Colombian startup goes beyond reporting, launches public conversation around current issues

by Ana Luisa González
Jan 23, 2019 in Audience Engagement

In an era of experimentation and transformation in journalism, new publishing models have been pushing back against traditional media. That’s the case of Mutante, a Spanish-language online project based in Colombia that produces investigative reporting for social change.

Behind this platform is a team of thirteen people — including editors, reporters and video journalists — that aims to generate a conversation among different parties of civil society on the most relevant social issues of our time. For instance, sexual assault, which was their first topic.

In 2017, Juan Camilo Maldonado, a former director of VICE Colombia, and Nicolás Vallejo, the former editor of Noisey, quit their jobs and started a communication agency that brings content services for social change to the private sector.

Together they brought Mutante to fruition in October. They launched with a series of in-depth investigative pieces on cases of sexual assault in which the victims were underage girls. They launched a huge discussion by media outlets and on social media channels that included several experts, victims, institutions and readers.

Mutate is not just another media outlet. The project is designing a new kind of journalism that goes beyond publishing investigative pieces. They use the motto “talk, understand, act” to describe their process and goals. Maldonado defines this project as “a mutant that arose from the conviction that journalism should transform.” He believes journalism has a transformative role in our society and the audience should embrace it.

“We don’t understand journalism as a process which starts with investigative reporting and ends with an article,” says Maldonado. “Instead, we believe that journalism has constant feedback, which is done collectively with its audience.”

Because of their belief in the power of their audience, the team’s mission is to create a network of citizens that can kick-start a conversation to help them understand the world around them better and transform the issues surrounding them.

Mutante stands out for its uniquely collaborative approach to making journalism with its audience. “Journalism is a mechanism to generate discussion and conversations,” says Nicolás Vallejo the creative director “We validate the audience as capable of sparking a conversation on the era of social media. This has led us to do a more contemporary and independent journalism.”

Maldonado adds that one of the inspirations for this project was The Correspondent and La Diaria, both which involve their communities and empower them to take action. These projects also foster an important sense of belonging and activate communication channels that really empower the community.

Mutante’s team uses channels like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Medium to bring users knowledge that they reproduce and spread for free. Mutante calls on the community, non-profit organizations, governments and civil society organizations to start a public conversation through social media using hashtags orlive-streaming videos to deliver knowledge and solutions on various platforms.

They also collaborate with print and broadcast media to help them launch  a public debate and build knowledge around these problems. “We are not a media outlet, we are a message,” says Maldonado.

Funding is one of the main challenges that journalism organizations are facing right now. To address this, Mutante treats its audience as potential sources and as collaborators, asking them to fund their project.

Initial funding came from Open Society Foundations, who gave them a US$25,000 grant to support four weeks of public conversation around the topic of sexual assault. They also raised more than COP30 million from 358 citizens to continue to spark future talks.

“We believe that Mutante, as a journalist project, should find new forms of independent financing,” says Maldonado. “Mutante offers services to the citizens.”

The first series of social conversations, focusing on sexual assault, was a success. The audience was able to engage with investigative reports, victims’ testimonies, and research on sexual assault. “Our dream is to become a facilitator that guides public conversations, not just locally but also in Latin America [at-large] and even globally,” says Maldonado. “This will allow us to focus on structural issues that we always need to face, and to build solutions to solve them as much as possible.”  

One of the main goals of Mutate is to make knowledge viral. The team feels that mass media depends too much on political bias, and they hope that new journalism structures that rely on public conversation begin to spread as quick as politically-charged content.

Learn more in this video (in Spanish):

Apoya el nacimiento de Mutante from Mutante on Vimeo.

This article was updated at 11:45 a.m. EST on Jan. 29, 2019.

Main image courtesy of Mutante.