LATIN AMERICAN DIGITAL NATIVES: A VIBRANT ECOSYSTEM
Digital media entrepreneurs are serving an increasingly important role in Latin America. Since the first venture in this study was launched in 1998, hundreds of digital natives have appeared in the region and grown to serve millions of readers.
From Bogota to Buenos Aires, from Tijuana to Rio de Janeiro, entrepreneurial journalists are exposing corruption, harnessing social media to increase citizen participation, and designing investigative news sites that are motivating governments and big businesses to be more transparent.
With the advent of social media and easy-to-use blogging tools, the traditional barriers to entry have come crashing down. As media disruption creates both opportunities and challenges, a growing number of digital natives are building audiences and bringing in revenue.
They range from small, volunteer-fueled projects serving niche audiences, to significant news organizations reaching tens of millions through websites, podcasts, and social media.
Most of the journalism projects featured in this study are still relatively small businesses, but they are not all young. Nearly 50 percent have been in business for more than four years, and 12 have been publishing for more than a decade.
Their founders are often veteran journalists and nearly all of those interviewed said they were motivated by the desire for editorial independence.
Some of the projects featured in this study are well-known to journalism organizations, foundations, and media investors. Award-winning news sites, such as Chequeado in Argentina, Animal Político in Mexico, and La Silla Vacía in Colombia have been in operation for years and serve as models for other journalism entrepreneurs in the region.
You will also find a growing list of newer entrants in this report, some launched as recently as 2016, including Economía Femini(s)ta in Argentina and Meio in Brazil that are fast becoming credible sources of information for their communities.
Latin American context: journalism entrepreneurs driven to create independent news sources
Media in Latin America are being forced to evolve. The same technological, nancial, and social forces that have caused a seismic shift in audience and content dissemination for traditional media in the U.S. and Europe are now hitting established television, radio, and newspapers in the region.
As legacy media lose market share, entirely new types of news and information sources are emerging, from general news sites to social media influencers and niche newsletters.
Through the region, media startups are becoming increasingly important and credible news sources, and they are transforming the complex media landscape in myriad ways.
These digital natives may have an even more important role to play in Latin America than their counterparts did in the oversaturated media markets of the developed world. News ownership is highly concentrated in Latin America.
In Colombia, three media conglomerates control 57% of the news audience in radio, the internet, and print media.
In Brazil, Globo is one of the top 30 biggest media owners in the world.
In Mexico, Televisa dominates television viewership, is one of the largest magazine publishers and distributes content to more than 50 countries worldwide.
Throughout Latin America, independent digital natives are covering underserved communities, producing original content, and writing stories about subjects that were formerly taboo.
The insurgent nature of many of these journalist-led news organizations gives them a “street cred” that over the long term, may dovetail well with the desire of the next generation of news consumers for information free of the influence of business and governmental elites.
“We set out to explore the growing ecosystem of digital natives in Latin America to better understand their work as journalists and entrepreneurs.
We are pleased to report that they are having a significant impact — and despite the challenges they face, many of them have found a way to make a living at it, too.”
— Janine Warner
Co-founder and Executive Director, SembraMedia
Knight Fellow, International Center for Journalists
Shared language creates regional opportunities
The shared language across the vast Spanish-language media market makes it easier to collaborate across borders and develop regional business strategies.
Throughout Latin America, many of the journalists we interviewed are finding common ground and working together to investigate corruption, cover drug trafficking, and resist the influence of powerful interests.
Even in Brazil where the primary language is Portuguese, the exchange of experiences is fueled by the common cultural, social, religious, and economic ties that bind Brazil to the rest of Latin America.
What to call them? Digital natives, media startups, or … ?
There is no clear term of art to distinguish digital media that were born online from websites created by newspapers, magazines, radio, or television stations.
Throughout this report, we use a few phrases interchangeably to refer to these journalism projects and their founders, including: digital natives, digital media projects, digital media entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial journalists.
For brevity and variety, we also use the more general terms: digital media, digital players, ventures, sites, organizations, and projects. This variety of terms also reflects the fact that not all of the subjects of this study run websites—some are mobile applications, others exist only on social media platforms.
Similarly, we use the terms traditional media and legacy media, to refer to print publications, television, and radio stations.
Traditional media lack credibility because of perceived ties to government and wealthy elites
Latinobarómetro has been doing surveys on press credibility in 18 Latin American countries since 2004.
Consistently over the last dozen years, two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement that the news media “are frequently in uenced by institutions or powerful people.”
In the same survey, people were asked if they agreed with the statement that “the news media are suf ciently independent,” and the results were equally grim.
Only a quarter of survey respondents thought that journalists were independent.
Media in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico all ranked below average in credibility.
Journalism organizations and blogs share best practices
News spreads quickly in the digital age, and news intelligence services focused on the business and practice of journalism are fueling collaboration and shared best practices. Many of the journalism entrepreneurs we interviewed reported benefiting from regularly reading the work of media organizations, including:
- The Nieman Lab
- Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)
- International Journalist’s Network (IJNet)
- The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas
- The Gabriel García Márquez Foundation
Journalism blogs also contribute to the sharing of best practices in the region:
“From the beginning, we saw our principal value as the place where you could publish things that would be difficult to publish in the dominant traditional media.
We’re not fighting for scoops. We’re interested in going deeper, even if it means that we come out after everyone else. One of our mottos is, ‘We don’t tell it first, we tell it better’.”
— Daniela Pastrana , General Director
Pie de Página, Mexico