Michael Albert: You are the director of Telesur English. I should add, that I am working with Telesur English, too, responsible for assembling material for its opinion section. To start, can you explain what is Telesur – the parent operation, which is in Spanish? What is its scale, impact, probable and hoped for future?
Gregory Wilpert: teleSUR is a multi-national television news channel that President Chávez of Venezuela launched in 2005. Its idea is to counter the traditional 24-hour news channels, particularly CNN Spanish, which presents Latin America to Latin Americans from a typical corporate U.S.-centric perspective. For a very long time now, Latin American self-perception has thus been filtered through the lens of U.S. institutions, such as CNN or the OAS.
In other words, teleSUR aims to present the world to Latin Americans from a Latin American perspective, with an emphasis on promoting Latin American integration and exposing the effects of U.S. imperialism in the world. From the start teleSUR has been a multi-national project that is funded by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Nicaragua.
In the nine years of its existence it has grown steadily so that now it is the largest 24-hour news channel operating in Latin America, in terms of staff and correspondents. Its impact has been undeniable in that it regularly is the place to go for many Latin Americans, not just for their daily news coverage, but especially for learning about crucial events that other, conservative news media, usually stay away from, such as the different coup attempts against progressive governments, such as in Honduras in 2011 or Ecuador in 2010.
Returning to your own efforts, what is the aim for the new Telesur English? It has been publishing for four months now (launched on July 24). What does it hope to become?
The purpose of teleSUR English is two-fold. On the one hand it, just as teleSUR Spanish, aims to present a perspective “from the South” on world events. Again, one aspect of this is that it means presenting a perspective that shows the negative effects of U.S. and western European efforts to dominate the world. Another aspect is presenting the less well known, often positive, aspects of Latin America.
However, and here teleSUR English is somewhat different from its counterpart in Spanish, in that it presents this perspective to the English-speaking world. As a result, the English-language service does not so much contribute to Latin American integration, but rather is another voice of Latin America to the English-speaking world. As such, our audience is probably of particular interest to Latinos who have emigrated to English-speaking countries and to progressives who are particularly interested in our “Southern” perspective on the world.
After just four months, how many people are working on Telesur English? How much original material is going up, each day? What are the components or types of information going up? Given an emphasis on news, opinion, insight, and analysis, including video, what are some aspects of Telesur English progressive people around the world might find helpful, day after day and week after week?
Our staff, which is based primarily in Quito, Ecuador, is very multi-national, coming in roughly equal parts from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia, plus a number of people from Latin America. Since our launch we have stayed more or less the same in terms of numbers, at around 35 people working out of Quito, plus another 8 or so correspondents, mostly based in Latin America and the U.S. This is all just for the teleSUR English website, since we do not have a 24-hour broadcast channel yet.
We will be expanding quite substantially next year, though, when we get ready to launch the broadcast operation, in July of 2015. At that time we will more than triple in size in terms of staff and office space, also adding many more correspondents from all around the world.
Regarding the material we are producing so far, it is quite a lot, in my opinion. That is, our correspondents in the Americas all produce almost daily reports, both in video and in written form. Plus our writers, editors, and video producers in Quito prepare news stories, analyses, investigations, video reports, mini-documentaries, among many other things. I say it is a lot because one common problem I see with the amount is that fairly recent stories get bumped off of the front page very quickly and so if you do not visit the site every day, there is a good chance you will miss many stories, unless you go through the trouble of searching the archives.
The types of things that I think progressives will find helpful is the relatively comprehensive coverage we devote to Latin America, plus the progressive perspective we have on world events, which bring out the negative consequences of U.S. and European interventions and of unregulated capitalism. Also, through the opinion and analysis sections, as well as many of the interview programs and occasional documentaries, we provide a more in-depth treatment of these issues, which I hope are very valuable for progressives and for anyone who is marginalized or unsatisfied with the state of the world today.
How would you compare Telesur and Telesur English to Al Jazeera, say, or to Russia Today, or, for that matter, to ZNet?
I think Al Jazeera and RT have important roles to play in today’s media landscape, but they complement teleSUR rather than compete against it. That is, both Al Jazeera and RT are – similar to teleSUR – state sponsored news outlets that attempt to expose the underbelly of U.S. dominance in the world (Al Jazeera America, far less so than its counter-part Al Jazeera English). However, in contast to teleSUR, they both lack a perspective that also tries to expose the underbelly of free market capitalism. Also, I think at teleSUR we place a far greater emphasis on ecological issues, particularly on climate change, than these other state-sponsored news outlets.
As for comparing teleSUR English to ZNet or other progressive websites in the English-speaking world, I would say here the difference is mostly one of resources. I don’t know what the budgets or staff of all other progressive outlets is like, but I have an idea and know that for the most part these struggle to survive on very small budgets and staff. For example, I don’t think there is any progressive/alternative news outlet in the English-speaking world that has full-time correspondents around the Americas as we do.
I don’t want to say, however, that teleSUR English is thus better or that these far smaller outlets don’t have a vital role to play in the media landscape. One of the things that I worry about is that viewers might believe that is the case and stop visiting or donating to small progressive or leftist media outlets. No, I think we have to complement each other and not compete against each other. This is also why I think in the future cooperation agreements with progressive websites and other outlets will be of very great importance for a counter-hegemonic media.
An endeavor like Telesur English doesn’t come into being fully grown and without mistakes and problems. Can you give folks an idea of what has been the history so far? What problems have existed in organization, in the shape of the site and display of content, and regarding the content itself? How are problems and errors being overcome, and what hopes are now operating for the future?
Of course, any project such as teleSUR English has growing pains. There are the ones that take place behind the scenes, such as finding the right staff to work with us. And then there are the ones that are more visible, such as creating a website that fulfills the functionalities that our audience would like to see. Here certainly, we have had a website design and programming staff that has worked behind the scenes to constantly improve the site’s functionality and accessibility. I think we can still do a lot better in this regard and will be constantly updating the site’s design so that it meets both our and our audience’s expectations.
As I mentioned earlier, we produce so many articles, videos, photo galleries, and info graphs, that often times important work gets lost or becomes difficult to find on the site. This is perhaps the area that I hope we will improve the most on in the future. Another area would be to develop more of a teleSUR English community, with a greater degree of interactions with our audience and also a source of direct feedback for what they would like to see from us.
How many people are currently using Telesur English daily, as best you can tell? How many do you think is a reasonable number to think would like using it, daily, even now? What can be done to bridge that gap and bring all this original content to the attention of more people?
We are still in the very beginning phase in terms of our audience, I believe. We have grown quite steadily in the past four months, but I think we still operate far below our potential in terms of our audience reach. According to the analytics, we have approximately 10,000 unique visitors per day and about 250,000 unique visitors per month. I think we can do a lot better than that and we will be working on bringing these numbers up significantly. One way I think we can do this is by reaching out to more specific audience segments that might be interested in our content. This could mean cooperation agreements or other ways of bringing our content to these audiences. In the coming months we will focus on doing this.
Finally, if you weren’t involved in Telesur English, why would you personally have it book marked in your browser to visit daily?
I would bookmark and visit teleSUR English daily mainly because I would see it as one of the most comprehensive news websites out there, covering all international news from a progressive imperialism- and capitalism-critical perspective. Also, for anyone interested in Latin America, such as myself, it is the best one-stop place to go for news on Latin America.