked on.
Nafría: You have lived first-hand the evolution of digital journalism for more than two decades. What are the main changes you have observed? Where do you think the future of the media is going? Are you optimistic about this future?
Muñoz: I am a die-hard optimist, across the board. I try to exercise the virtue of hope to the maximum and, although sometimes the outlook can be bleak or unflattering, it seems to me that we are in the best time to be journalists and create and distribute content.
For me, the biggest change I have seen has been the loss of relevance of traditional media and the emergence of content creators. Also, disintermediation, in which those who were previously producers of the news that the media later transmitted have become the ones who also distribute the news and control the narrative.
For me, the future of the media depends on the training of journalists and on our being able to interpret the signs of the times and anticipate technological changes and put them at the service of information and the audience. The future of the media will depend on how well we serve society. If we serve it well and make ourselves relevant, the future will be excellent. If we get carried away by certain flashy and changing metrics that aren’t very representative of the audience, we will end up in the most absolute irrelevance.
Nafría: What advice would you give to students who are training to be journalists today?
Muñoz: My advice is always the same: do what you really like and are passionate about and never stop learning. Sometimes we hear that journalism is an easy career, but I think it's because perhaps the responsibility and importance of intensely training journalists is not taken seriously. The prestige and credibility of the profession depend on each of the graduates who leave the journalism schools. For me it is essential to return to the classroom every 3-5 years to re-study something and deepen what we are passionate about, recycling ourselves. Without continuous training you cannot be a relevant journalist. (Translator’s note: Muñoz has taken his own advice, obtaining a master’s degree in human-computer interaction from Georgia Tech and an Advanced Management Program from the IESE Business School of the University of Navarra.)
Nafría: What main challenges do you and your team have for this year?
Muñoz: In our case, the main challenges are responsibly covering the war in Ukraine and completing a technological transition to a new CMS (content management system) that will allow us to work more synchronously and collaboratively with our CNN colleagues in English.
Nafría: And finally, can you recommend some media, newsletters, podcasts, network accounts, or other sources that you follow that you find especially useful and interesting?
Muñoz: Your Tendenci@s newsletter, not to flatter you, is one of my favorites. I also think it is essential to follow Mauricio Cabrera and all the content he generates from Storybaker, such as his podcasts, The Coffee and Coffee Americano, as well as his newsletter The Muffin. I have a Feedly full of RSS feeds from journalism websites and blogs that I consume avidly, as well as a Journalism Twitter list with almost 2,000 accounts that I follow. Another newsletter I follow religiously is Stratechery, and podcasts like A16z, Akimbo (Seth Godin), Digiday, Masters of Scale, and The Tim Ferriss Show.
Nafría: Where can we follow you?
Muñoz: The social network where I am most active is Twitter, where you can find me as @jamcnn. With that same handle, you can also follow me on Instagram.