In contrast with more traditional newsrooms, the Dominican Republic’s El Mitin got its start on Instagram — before even launching its own website. It was the first step the outlet took to attract young audiences interested in political news.
The newsroom continues to grow, transforming the way politics is talked about in the Caribbean. To this day, it is the only platform of its kind in the Dominican Republic.
“El Mitin,” or “political rally” in Spanish, tapped into a young audience with great social awareness and an interest in getting involved with politics. Its goal is to bring visibility to politics, both past and present, in a vibrant way, without diluting complex issues. Its motto? “Politics for everyone.”
The idea to launch the news outlet emerged at a time when the Dominican Republic was approaching its first open primary elections in 2019, explained co-founder Paola Tejeda. Many people were new voters and felt disengaged from politics, not just because of the candidates but also due to the media landscape.
“Media outlets that cover politics do so in a very traditional way. A first-time voter, who is probably between 18 and 24 years old, does not watch television [news], listen to the radio, or read print newspapers. If that person goes on a [news] website, it is often sporadically,” said Tejeda, adding that she wanted a way for young people to consume political news without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed. “I was also not drawn in with the way social networks cover politics because the way they present information is very dense, with a lack of context.”
A little over a year after starting El Mitin, Tejeda, an expert in advertising communication, and her co-founder, Shenda Medina, a documentary filmmaker, put together a team of four young people who produce articles, graphics, videos and opinion pieces.
Through its work, the team has introduced young voters to moral and civic issues, as well as pressing topics like abortion, citizen mobilization, discrimination in health centers, and migratory populism. They also report on other more underreported issues.
El Mitin’s versatility has allowed it to create content for a variety of platforms, including YouTube and Telegram. “The important thing is to build [audience] loyalty [which is achieved by] follow-up and perseverance,” Medina said. “Our audience did not start off large; it was something that we had to nurture to grow.”
In its short history, El Mitin has reported on decisive moments and national crises in the Dominican Republic. While trying, the experiences ultimately benefited the organization. For instance, the outlet’s audience grew rapidly in February 2020 after the cancellation of the municipal elections in the country. It was the first time elections were canceled in the country, due to alleged sabotage of automated voting machines. COVID-19 heightened complications, causing the presidential elections to be suspended until May 2020, during a peak in cases of the virus.
The pandemic pushed the team to question how best to report on politics during the global health crisis, when many people would be more attentive toward health issues. They elected to continue their political reporting, to provide their audience with much-needed transparency. “The pandemic exacerbated many problems, which are issues that are political and impact people’s daily lives,” said Tejeda. “For Dominicans, politics is an eventuality. At the same time, politics is a part of everything we do, which is why we approach it from multiple angles.”
El Mitin’s team thought that, after the country’s elections, readers might lose interest in the platform and its content. The exact opposite happened. As the newly elected Modern Revolutionary Party rose to power, people became more politically aware than ever. Younger people also started to pay attention to politics due to the Anti-Octopus Case, the country’s most controversial judicial trial of 2020, a corruption case that was broadcasted in real-time on social media and TV.
With new actors and political events developing in the country today, El Mitin plans to forge ahead with the strategy that has worked for the outlet so far, while also committing to develop a more sustainable business model.
The team is cautious, too, paying mind to news strategy and the areas of the island they cover. One of El Mitin’s goals is to decentralize their content to cover what happens outside of Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. With a more balanced perspective, the team hopes to better represent their audience.
“As long as our audience continues to grow we will always be rethinking our media and business strategies,” said Tejeda.
Indhira Suero Acosta is a journalist and ambassador for SembraMedia and Connectas, based in the Dominican Republic. She is a former Fulbright scholar and creator of Negrita Come Coco, promoting popular culture and Afro-descendants.