Q: Which do you consider are the main factors that motivate a journalist to find a digital media?
The main objective is recognition, that the voice of journalists is heard. Journalists in Latin America and even more in Ecuador want to be heard.
Due to the current situation in Ecuador regarding the Communications Law and several kinds of limitations, investigative journalism has been restricted in the country.
I think that one of the main goals is having new channels that allow them to be heard as people and as journalists.
Secondly, there will always be the need for this objective to be profitable. There must be clarity in an area that is not very journalistic as it is the business model that the journalist wants to have in order to go beyond a simple intention or a one or two-year hobby and it becomes an editorial project.
Here comes the challenge based on what you see in the international scene as well, new media recruiting independent journalists and native media to create precisely, a strong media of communication, with a new structure, which is a network structure more than a structure of «come all to my office to write and follow my editorial planning.» It is quite interesting the change that is taking place and for me that is one way and one of the main objectives that could have a journalist to enter and develop in a communication environment with distribution primarily in online media.
Q: What do you think are the main audiences of these digital media in Ecuador?
I think that new media are always stealing the audience from someone else. The major limitation we have is that we have 24 hours a day and we have to sleep at least 6, some 4. They all steal participation or readers from others. The problem is that content has been saturated, saturated of publications and social media; and the best practices of modern communication imply the constant creation of content. That saturates the user and makes that most of the content is not read or is read very little.
The path taken by many of the journalists who want to be independent is always invoking one of the most attractive types of content that is controversial, and political in the case of Ecuador. Always with a political tinge, of opposition, which generates followers, but ends up being an irrelevant audience in volume and depends on what we said before, the business model, the goal of journalism in this area, of doing something sustainable which is not always a channel of protest but a media of communication.
Q: Do these audiences have any particular feature?
It is always wanted more research journalism trying to stand out as intelligent journalism. Journalism is theoretically targeted at upper and upper middle socioeconomic levels, where users have completed higher education and a Master‘s degree; and where opinion, data and statistics are precisely focused on them. Its audience is very small, highly focused, and that is exactly the opportunity and main threat they have to grow and be more relevant.
Q: Do you know what is the level of Internet access in Ecuador?
The official studies that were made have two problems: they take the first measurement considering the scope of potential Internet users in public places that have WIFI. As the millennium schools are schools located in satellite neighborhoods where Internet access is only found there. They assume that everyone who goes to that school access, and their families and more. The quantity exploded.
The other problem is that they take a mobile measurement and a desktop one. The initial figure came out at 125%, neglecting the desktop and mobile aggregated use. The average figure that we handle, even having this great limitation, is that there is an average of 13 million Ecuadorians with Internet access, which then lowers to the average of user in the different social networks. The level is not as low.
We have 11 million Facebook accounts, because some people have 2 or 3 accounts, but the real and more interesting data is that there is an average of between 6.5 and 7 million monthly active users. There we have a stronger and real figure. If we compare 11 to 13 million, we have between 85% to 88% of users in Ecuador with a Facebook account. It can be assumed in that sense, because there is no exact report, but we have already the benchmark volume of Twitter users, with 1.2 million active users to February 2017. In 215 Linkedin we have 1.6 million active users and finally in Instagram 2.7 million users, of which 1.2 are active. In terms of mobile users, and there comes the big social networking statistics, the 84%. Why is that happening? Because of smartphones. For example, many people have a smartphone but don’t have data plan, so they search for WIFI and connect to social networks fundamentally.
We will always have mobile users as a determining factor because of smartphones that I can get from 50 dollars which already have access to Internet and people use them for that. Official numbers of social networks are those that help to map out better.
Q: Do you consider that these digital media have, in general terms, access to market or audience research?
The main tools that they should use to find out what interests they have and the more relevant issues people are talking about, not only on social media but on digital media as well, are the digital tools such as Google trends, keywords, own audience statistics from the Facebook‘s audience manager, audience studies on Twitter. They should do it, although I am not aware if they are doing it. You can see that they follow the current situation, what is being talked about at the moment; and carry research on the spot and publish it. About 10 or 15% of the stories are worth following, the rest are left in the past.
Q: Do you consider that these digital media ensure somehow the quality of their contents?
