Ángel Alayón, Pulitzer Center grantee and founder and general director of Prodavinci, has used scientific analysis, narrative journalism and now, through the outlet’s partnership with El BusTV, hand-drawn posters to report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela.
Before COVID-19, El BusTV was known for connecting offline communities to independent reporting by boarding buses and staging news bulletins. Established during the 2017 protests against President Nicholas Maduro, El BusTV’s broadcasts showcase a unique blend of theatre and journalism–a cardboard cutout resembling a TV screen frames the journalist’s face as they present the news.
Amidst state efforts to control media coverage, many Venezuelans have turned to online news outlets, such as Prodavinci, to circumvent government censorship. However, low income communities without internet access are often left behind. That’s where El BusTV comes in.
“We have a huge censorship context here,” said Laura Helena Castillo, the founder of El BusTV. Providing access to independent news requires journalists to design creative distribution methods. Delivering news bulletins–containing coverage from outlets such as Prodavinci–in person, while operating within small regional areas, allows El BusTV to “approach audiences without intermediaries.” Through the outlets’ partnership, Prodavinci is able to provide offline communities with their reporting, bypassing regime censorship.
“In the Venezuelan context, most of the traditional media is either owned by the government or very influenced by the government,” Alayón explained. “Independent media has to look for ways to reach the people out of the traditional media.”
According to Castillo, El BusTV has stepped in to help fill a void for the many “cities without newspapers.” We “bring the information to the audience,” instead of “waiting for the audience to come to us,” she said, highlighting a philosophy guiding El BusTV’s COVID-19 coverage.
As COVID-19 has disrupted El BusTV’s in-person broadcasts, posters have emerged as the safest method of delivering independent journalism and fighting misinformation about COVID-19. Working with a team of journalism students, El BusTV creates hand-drawn posters of Prodavinci’s COVID-19 coverage, posting them on bus stops throughout Caracas and cities across the country.
After receiving a piece from Prodavinci, Castillo distills the article’s essential points before sending the summary to her team of journalists. They transfer the information onto the posters and decorate it accordingly. “Many times, the journalist must do the posters without light” Castillo added.
Completed posters hang on walls outside bus stops, hospitals, and markets, areas where El BusTV expects to reach large audiences.
According to Castillo, misinformation surrounding COVID-19 is widespread through Venezuela–“many people think this isn’t real, a government excuse for having us locked in our houses.”
Prodavinci’s stories and El BusTV’s posters directly target COVID-19 misinformation. Pieces often include accounts of Venezuelans who have died from COVID-19, such as this story on Paulino. “People say woah, this is real because some poster has the story of patients,” Castillo explained.
In addition to sharing patient narratives, the posters serve another purpose. Containing the addresses of local clinics treating COVID-19 patients, pharmacy telephone numbers, and information on contacting paramedics, they help Venezuelans access COVID-19 care. “We don’t receive this kind of information from the government,” Castillo said. In many cases, Prodavinci and El BusTV’s posters fill this gap, providing Venezuelans with information about the pandemic and how to seek COVID-19 care.
Although the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the posters has surprised both outlets, Castillo hopes “we can come back to the buses at the end of the year because the buses are our natural environment. That’s where we have the most exciting part of our work.” But for now, until it’s safe to re-enter the buses, Prodavinci and El BusTV will continue to bring independent news to audiences wherever they are, whether that’s on city buses or hospital walls.