journalism

South Florida’s Media and Tech Start-up Landscape Changing Slowly but Surely

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South Florida’s media landscape at first glance may not seem diverse or thriving when the top news organizations consumed by local audiences are dwindling, the talent is leaving, and the tech community, which would support a media capital, is still developing, slowly.

But some say the solution is to bring more innovative minds together such as with meetups and conferences like Hispanicize and Social Media Club of South Florida and allow for ideas to naturally flourish.

Alex de Carvalho, organizer of Social Media Club’s South Florida chapter, cited Richard Florida in this slideshow on what this tropical landscape needs: “The key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the creative class, but to translate that underlying advantage into creative economic outcomes in the form of new ideas, new high-tech businesses, and regional growth.”

“Miami has to be itself, we are never going to be a Silicon Valley,” said Steven McKeon, CEO of Acceller, in a forum about South Florida’s start-up culture. He also pointed out the advantages, “The weather is huge, the real estate crash resulting in lower housing prices has helped with recruiting, and the cross-cultural connections are a big plus.”

But in the last few years, South Florida’s unemployment rate has been swinging between seven and 10 percent and has made it difficult for talented youth to find jobs.

“I can’t think of one friend in South Florida who has a successful career,” said Lauren Hord, 31, through a Public Insight Network survey to The Miami Herald last year.

For those who want to be journalists, the environment feels grimm.

A 2007 market research study done by the Sun Sentinel shows the top news organizations visited online in South Florida are the two major papers, Sentinel and Herald, as well as local TV stations from the major networks NBC, CBS, and Telemundo.

The Sun Sentinel put together a research project of South Florida's audience to understand the top media websites visited by local residents.

The Sun Sentinel put together a research project of South Florida’s audience to understand the top media websites visited by local residents.


But these organizations are struggling to stay alive as the industry rapidly evolves faster than these companies can adapt. And it has resulted in various layoffs.

In an interview with Forbes Magazine, Daniel Lafuente, co-founder of new tech start-up The LAB Miami, shared his thoughts on why businesses hesitate to root themselves in South Florida.

“We felt Miami lacked the platform to retain its top talent and allow them a place to cultivate their businesses,” said Lafuente. “They need to be able to stay here and have access to the same type of community you might get in San Francisco or New York.”

However, there is hope.

Visionaries such as Alex de Carvalho (previously mentioned); Manny Ruiz, founder of Hispanicize; Brian Breslin, founder of Refresh Miami, and many others are changing this landscape. They are paving the way for forward-thinking professionals to come together, brainstorm, and share resources on how to make ideas come true.

Organizations such as The Knight Foundation are one of those resources, often providing grants for hyperlocal news projects. And now the city of Miami is joining the movement to make South Florida a media and tech hub by funding $1 million worth of grants for entrepreneurs.

South Florida has everything it needs to become as big as other American metropolitan cities. The ground is fertile, but the laborers are few. But a few forward-thinking leaders planting the seeds is all it takes for the growth of innovation and talent.

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Producing Stories from the Historic West Grove on Election Day

James Massey, born in 1940, grew up in the West Grove witnessing the community's civic evolution.

James Massey, born in 1940, grew up in the West Grove witnessing the community’s civic evolution. Photo by Tatiana Cohen.

“It’s very important to live in a country where you can say almost anything you want to say and not have threats to your life,” said 68-year-old and West Grove resident James Massey. He was referring to having lived in fear of the KKK in Coconut Grove and feeling liberated to speak his voice when he became eligible to vote in 1961.

I found his story when I hit the streets of “West Grove”, a sub-section of Coconut Grove, historically comprised of Afro-Caribbean settlers, to find voices representative of this community for an online multimedia project called Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.

It’s an area that often is overlooked by mainstream media in South Florida, but that is civically active. And the goal for my University of Miami class of journalists was to document and package on the 2008 Election Day the stories representing this community’s sentiments on having a black president.

Andrea Ballocchi (right) and Walyce Almeida working in the West Grove to produce Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.

Andrea Ballocchi (right) and Walyce Almeida working in the West Grove to produce Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008.

My classmate Andrea Ballocchi and I were producers on this project. We coordinated and supervised the teams of students and what stories they would work on as well as came up with the website’s design concept and ensured the execution.

It was one of my favorite jobs and it inspired me to pursue becoming a producer – a role I’m currently seeking to fill. (Check out my resume.)

Massey’s story and many others on the site made the project so rich and meaningful. And my talented teams told those stories beautifully. (Thank you Tatiana Cohen for helping me find James Massey and taking those gorgeous pictures of him.) Take a look at the multimedia website and let me know what you think.

Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008 - screenshot

Witnessing History in the West Grove 2008 – screenshot

Web Development Skills Comes with Voracity

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Voracious, bulldog, hungry – those were words my editor Joseph B. Treaster at the Knight Center for International Media said needed to describe me if I truly wanted to be a journalist. He reported for over 30 years at the New York Times, which makes those adjectives perfect to describe his professional style.

