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 100 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

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

Versión en español

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Opportunities abound in business journalism

"Business journalism is a wonderful career".
Versión en español.

MEXICO CITY -- Francisco Vidal Bonifaz has worked as a business journalist in Mexico for three decades, and he sees lots of possibilities for growth in this niche.

There are not many journalists with training in this field, either in Mexico or other countries. And there are few media that are focused on the economy, finance, and business.

Vidal Bonifaz believes that there is room for new business media on the web, especially at two ends of the spectrum: in breaking news that covers the ups and downs of markets, and in longer pieces that explain the significance of these movements. "There is a story behind every number," he likes to say.

If he were creating a new digital publication, "I would eliminate all the stuff in the middle. No stories of 300 words. I would focus on the two extremes," he told me in an interview in Mexico City.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Video on media entrepreneurs from S. Africa, Malaysia, Costa Rica

Source Fabric in Prague, which provides free, open-source content management systems for news organizations around the world, invited me to speak at their conference in the Czech Republic in October 2011.

They made a video of my presentation (below), which was about digital news entrepreneurs in South Africa, Malaysia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and other countries. (The first 30 seconds are pretty cool. I just saw the video for the first time last week after doing a search in YouTube.)

The conference, called Mediafabric 2011, had over 250 guests from five continents to explore the intersection of journalism and open technology.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On 5 continents, thousands of digital media startups

Versión en español.

As traditional media organizations cut back on staff and coverage, thousands of new digital media are popping up all over the world to fill the gaps.

I've compiled 14 lists of startups below. Some startups are included on more than one list. Can you think of any lists that I've left out?

Many of the organizations that compile lists also share tutorials, especially on revenue-generating models, to help others launch and sustain their news sites. Sustainability is the Holy Grail. Part of the reason digital media are springing up is because of the gaps left by cuts in coverage and staff at major media (graphic below, from Mark J. Perry's Carpe Diem blog via Clay Shirky's Medium post, "Last Call").

Mark J. Perry's graphic shows newspaper decline. A digital opportunity?

United States

1. The Pew Center has done a study of 178 nonprofit journalism websites with a detailed breakdown of their business models, "Nonprofit Journalism: A Growing but Fragile Part of the U.S. News System."

Gigaom followed up with an analysis of the study, and the Knight Foundation sponsored a roundtable discussion on the topic, with videos of the sessions.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's 1927, and the news media are out of control

Charles Lindbergh and his plane. (Library of Congress photo via Mother Nature Network)
Bill Bryson's book One Summer: America, 1927 captures a moment when the country's burgeoning news media feasted on the stories of two extraordinary men, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh. The media made them into gods. The baseball hero basked in the attention. The aviator hated it.

If you can't bear the constant assault of 24-hour cable news, Buzzfeed, and Facebook updates, you should realize that America lived through a similar media explosion in the 1920s.

Then the mass media were newspapers, radio, talking pictures, phonographs, and the telephone. Thes media of the day hounded and entertained people on the streets, in their offices, in their leisure hours, and in the privacy of their homes. Sound familiar? The difference may be only a matter of degree. Today we carry the mass media with us on the devices in our pockets.

In the '20s, the new media were just becoming massive national, industrial-scale businesses that needed big stories to feed the news cycle.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Digital media: Amusing ourselves to death?

Gencarelli, Manhattan College Photo
Versión en español

Communications professors at Tec of Monterrey had a visitor last week, Thom Gencarelli of Manhattan College, who made us think about what we are teaching and how we are doing it.

Among the questions he left us with:
  • In 1985, Neil Postman wrote that the dominant media of a culture in fact shapes the culture, is the culture (Amusing Ourselves to Death). In his day, Postman saw television as degrading all aspects of culture -- religion, literature, education, politics -- to a form of visual entertainment. So how are digital media defining and shaping our culture today? he asked. Are they degrading or improving it?
  • Do the immediacy, urgency, and visual nature of digital media make us less capable of appreciating the culture of the written word? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Demand for entrepreneurial journalism training is multilingual, international

One in six U.S. residents is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Half consume news in Spanish.
This post was prepared for sharing at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism Entrepreneurial Journalism Educators Summit July 10. Much of the material is drawn from previous blog posts. 

