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.)
The preliminary results of the study were presented by Margarita Torres, professor at the Universidad Iberoamericana, and Jordy Melendez of Factual, one of the organizers of the forum. The presenters cautioned that the study is still in progress and that there are not yet any conclusions or recommendations.
Of the 34 news sites from 11 countries, many considered leaders in digital media, 62 percent never interact with their audience in social media, another 32 percent do so "from time to time," and only 6 percent interchange comments with the audience every day.
"It seems to me to be a big mistake" not to interact with the audience, Juanita Leon, founder and publisher of the website La Silla Vacia, said later in an interview. Her site is one of the 6 percent that interacts with users daily. The idea is to create a loyal community of followers rather than mere spectators. She takes pride in saying the staff at La Silla respond to every comment.
Another data point from the study: only 15 percent of the publishers gave thought to their business model before launching. Leon admitted that she was guilty of the same thing five years ago when she started her investigative news site in Colombia.
As far as financing models, 19 of the sites are businesses and 15 are nonprofits.
- 38% generate revenue from advertising only
- 19% receive grants from international organizations such as the Open Society Foundation
- 15% combine advertising with other sources
- 17% are part of a larger media organization that subsidizes their operations
- 11% are supported by a university
Other signs of the lack of innovation among these 34 sites, according to Melendez, are:
- little use of maps, graphics, or other visualizations: 47 percent publish them only once a month and 32 percent never do.
- only 9 percent have responsive design in which the content is optimized for smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. This is in spite of the fact that the audience for news on mobile devices is growing rapidly. Melendez mentioned that 70 percent of Mexicans with smartphones use them to consume news.
- three-fourths of the sites aggregate content from other publications. But the one-fourth who focus on producing their own content are the ones that have won journalism prizes and have been recognized for the quality of their work, he said.
These themes of entrepreneurial journalism and new methods of financing recurred through many of the sessions during the Forum.
James Breiner is a former ICFJ Knight Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. Visit his websites News Entrepreneurs and Periodismo Emprendedor en Iberoamérica.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via JD Lasica.