There is plenty of research and the content is of much higher quality than what is seen in traditional media on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, traditional media have become a replicator of international, local and agency sources. Local journalists are bored themselves of covering news instead of researching, and the little research that is done ends up being too marginal compared to what native media present. They do strive for a higher level of research and specialization to improve the quality of content.
Q: Can we say then that this media ensure a certain degree of professionalism in their staff?
They have to be undoubtedly communication professionals and communication entrepreneurs as well. There is a mix going on in journalism.
Journalists compete, manage and work alongside bloggers and professionals who write but do not have a journalistic background. So teams are better trained but not necessarily in journalism. There are shortcomings in communication and some types of publications that may have less journalistic elements but more of other factors from the different areas of knowledge of those who write.
When an economist writes I move away a bit of readability but the content is much stronger and often when a journalist writes, in many cases fail on issues of specialization instead. Journalists, communicators, marketers, bloggers and YouTubers work in media now because you do not need a medium per se or a newspaper when it comes to print. It is even a trend that many bloggers are following worldwide: They throw themselves into Instagram or Youtube only, limiting their communication but specializing in a format, style and platform on which they believe they can be more successful.
Q: Do you consider that these digital media have somehow managed to ensure their journalistic independence?
The thing is «independent» is a relative term, independent of what? At the time I am within a media I am not 100% independent because like it or not, there is a guideline. The independent would be «I write about what I want and what I want is published and what I want is distributed», which is the major problem. As we said before anyone can post anything, but having the right distribution, through influencer channels, databases that assure me the scope, that is another story.
I think that if they have a more independent guideline they have less control, but it always depends on the managers who direct each of these media. When I start having journalistic guidelines I’m already ceasing to be independent, even if I have one line, or an influence, because I’m not going to be able to do what I want. There, what is often taking place is the mixed model: I cooperate with various media, which is also happening with the independent journalist, and parallel I do what I want. It is a risk to the media and benefit for the journalist.
Anyway, what is happening is that the readership is receding in many cases from the media and is focusing on journalists, then we won’t unfollow the media, reading and consuming media content, but its main complement and enemy at the same time, is precisely the independent journalist.
When you talk to the media and is said «we must empower journalists because good journalists are those who generates their own research, their point of view, their added value, I will start following the journalist‖. The media doesn’t like it, but it happens.
The media themselves have said at the beginning «we need to strengthen the networks of each journalist», but the journalist begins to distribute their own content through these social networks. Like it or not, the journalist is increasingly getting more independent from any media, becoming himself the media that needs the counterpart of their media to get the scope. It is a marriage in a new format, the format is an open relationship. That would be the concept of the independent journalist.
Q: Regarding to the journalistic transparency when it comes to the use of sources, do digital media in Ecuador make use of these tools for publishing content and sources?
Most do. The problem, and not only in Ecuador, is what kind of sources I’m quoting. It is a common practice to quote the source and include hyperlinks, which certainly gives more credibility on the one hand and protects the creator of the content. That is a trend, but more than a trend is a reality. It is not treated with the detail it should be because everything should be quoted: Photos, commentaries, links, paragraphs. These are quoted and I dare give a percentage, around 40%, but yes they are used.
Q: And these media appeal to other tools, other measures provided by Internet to promote transparency?
Having open platforms for discussion. Official or traditional media can’t have this kind of resource. Reader’s comments that appear on a platform or medium end up being the medium’s opinion. That’s one of the blows of the Communications Law to the media, because they can’t generate opinion, so people at the very most type some emoticons to express whether they like it, if it upsets or excites them, but there is no room for discussion.
Q: The law may actually reach the user or does it attack the media?
The media. Theoretically it doesn’t attack the user, I say theoretically because cases are heard of them going after who generates the opinion. I can’t comment on the media website, but I can on its social networks. So what happens is that I have the same story with 28000 comments and insults, pro, against; there is the opinion.
The downside is that there is not a historical record, because hardly anyone will look for what the interaction was on specific news, although it is a relatively valid journalistic source, because I’m seeing the people’s opinion. I would get in trouble validating what accounts are trolls and what accounts are not trolls. It is the same as the problem of the media. If I publish the news on Facebook, who owns the news: is it Facebook with better content, or is it the media through Facebook? The cruel reality is that it is Facebook in many cases.