American universities are leaders in creating programs in entrepreneurial journalism. We could strengthen that position by reaching out to Hispanic communities in the U.S., which is one-sixth of the U.S. population (53 million). We could also learn from the many innovations among Spanish speakers in the Americas (418 million).

Potential benefits:

1. Universities could attract more students from Latin America interested in seeing some of the advances taking place in the dynamic U.S. media market.

2. U.S. students with Spanish skill could find opportunities in Hispanic media in the U.S., from the big operators like Univision and Impremedia to the hundreds of small radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and internet media.

3. U.S. students with sufficient language skill could find opportunities to work in Latin American media and study in the region's finest universities.

4. Professors in the U.S. could enrich their courses with examples from Latin America, where difficult political and economic conditions have led to innovation.

5. With a global focus, faculty and students could benefit from international exchanges and guest lectures via Skype, Hangouts, webinars, and other telecommunication aids.

6. Faculty exchanges. More universities around the world want courses taught in English. U.S. professors with specific expertise, such as multimedia and entrepreneurial journalism, are in demand.

Have I missed anything? (Special thanks to Jeremy Caplan, education director at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY for suggestions on improving the usefulness of this post.)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

For digital startups, dealing with extreme uncertainty

Versión en español.

When you are starting out with a digital product, it makes sense to get advice from experts. But experts can't help you learn as much as you can on your own.

In fact, most of the successful digital entrepreneurs I know give the same advice: develop a prototype as quickly as possible. A business plan or a powerpoint is fine, but you need to put your actual product into the hands of the public and test your theories. See if they work.
Video with subtitles in English of six digital journalism entrepreneurs.

See also the comments of Gonzalo Costa.
The thinking of these entrepreneurs has gotten its most eloquent expression in Eric Ries's book The Lean Startup. The idea is to save time and money on product development by introducing a  minimum viable product to the target customer, measuring response, making adjustments, and trying again. (Some examples for journalists are below.)

Friday, June 20, 2014

What venture capitalists like about Latin America

Versión en español.  

Venture capitalists in Latin America are looking for digital media startups with rapid growth, a plan for monetization, and international potential.

Francisco Coronel: digital media well positioned
Obviously, most new media don't fit that profile. But startups with these characteristics are starting to attract angel investors who provide the first rounds of capital, says Francisco Coronel, CFO and cofounder of Nxtplabs, an incubator of digital companies in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Digital media have extra potential because there is a growing demand for content that these companies are positioned to satisfy at lower cost than traditional media, Coronel told me in an interview.

(Disclosure: I just spent two weeks at Nxtplabs training three digital media teams under a contract with the International Center for Journalists.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Land of opportunity in digital news: Buenos Aires

Miranda Mulligan, right, and me, left, with the startup teams.
Versión en español aquí.

We hear a lot about the next Silicon Valley, but we don't hear much about the Valley of Death. That is where 80 percent of tech startups go to die.

Startups die or join the walking dead mainly for two reasons: they don't have enough cash or they don't have enough knowledge to get to the next stage of development. They are unable to show investors that their project could be commercially viable.

The Media Factory News Accelerator, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, wants to change those odds of making it across the Valley of Death.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

12 revenue sources for digital news organizations

Versión en español.

So much innovation is occurring on the revenue side of new digital media that it's time to review, update and aggregate. Some of the material has appeared in this blog before. 

Let´s start with the basics.

1. Create community, don't just publish news. An audience is just a group of observers.  A community shares values and a deep interest in a topic or geographic area. It often has a bias toward action. That is where value comes in.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Narrative in Latin America: conscience and credibility

Versión en español.