I learned quite a bit from him about being persistent and speedy. It came in handy as I worked as his Associate Editor on 1H2O.org, an online magazine about the worldwide water crisis. Part of my job was to edit and gather content as well as work with freelance journalists around the world reporting from their respective hometowns, such as Marko Phiri in Zimbabwe and Ada M. Alvarez in Argentina.

And because the journalism job market in Miami was tough, I decided to apply some of my newfound voracity in learning and practicing web development skills. So not only did I maintain 1H2O.org, but I also had the opportunity to develop the design and structure for the following two websites.

Knight.miami.edu – The Knight Center for International Media focused on stories for positive change in communities around the world.

Knight Center for International Media

Aguasnegras.glocalstories.org – Aguas Negras or “Black Waters” is the term used for the polluted water source for Mexico City and surrounding farmlands. Photojournalist Janet Jarman investigates how this environmental issue affects the locals and their businesses.

Aguas Negras - A Report by Janet Jarman

Hoping in the DREAM Act – More than a Thesis or Chore

The movement behind the DREAM Act gives many young people hope that one day they will have a chance to come out of the shadows. They hope to contribute to American society as well as receive the full freedom that comes with being a citizen. Because my parents are immigrants themselves and so many of my friends are as well, immigration became the theme for my thesis project in the University of Miami’s Multimedia Journalism Master’s Program.

As a kid, I used to hate doing house chores like cleaning up my room and would usually try to whine my way out of it. My father would tell me (in Portuguese), “Oh you don’t want to? Then get an education and work hard, then you can hire a maid. But until then, go clean your room.”

My parents, who arrived in Miami from Brazil in the 1980’s, taught me that we were here because our dreams could come true. And for a while, I really believed hard work was all it took until I got to college. That’s when I realized many of my friends couldn’t register for school or apply for financial aid or even just get a driver’s license.

So I produced a three-part video series published on Vimeo that looks into what the DREAM Act is and how it could change lives.

Only the DREAM Act can restore hope for undocumented youth: An interview with Immigration Lawyer Tristan Bourgoignie

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part One from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

Achieving a higher education against all odds: Young, Peruvian Jimena Alvarado struggles to attend and pay for college because of her status

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part Two from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

How colleges and the US would benefit from the DREAM Act

Walyce’s Final Project on Undocumented College Students – Part Three from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

Going In-Depth on Business’ Need for Fish

Blue Crab

Photo by Brian Schlansky

Blue crabs, fish, and some other sea creatures creep me out a little bit. It’s something about their cold, slimy, expressionlessness that makes no distinction between them being dead or alive… until one moves.

For one undergraduate project called The Fish at Bay, classmate Brian Schlansky and I got to join a family that owns a fresh seafood market on a short boat ride to catch some blue crabs. When those little guys got to escape the box in which they were poured, they chased you around the boat.

Brian and I produced a video and I wrote an in-depth article on the different kinds of businesses in South Florida that depend on a plentiful, local fish population.

It was one of out five stories that a class of students put together. And it was so much fun to work on, not just for our adventure into Biscayne Bay but also because I got to taste so much amazing seafood. Sorry blue crab, but I prefer you cooked.

Fish Dependency: How South Florida Businesses Rely on the Resource from Walyce Almeida on Vimeo.

Dabbling in Coding and Web Design

Most students go into the workforce right after getting a bachelor’s degree. When I was done, all the rapid changes were occurring in journalism such as shifting business models, replacing old reporters with multi-tasking ones, integrating social media in news, and so on.

With no professional experience and just a degree, I knew I had little chances of landing a decent job in journalism. So I went back to school. The University of Miami had just launched its multimedia journalism master’s program. Perfect timing!

During my undergrad years, I started to dabble in coding and web design, which I did every now and then during grad school as well. At one point, my classmate and friend, Andrea Ballocchi, started working with UM’s Director of the Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies, Ali Habashi.

Ali gave us one simple site to make for a student organization. Then his fiance asked if we could do a portfolio site for her. That turned out to be fun because she’s a classical pianist. Check her out!

So here are the projects:

Looking into Kashmir Reflections

Kashmir Reflections – a collection of multimedia stories about the region of Kashmir. Produced by Ami Vitale, Nick Maslow, and Walyce Almeida.

Kashmir, for those who don’t know, is a region disputed by India, Pakistan, and China. It’s diverse in culture, religion, and so on. But I knew absolutely nothing about this area until in grad school I worked on a project about Kashmir.

Two of my classmates, Ami Vitale (National Geographic photographer) and Nick Maslow (freelance multimedia journalist), and I teamed up for a grad school class project at the University of Miami – tell a story through multimedia and publish it online.

We decided to “create a unique collection of stories through which people could grasp both the beauty of Kashmir and the consequences of the ongoing conflict there.” The project is called Kashmir Reflections. We wanted the stories to come from natives and people who have experienced Kashmir over a long period of time. It was our philosophy that no one can better tell the story neither tell it with all the sensibilities of someone who feels the emotional, personal impact from an international political struggle.

If I remember correctly, we got an A!

So take a look and feel free to share your thoughts – Kashmir Reflections.