José Baig: Online Journalism to End Poverty
José Baig: Online Journalism to End Poverty
“The perception of the World Bank was one of an organization that is serious, distant and maybe even too formal. That has changed and today our mission is known by more people”, recounts our character.
It’s not just any mission, the World Bank, which conforms 5 different multilateral financial institutions specialized in development, has two missions in one: “To eradicate extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity.” Not an easy goal.
From PanamericanWorld, we wanted to know how they perform this task from the communicational side of the institution. That is why we talked to Jose Baig, the Online Editor of the World Bank in the area of Latin America and the Caribbean. We know Jose because of his time in the Venezuelan radio, when, beginning in the 90’s, the furor for communication and news made private businesses invest more and more in that industry.
25 years of experience, a migrant by nature and forced to convert --but with enjoyment-- into this digital world, Jose Baig works with a group of producers. He has managed to inject the communications of the World Bank the vibrant experience of a newsroom, and turn around its language to be concise in Twitter, provocative in Facebook, and completely visual in Instagram.
“I am originally a journalist, but because of the constant transformation of media, I and many people from my generation had to reinvent ourselves, in my case I was forced into this digital world. However, later on I started understanding a little more the grammar and the possibilities of these new technologies, and the process, which was inicialy forced, turned into a new career with a lot of future,” says Jose, when we asked about his position in the headquarters of the WB in Washington.
Jose has an acute and humorous mind, seriously, stress-proof. With a paused voice he describes this job of working with experts from around the world in dense and complex topics as one of translation and evangelization. “I’m going to say it now, I work as a translator, I think that is what we do as journalists, we make the knowledge of specialized people reach its target. We work with many economists, hydraulic engineers, environmental engineers, doctors, and experts in other areas, who are getting introduced to this digital world. Some are better at it, and there are others with whom you have to be more patient, the same way you are with your audience.”
Baig, shows that the work with social media has been intense. “We have done a little bit of everything. We are in Twitter, Facebook and also with Blogs, which are the first thing we had in social media. There are some accounts at the moment that are only in English like Instagram and Soundcloud. Each week there is a discovery, it’s a learning process, on each side. What works or doesn’t work on social media? Not long ago we had a post in our Facebook page in Colombia about the World Cup, and we had another post about eolic energy in the Mexico account. One of them was emotional and the other more rational, yet they had the same amount of likes, a very good answer of about 100 likes and 30 shares, then is when you realize that every week you learn something new.
The post reads:"Thanks to the team for a great World Cup. We keep supporting you Colombia!"
Jose tells us how they build together what the WB wants to communicate. “We believe that it is easier to teach an expert how to write a good blog than it is to teach a journalist everything the expert knows. In fact, that is one of the main principles of successful blogs. People who know a lot about an specific topic writing about it. The blogs that have achieved their goal start conversations around a topic.”
After creating the content, this department works with Jose to improve its functionality in the search engines, it’s really surprising how their mentality is that of a media company.
“The World Bank, because of the nature of its work, has many cycles. One, is the documents of alliances that are made with governments, and these are projects that extend through a set number of years. These cycles are very clear, each time these alliances are renewed there are some things that have to be disclosed. These documents, at the same time, has many specific projects, with different phases that mark a moment to communicate certain things. It’s complex, but we know when these moments come and we understand what they are about,” says Jose, who covers the area of Colombia, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.
This work mechanism has taken them to publish in the prestigious newspaper El Pais, where their articles compete head to head with the investigation teams of the publication.
Jose’s is a special job that shows off his Uruguayan origin, his Spanish and Catalan blood, and the years in Venezuela that defined him. A day of work requires him to speak in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, and also assuming the particularities and differences, especially of the Spanish from different parts of the continent.
The Journey of Jose Baig
“I’m a dad, I run and I cook. I work as a journalist, but when I grow up I want to be a comedian. I tweet for myself, not for the place that pays me,” says his twitter bio.
For Jose, this time of serenity and stability still smells new. Washington has given him the space to raise a family in which Cecilia Neher and him have Manuel, born in London, and Yolanda and Jorge, born in Miami. His children and his wife are all protagonists, participants and co-producers of La Cocina de Papá (Dad’s Kitchen).
Before his position today in the World Bank, Jose came through many paths, but his most recent adventure was living in Barcelona, Spain, for two years and a half, studying cooking. “I had the time, the disposition and the money to embark in this adventure, and I did it; I liked to cook and I liked cooking shows. After finishing I considered opportunities in the area, but none convinced me. However, thanks to that we started this family project of La Cocina de Papá. I spent all my savings in this unique live experience.”
The statistics are terrifying, that is why healthy eating and running are one of his priorities. “The education and health of my children is one my main concerns, because obesity is an epidemic in this country and it specially affects hispanics. Statistically, if the trends hold, of my three children three will be overweight, two are going to be diabetic, and one is going to die before me. It’s a dramatic statistic, horrifying, and in our case we are making the effort of teaching them how to eat well and make good decisions, without grounding them”
Nevertheless, before this, his life as a journalist was a agitated as this endeavor can be. From his experiences in Venezuela, to the opportunity of working at the BBC in London. “Initially I left with the idea of spending some time outside and going back. I first went to Miami, one thing led to the other and after two years I was assigned to go to London, and from there came the opportunity to work as a correspondent in Mexico. I had never been a correspondent, but I took this opportunity, and it was interesting, Mexico is a cultural reference for Latin America. Afterwards I returned to London because of my contract, but from there I assumed the job as a correspondent for the BBC in Colombia and Argentina.”
Jose Baig asserts that in each occasion he lived interesting and unique experiences. “There was a moment around 2004 when I had covered the elections of at least half of the presidents in the area, I was first hand witness of the history of the region. From Argentina, I went back to London and from there again to Miami, as a correspondent of Hispanic issues, which was also very interesting because I served a public and a reality that I didn’t know much. I discovered what Hispanics mean to this country, the force they are and the force the are going to be.
Those were 14 years of constant moving and exposure to risk. “In Colombia, the day that Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped I was in the same road just a little ahead of her. In Mexico I was in Chiapas, and it’s not a normal place, when you are in danger during the coverage you don’t see it, because you are simply doing your job, afterwards is when you realize that you were in danger and that perhaps you didn’t make the most sound decisions.”
Beyond achieving the dream of many journalists of entering the monumental building of BBC, his work in the region gave him a better understanding of its conflicts, “... many of them are still alive. That way you understand what happens and have a different outlook.”
Write, run, cook, laugh.
Reflecting what we are and what we bring as immigrants, Jose has used his life experience for his most recent adventure, being a comedian. His stand up comedy is nurtured by the particularities of his life, his accent when speaking English, that in his home they also speak Spanish, and the certainty that “If I got here, I can go anywhere.”
Translated by Sebastian Llavaneras