For a class on narrative techniques here in Mexico, I was looking for examples of the kind of writing you find in New Yorker. The magazine Gatopardo has that reputation.

Alejandro Almazán. Photo:
It was there I found the story of "A hapless narco" ("Un narco sin suerte) by Alejandro Almazan and immediately got hooked.  It tells the story of one J.R., a singer of corridos, traditional songs that tell stories of heroes and villains based on real people and events.

J.R. and his family are living a quiet life up in the mountains when he hears about the fortunes being made in the illegal drug trade by people in Culiacan, in northwestern Mexico. He decides he wants a piece of that. But his every attempt fails for reasons that are by turns hilarious and frightening.

The story is perfect in every detail. So perfect, in fact, that I wondered if this were really journalism or fiction. The magazine gave it a journalistic label: "reportaje," which is definitely not fiction.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An optimistic book about the collapse of print media

Bernardo Diaz Nosty published a book last year that chronicled the sad history of the collapse of print media in the developed world over the past 70 years.

It wasn't bad enough that revenues had tanked and readers had fled, he said. The worst part was that news media had lost their credibility. Being the optimist that he is, he believes that credibility can be recovered by a return to the ethical principles of high-quality journalism.

The importance of ethics to the future of journalism has lately become a theme developed by many, including the French journalist Jean-François Fogel.

Diaz Nosty is head of the journalism department at the University of Malaga in Spain, and his book has the title (translated) The Press in the New Information Ecosystem: 'Stop the Presses!' (La prensa en el nuevo ecosistema informativo "Que paren las rotativas" it's available free in PDF from the publisher, Fundacion Telefonica). I heard him talk at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico as part of a press tour of Latin America promoting the book.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Video: How Policymic is capturing millennials aims at millennials who are dissatisfied with traditional news outlets. It reaches 14.5 million unique users a month, according to Jake Horowitz, co-founder and editor-in-chief. 

 The site started 2 1/2 years ago, and “the goal all along has been to empower young people who want to be a part of the conversation around the news and feel that news outlets historically have done a poor job of appealing to our generation.” 

 “Young people want to read about serious topics, but they want to hear authentic voices. They’ve been lied to one too many times by politicians, they’ve been misled one too many times by news outlets.”

“Young people are not going to news sites. They’re going to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine. You have to reach young people where they’re having conversations."

And the different social networks require different presentations. "A Facebook story looks a lot different from a Twitter story, looks a lot different from a Pinterest story, looks a lot different than the home page of the New York Times."

 The site has attracted a little over $3 million in seed funding, Horowitz said, which has allowed them to focus on growth without having to worry for the moment about generating a profit.

More: Startups aimed at millennials thrive in three languages
Tres medios digitales exitosos que apuntan a la generación del milenio


Here is the man Felix Salmon will work with at
How three independent news startups survived their first five years
Mexican video-blogger builds a business out of political satire
Digital entrepreneurs turn to mobile for users, revenue
Power shifts toward journalists in new media equation
Who's a journalist? Only the public can decide
How to make money publishing community news online
7 mobile stats that should worry digital publishers
Journalists have to market their work in social media
News entrepreneur advises, 'Don't think about it -- do it'

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Here is the man Felix Salmon will work with at

The news about Felix Salmon's decision to leave Reuters and join threw a spotlight on this new digital venture of ABC and Univision. A few weeks ago I interviewed Fusion's chief of digital, mobile and social platforms, Daniel Eilemberg. He talked about the target audience of Fusion -- millennials --  and his other entrepreneurial venture, Animal Politico, in Mexico. This is an expanded version of the original.

Daniel Eilemberg, senior VP at Fusion
Daniel Eilemberg, founder of Animal Politico, is only 35 but has been an editor at several major business and news publications in the U.S. and Latin America. The Spanish language site began three years ago as a Twitter feed and thrives on being at the center of social conversations about the news. It employs 20 journalists to report news for a Mexican audience in a way that is both entertaining and informative.