Q: Do you consider the transparency of a digital media is a prerequisite for the viability of the media?
Can a non-transparent media survive in the market for a long time? Depending on the target group or segment. We see media worldwide that end up being the main source of information for Trump or talking about extraterrestrials or more, whose transparency is almost zero because they do quote sources but they have zero credibility. Credibility is the essence: Transparent media build confidence and precisely after years facing fake news and incorrect in-formation that deceive people and confuse them, transparency with solid sources will increase their credibility.
Q: Now I get into the strong part of the research that has to do with business models. Broadly speaking, do you consider there is a trend of business model of these digital media, if any?
They are very diverse and very informal. I think there is no concrete, formal or even medium-term plan. The line of management is possibly annual, based more on a daily basis or on projects. Funding is procured for specific projects, for research and outreach.
Q: Do you consider there are entry barriers for digital media in this country?
No. In order to get more reach the limitation could be economic. Depending only on influencers is very expensive, depending only on experts is a very slow way, investment for distribution and to generate reach is required. It is not a huge investment, but the investment to found a medium is minimal.
Q: And in Ecuador is there a financial environment that encourages the emergence or development of digital media?
By this I mean if there is private capital or financing funds, etc. There are plenty of entrepreneurship programs, some of them very well managed, others more or less and others badly, but I’m not aware of any entrepreneurship program focused on communication or media. There was a strong government campaign some time ago to support the professional specialization in communication with a digital approach, but more from the point of view of management rather than entrepreneurship.
Q: Well, and you were telling me about the variability in relation to sources of funding. Is there any source of funding that is preferred by digital media?
Media live on advertising as their main income. In average, 80% of their revenues come from advertising and 20% from subscriptions. There comes the creativity of what to put in «advertising» and what to put in «subscriptions». There I have supporters; if I have donations, if I open one more category or I put it within «subscriptions» or «advertising», depending on recurrence. But the business model is clear and the problem all media face worldwide is the dependence on external funding.
Creativity is here then what is allocated to advertising and what is allocated to subscriptions. To begin with, media are content factories: Content is what other media, companies and entrepreneurs want the most. There are great opportunities for media then, depending on their business model, the purpose of their organization and the available resources. Then it is a great challenge to define the mix of flow of cash that they should have to be sustainable, profitable, without losing their journalistic line, without becoming content curators.
Q: Do these digital media in Ecuador publish information regarding to, for example the work teams? Are columns generally signed? Do they have for instance a code of ethics? Or, do they publish their sources of funding?
Not here, only a few sign. Those who do are the experts or the most controversial journalists, but they are proportionally a minority.
Q: And why not?
Fear of persecution or something, just because of the line they have taken. If I’m going to start an opposition medium I have a choice: Either I keep my anonymity and hide behind the medium‘s brand or fully face the possible consequences.
Q: Considering their financial resources, do you see the editorial independence of alternative online news media at risk?
I think they are not attached because they have no strategic funding model. It is being provided by projects; they may or may not be. I could not give you an answer because if I’m writing for a specific project I get funding from that source. If my advertising income depends on subscriptions, tools like Google AdSense or advertising platforms like Facebook Instant Articles, I have no limitation or pressure from the sources of funding. The larger the medium, the less the dependency it has on the source of funding that affects my journalistic approach.
Q: When it comes to human resources, how are the structures of these organizations? Less hierarchical than those of traditional media?
Much less hierarchical, much more flexible, with less dependence on a physical space. Human resources are much easier to recruit in this regard since they are often referrals from the acquaintance of an acquaintance of an acquaintance. The invited author is the one who ends up being present in the medium. With the exception of big media, they don’t even have an editorial planning by categories or sections, but it is improvised as it comes. The larger the media, I’m already dividing and creating a 100% digital media, as media with different categories that ends up being a media group.
Q: How do you assess the availability of qualified professional staff for alternative online news media in Ecuador?
There are very good professionals in all areas. But there is a deficit precisely in digital planning. There is a lack of knowledge of how to integrate digital technology with traditional and there is where both communication and marketing management are failing.
Q: Is that because of lack of professionals? Lack of professionals, why?
