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What Can Mexico's Digital Media Startups Teach The World About The Future Of Journalism?

What Can Mexico's Digital Media Startups Teach The World About The Future Of Journalism?

Posted by PanamericanWorld on November 04, 2015

Mexico is emerging as Latin America’s most important hub of digital journalism. At a time of turbulence in the global media market when traditional news organizations around the globe are being tossed around by tempestuous financial currents, many of Mexico’s most prestigious journalists are jumping ship, preferring to build their own digital news start-ups and navigate the difficult waters on their own. Standouts from Mexico’s new generation of digital media startups include SinEmbargo, El Daily Post, Horizontal, Chiapas Paralelo, Animal Politico and Emeequis. During a recent interview, SinEmbargo’s Director of Content Rita Varela told me that Sin Embargo is pulling in an average of between 17 and 18 million unique visitors a month. Embracing social media has helped SinEmbargo connect with readers checking for news on their phones and tablets. “We’ve gotten a good response. We have high-quality readers; young people, students, graduates, professionals, politicians, business people, and social leaders. It’s the cream of the crop. We have a very elite profile of readers,”  she told me.

Over the last few months I collaborated on a report on digital media startups. In the study, which was published by Columbia University’s Anya Schiffrin, I explained “Mexico’s media market, like many other aspects of the country’s economy, is a paradoxical mix of encouraging trends and ominous threats. Mexico enjoys a leadership role within Latin America’s media sector, producing many of the region’s best magazines, TV shows, movies, and newspapers.” Chilango, which focuses on culture and politics in Mexico city, Gatopardo, which takes a regional approach to the same issues, and Nexos, a public policy magazine, are all recognized for being some of the best magazines in Latin America. Unfortunately, despite success stories in many areas, Mexico is also one of the most challenging places in the world to practice journalism. Serious threats from heavy-handed politicians and criminal groups make it very challenging for local journalists to cover crime and politics. At the same time, reliance on government advertising allows many small publications to operate but also limits their editorial independence. In a market where one TV company, Televisa, dominates the broadcast TV market, a new generation of digital media start-ups is playing an increasingly important role in Mexico’s political life.

One start-up, Chiapas Paralelo, is slowly starting to make a name for itself. As I explained in the report, Chiapas Paralelo, a digital media company reporting on the southern state of Chiapas, “frequently publishes op-ed pieces criticizing politicians for being corrupt and also runs news stories about citizens’ complaints and demands for government accountability. The group’s stated goal—providing news from a citizen’s perspective and eschewing the strategy of acting as an outlet for government publicity—means that the site isn’t likely to receive much advertising support from government agencies, the lifeline for many local media outlets in Mexico.” As is the case at other start-ups, the goal of editorial independence runs against many of their basic business interests. “We saw the need for news from a citizen’s perspective. The media weren’t meeting people’s needs,” the site’s co-founder Angeles Mariscal told me.

The challenge of generating ad revenue while also engaging in critical analysis is seen by other digital media entrepreneurs. Pedro Pardo, founder of a start-up called Liberacion, which is based in Acapulco in the state of Guerrero, told me, “We want to generate top-quality, critical, informative content. [But] we’re in a difficult stage—the economy in Guerrero is poor so it’s hard to get financing from the private sector. There are also universities that can invest, but it’s a very difficult process. It’s very hard to do business. The government is really the entity that can invest in publicity—it’s political publicity.” Pardo is based in Guerrero, one of the most poverty-stricken, violent, and politically complicated places in Mexico. He knows that his start-up faces challenges. “The risk is that we won’t earn enough to balance out costs and that we won’t have the ability to do real journalism if we want to business with the government, that’s the risk. We live in a state with a lot of security complications and the press is vulnerable. That’s a historical fact. I’ve had colleagues attacked by criminals and people say it’s because of their editorial line. So that’s the line: we have to be cautious about a lot of things, but we don’t want to censor ourselves,” he told me.

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