Eilemberg has taken the lessons of Animal Politico with him to Univison’s In January he was appointed senior vice president, chief digital officer in charge of Fusion’s digital, mobile and social platforms.

"In Mexico, we cover topics about Mexico. In the U.S., we will cover global topics. In both places we are very focused on the audience of the millennials, the generation of 18 to 34 years old." 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ISOJ: 3 ways the journalism business is changing

Versión en español aquí. 

Three of the speakers at the International Symposium on Online Journalism changed the way I look at the business of journalism: Jim Moroney, CEO of A.H. Belo and publisher of the Dallas Morning News; Jim Bankoff, founder and CEO of Vox Media, and Valtteri Halla, chief technical officer at Leia Media in Finland.

Here is what got my attention. 

Targeting new generation of consumers

Jim Bankoff,  CEO of Vox Media, described a digital media world in which the future winners will be those with high-quality branded content. He is running against the current here. He has the old-fashioned idea that you need to pay competitive salaries to attract top digital-journalism talent, and that you can make money doing it.

Jim Bankoff of Vox Media. Photo by ISOJ.
While he sees the most popular news sites on the web as chasing page views with sensational headlines and clickbait --  Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, others -- his emphasis is on quality of audience rather than quantity. "Now is the time for branded content."

High-quality branded content is the strategy behind the seven media brands that make up Vox, including the SBNation sports site, The Verge's technology coverage and the new Ezra Klein product that focuses on general news, Vox

As a business model, it's working, Bankoff told the ISOJ audience. They are attracting "a new generation of news consumers" that has been turned off by traditional media. The audience is young, highly educated and has high income. Six of the seven brands are profitable, the exception being the newest one, Vox, which just launched with a staff of 20. 

The sites were drawing 79 million unique visitors a month at year-end 2013, and the business has  attracted $74 million in venture capital (thanks to Maite Fernandez for that research).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How 3 independent news sites have survived 5 years

Juanita Leon, founder of La Silla Vacia. ISOJ photo.

Versión en español aquí.

Launching a news publication online is the easy part.

Paying the bills and surviving for several years is the hard part.

Three of those who have evolved and survived for at least five years are La Silla Vacia, a political website in Colombia,  Homicide Watch, a news and data platform in three U.S. cities, and Texas Tribune, a news site focused on Texas civic life.

It often takes at least four iterations for a digital initiative to gain traction, according to Michael Maness, vice president of the Knight Foundation’s Journalism and Media Innovation program.

Maness moderated a panel in which the editors told their stories at the International Symposium on Online Journalism April 5 at the Knight Center for Digital Journalism in the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Startups aimed at millennials thrive in 3 languages

Joey Chung, co-founder of The News Lens
Versión en español aquí.

Some of the fastest growing digital media in Asia, Latin America and the U.S. are tapping into a young audience that wants news that is less partisan, more believable and sometimes irreverent.

Animal Politico in Mexico started out as a Twitter feed with an edge. News Lens in Taiwan was designed for people who distrust all traditional media. And PolicyMic in the U.S. is aimed at millennials who want to participate in a conversation around the news.

The founders told their stories April 4-5 at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the Knight Center for Digital Journalism in the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Digital entrepreneurs turn to mobile for users, revenue

Leo Prieto:betting on "mobile first"

Versión en español aquí.

Leo Prieto is a digital media entrepreneur in Chile whose 10 communities attract an audience of 10 million users a month from all over the Spanish-speaking world.

Late last year, his company, Betazeta, decided to go "mobile first" and optimize the design of all its sites for mobile devices. More than half their traffic comes from mobile.

"Mobile phones are always with us," Prieto told me in an interview via Skype from his office in Santiago. "On the street, at home, we check them every two minutes, a hundred times a day."

And now that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are getting as much as three-fourths of their traffic from mobile devices, digital media publishers can see growth in social traffic by optimizing for mobile. "It's a virtuous circle with the social networks and mobile devices," Prieto said.