Thursday, December 11, 2014

1.5 million page views a month for journalism of ideas

Angel Alayon, photo by James Breiner
Versión en español.

Angel Alayon is an economist in one of the craziest economies in the world, Venezuela, where inflation is more than 60 percent annually. It is awash in petroleum yet has chronic shortages of milk.

And he is a journalist in a country whose government has been censoring enemies by buying them up and turning them into pro-government mouthpieces or cutting their supplies of newsprint.

Add to that, only 41 percent of the population are Internet users. So he is used to challenges. Maybe that is why he has been undaunted about creating a website with the unsexy concept of journalism of ideas,  ProDaVinci.

With a full-time staff of only three, ProDaVinci has monthly traffic averaging 1.5 million page views to articles about economics, art, literature, science, and technology.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Freedom of the press for those who own one (or a search engine or a social network)

A renowned media critic sounded the alarm in 1960 about corporate takeovers of newspapers and layoffs of hundreds of journalists. He worried that the power of the press was being concentrated in too few hands.

Liebling, from Slate.com
It was in his column in the New Yorker, The Wayward Press, that A.J. Liebling tossed off one of his most memorable lines in a parenthetical aside:
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" (New Yorker, May 14, 1960, p. 109, paywall). 

What is still true today is that corporate owners of newspapers are focused on maintaining their profit margins and are laying off journalists to do so. The newspaper and magazine industries have lost 54,000 journalism jobs since 2003.

But it is no longer true that newspapers monopolize production and distribution of news. The Internet has given everyone with a computer and Internet access their own printing press. You do not have to be a mogul to publish your opinions. The big question is can you get anyone to listen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A one-man band: journalist, designer, salesman

Versión en español.

Erick Falcon started out as a journalist. Mainly he liked writing about science, technology, and fine food in long feature articles as a freelancer for the Sunday magazine of El Universal newspaper.

That might seem like a strange mix, but he lives in Ensenada, Mexico, on the northwest coast, about 65 miles south of Tijuana. Ensenada, with population of about 470,000, is in the heart of Mexico's wine country and also is a center of research, in particular the Center of Scientific Investigation and Higher Education.

In 2010 he wrote about agriculture in the desert (Spanish, PDF), an article that Reuters recognized as the best environmental reporting for Latin America in 2010. He wrote in Spanish and English, including for Cosmos magazine in Australia.

Then late in 2011, everything changed. El Universal decided to shut down its magazine, Dia Siete, that had been his main source of income. He was not going to be able to earn enough from his other freelance sources. Then his wife suggested that if the magazines wouldn't hire him, he should start his own.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Latin American news sites lag in innovation

Versión en español.

It was a bit depressing to hear the results of a study of 34 digital media natives during the Third Latin American Forum of Digital Media and Journalism.

Overall, these sites showed little interaction with their audiences in social media, little use of maps, graphics, and visualizations, and little consideration of the business side of journalism before launching.

The Center of Economic Research and Teaching hosted the session Oct. 9 in Mexico City. (Videos of all the sessions here, in Spanish.)

In Latin America, 4 digital pioneers create solutions

Versión en español.

Four digital journalism pioneers in Latin America have four different solutions for the problem of how to finance an independent news organization.

For Daniel Moreno, director general of Animal Politico in Mexico, one strategy has been to launch a brand extension called Animal Gourmet, a publication about fine dining, which attracts a new group of users and advertisers.

Jorge Zepeda Patterson, founder and publisher of Sin Embargo (On the Other Hand) in Mexico, has patient investors and a model of online advertising.

For Juanita Leon, founder and publisher of La Silla Vacía (The Empty Chair) in Colombia, the solution has been constant innovation. Besides landing grants from NGOs, the site generates revenue from its club of Super Amigos, from universities, and from sponsorship of online discussion groups.

And Oscar Castilla, executive director of a new investigative journalism site in Peru, Ojo Publico (Public Eye), is still looking at many possibilities, including support of universities and NGOs.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cancun: A strange tale of media censorship by cloning

I have never heard of a case like this anywhere.

The weekly magazine and website Luces del Siglo (Lights of the Century) in the resort city of Cancun, Mexico, has seen its editions replaced by counterfeit versions with the contents twisted to favor the governor of the state.

The publisher, Norma Madero, said yesterday in an interview with El Universal newspaper, that this "cloning" of her publication has occurred 38 times in the past three years, six times to the printed edition on newsstands and 32 times to its online edition.

The magazine has consistently criticized Roberto Borge, the governor of the state of Quintana Roo, which is home to the tourist centers Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Madero has accused Borge of being responsible for distributing phony copies of the magazine. The governor denies any knowledge of or involvement in the "cloning" of Luces del Siglo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Students rack up media bills of $177 a month

"I never thought about how much I was spending on media. I just took it for granted, and now I realize that it is more than I would have imagined." -- student at Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico

I recently surveyed 22 students in a seminar on how much they spend on media every month. Bottom line, these students at an expensive private university in Mexico are spending the equivalent of about $177 a month on various types of media.

I asked them to include all kinds of media expenses, including those paid for at home by their parents. Many of these expenses were not part of anyone's budget 15 years ago:
  • Internet at home and on mobile devices, mobile apps
  • Telephone at home, mobile
  • Movies at cinemas, on physical media, online, streaming, apps
  • Television, on cable, on physical media, streaming, apps