Because there is lack of training and because there is a serious lack of training programs. The academic offering in all what is related to digital is pathetic. It has become a makeshift training. The most serious sources have also fallen into the error of wanting to launch a very well structured program, but they don’t find the teachers. If I can’t find them locally, I have to see the best from the outside, and if I can’t find anything outside I have to see further, and if not I have to generate my own training line.
The problem is that most professionals in digital topics are improvised, which is fine to start but I need a guide, I need to know if I’m doing well. Logically digital media continue evolving but the strategy is always the same. The error of the media has been thinking «I’m digital». No, I cannot think of being digital. People are on- and offline. So even if I have a media with 100% online content, my interaction must be given beyond online. I say online talking about desktop by definition. By the time the mobile takes such relevance, it is already thought: is it online or offline? Content based on geo-positioning, is it online or is it closer to offline or local? And how do I materialize it? I have different media and the format may continue reaching via digital, but my consumption is no longer just digital, per se, at 100% And if I want to succeed in digital, I have to succeed in the physical.
The media 100% digital end desperately needing physical tools, in many cases end returning from digital to traditional through public relations. In another sense, if I have an excellent online newsletter, I need to improve distribution with physical tools. Because nowhere in the world the physical has disappeared. Latin America is the sector or group of countries maintaining growth in print, a minimal growth, of 1 or 2%, but it does not decay.
People are migrating, are changing their behavior, but the other factor that affects 100% digital media is that people rely more on physical. If we talk about news, about opposition, free press, of all this line, I need the physical, because it is the most reliable. If it is in paper, it’s true.
The thing is, because there are many fake news online people are confused and no longer want to read trash. While a strategy of false news is kept, of native advertising, of trolls, of all that media this new line, while it keeps exploiting, the trust will continue migrating.
I’m not saying that I will stop reading online, but I’ll follow leaning towards brands that provide me more trust. Brands that have been for many years in the market and have an editorial line as independent as possible, will be relevant again. Nobody wants to read prejudiced news. People want the truth; that will give transparency and for that I need the offline. The strategy must be one.
Q: Are working conditions for digital journalists competitive in relation to the conditions of a traditional media journalist?
By this I mean income, job security, freedom of work. The more independent a journalist is, the less job security they have because they practically work with single projects and their income is lower. Also because, from my point of view, no independent medium is profitable in Ecuador. Precisely because of the lack of a business model, diversification, reach and innovation. If I don’t grow I don’t distribute my content, and that ends up being the saddest story for media and journalists.
You have the best content in the country, but nobody reads it. Why? Because you have no distribution strategy or reach. And when you have the outreach strategy, you don’t have a strategy to keep people coming back and reading your source. People don’t remember where they read from. Did I read it in your journal or was it a post on Twitter or Facebook, or was it a video without audio, was it a text? It ends being the story of the old advertising: I saw a commercial, was great, and what was the brand advertised, I have no idea.
Q: What do you think are be the main changes or challenges that may face these digital natives over the coming years?
To keep going because of the business model, innovation, diversification, and the outreach, interaction and loyalty strategy. And to take into account the great change that is empowering journalists. In the end, you are in some cases creating a new brand where journalists are stronger than the own media brand. Media will depend on the quality of its journalists and the filters they set up, like when you want to write for the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Getting to write there is «wow, I made it». But who are they, those who are making it? It will be even more important the ―who‖ and the ―what‖ remains behind. And they even have a blog and their publications. And meanwhile, there are media which they collaborate with. It is even a subject of digital strategy.
The SEO is giving me more authority and relevance as much as I am read and shared, and as much stable I get in the number of publications and my track record. It is ironic that a technical aspect set by search engines, mainly Google, turns out being an excellent guide of the business model that I must follow. And it ends being the basics: I have to write and have a good SEO. And what do I have to do to have a good SEO? Everything we said before. And what a good SEO is for? To be read much more, so you can have greater authority and relevance.
Q: What is your take on the success factors that have enabled these digital natives to be on the market today?
Differentiation and influencers. They have had a different point of view and tried to be the purple cow of the communication environment. They have done it through influencers in many cases in order to get credibility.
If a medium is called ‗target practice‘ it has zero credibility. But credibility improves if you relate target practice to a certain kind of influencers and experts. And their prospects are much more positive if the content is good. That’s the challenge: Continuity is required for media, journalists, influencers, experts and all the distribution elements.