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Online Political Journalism: United States vs Mexico
The United States
Before our research even began, we realized that a shift in the political sphere had happened in the U.S. with the presidential campaign of 2008. The Obama campaigners made extensive use of online media to address and mobilize voters. Obama didn't stop after his campaign. Today, Obama continues to use social media as a tool to mobilize citizens and 'debunk myths. The Los Angeles Times ran an article in August,2009 entitled " White House using social media to debunk myths about healthcare reform.According to The Los Angeles times, the administration launched a Web page called
Health Insurance Reform: Reality Check
that disputes popular criticism of the new healthcare policies. The well designed website site contains video testimony from advisers and experts. But the White house went one step further blasting links to the package out to more than 3000,000 fans on Facebook and more than 900,000 on Twitter. It went even one step further when users of the social news site Digg voted Reality Check to the site’s homepage, which potentially exposes the healthcare site to millions. The Los Angeles times believes social media is helping the White House broadcast their message but aren't assured that it is the right audience. Nonetheless, the Obama administration is dabbling in these social media forums as a way to reach a larger audience.
Due to widespread frustration with politics and politicians in Mexico one can assume relatively more public willingness in the U.S. to participate in projects of political journalism. This participation is becoming more feasible in the digital era. Candidate and now President Barack Obama has made use of this technology and seems to have been able to spark a revived interest in politics among the "digital generation." However, our findings seem to indicate that those interested in online political journalism comparable to Animal Politico's approach are much older: Quancast.com an online site that measures audience data for online sites shows some interesting findings (below).
This is a broad umbrella for "The Politico", a Washington, DC based organization that distributes its content via television, the Internet
( Politico.com), newspaper, and radio. Its coverage includes Congress, Washington, D.C. lobbying, and the presidency. Politico.com reported extensively on the recent presidential election of Barack Obama.
5.4 Million monthly U.S. users, 5.8 global
(Mexico 6,711 0.11 6 0.09 5)
(Source: Quantcast, http://www.quantcast.com/politico.com#traffic)
THE HUFFINGTON POST
The Huffington Post
(often referred to as HuffPost) is an American liberal news website and aggregated blog featuring various news sources and columnists.
15.6 Million monthly users, 19.8 global
(Source: Quantcast, http://www.quantcast.com/huffingtonpost.com)
THE DAILY BEAST
The Daily Beast
is a news reporting and opinion website. The Daily Beast is known for its 'Cheat Sheet,' which showcases "must-reads" from different online news sources.
2 Million monthly users
(Source: Quantcast, http://www.quantcast.com/thedailybeast.com)
This data shows that the main audiences of political online magazines is generally dominated by men over women, older users, Caucasians and the highly educated. This structure varies between the different formats but Politico.com, having a similar approach to Animal Politico (it is more focused on behind-the-scenes political life than the other websites), is particularly instructive regarding these trends.
After our discussions with the Animal Politico team we expect a similar social pattern for the potential audience in Mexico. However, we see two obstacles:
First, especially people involved in politics and the DC orbit use Politico.com. Congressmen, their circles, and lobbyists are a major subset of the users. Animal Politico expects a similar audience in Mexico but needs to take into account that types of coverage may not be as easy to compare. If Animal Politico pursues its concept to cover more than the Mexican mainstream media monopoly - including more sensitive issues - the question arises which audience will be most interested in this coverage? Parts of the elite may reject this form of investigative journalism in Mexico. Therefore, causing potential conflict when transferring the audience pattern that is dominated by the politically involved. Other groups of people who are politically interested but less involved in the institutions may be more susceptible to this content. However, the general goal to present up-to-date information about Mexican politics is certainly of great interest to politicians and others working in the political sphere.
Second, and this is a general and not Mexico-specific obstacle, the group of people that is interested in the type of information Animal Politico offers is not the group that is particularly internet-minded. This audience is older than average. On the one hand this is not as big an obstacle as it first appears. The target audience in Mexico is indeed relatively old (compared to the average internet user) but is also more equipped with new technology than their age cohort on average. They are comparatively wealthy and use both the internet and other new media devices (e.g.: iPhones and Blackberries) and can therefore be reached by Animal Politico. On the other hand, platforms like Animal Politico could see the high internet usage of young people as an advantage compared to traditional media and engage to raise young people's interest in politics.
According to Rasmussen Reports, nearly one-third of "younger Americans" (under 40) are replacing traditional news-oriented programming with satirical news- oriented television like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Americans under 40 are far more likely than older Americans to view programs like this as influential.
Fourteen percent (14%) of those 18-29 say they are "very influential," compared to just one percent (1%) of those over age 65 who say this. According to a telephone survey, not only are younger readers avoiding the daily print product, but they are not shifting their allegiance to newspapers’ Web sites in large numbers which is what newspapers' future business plans have been counting on.
While this information pertains to the United States' market, it might be beneficial for Animal Politico to try to tap into the young population through alternatives to traditional news.
Animal Politico has the opportunity to become the news source for a younger generation and to get them involved in ways they never have been before. Animal Politico might benefit from a satirical columnist on its website that could draw in young readers. Because Animal Politico is not affiliated with any local news media it has the opportunity to create its own voice, like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show have done in America.
In a country like Mexico whose population is young, there is certainly great potential and, considering the widepspread frustration with politics, a first step to foster participation might lie in a more attractive presentation of information.
Aesthetics: What do some of these pages look like?
The overall look of a website can have great impact on the readership of the site. When we looked at the statistics of three major political online news sites and found the majority were upper class, white, males, we went beyond the obvious political reasons and looked at the more “creative” aspects that might contribute to these statistics specifically concerning the online mediums. When building a website, it is critical to think about your readership and decide what needs they may have and what they are looking for when they come to the site. Therefore, you must ask yourself what do these layouts look like? What are the colors? What is the typeface? What is the main content on the page? We all know that if something doesn’t attract our eye we are easily turned away.
79% of Politico.com’s readers are males over the age of 50. With one quick glance the website seems extremely masculine. Immediately, the eye is drawn to the font and colors on the website. Beginning with the san serif, all capitalized logo and headers in red, white and blue, compared to The Huffington Post with teal and white and the logo in a more scripted serif font. Out of the three major players,
he Huffington Post
attracts the largest female audience. We hypothesize that this is true because of the colors and overall look but also the content on the page. Immediately when you look at the masthead you see “gossip” such as Tiger Woods. In this capacity, The Huffington Post can automatically draw a wider audience because they have sections like “style”, “ living,” “entertainment,”and “media”. While women are interested in politics and what is going on, they would be more apt to log on to one website to get all their information than go to multiple sites.
The Daily Beast
provides entertainment news as well. While the titles are a little more “ unique” they speak to a wider audience. With such headers as “Sexy Beast”, “Art Best”, “Giving Beast” people are automatically drawn in that may not necessarily be interested in political news. While the “news” of the day(currently, Obama’s address to the nation regarding Afghanistan) might be front and center, if you scroll down the page you will see stories like “ Girl Power” The Year of Women Fighting Back”, “The Mysterious Mrs. Woods”, “Meghan McCain: My Anger at Obama” or “The 25 Smartest People of the Decade.” Basically, whatever you are in the mood to read at that moment you will probably be able to find on The Huffington Post or The Daily Beast. They have incorporated news into their main missions but also realize that if they want to attract a wider audience that they must expand their content.
The design may be a factor explaining the audience pattern of
and the other websites in our research. However, we argue that this is rather a reflection than the reason for the current structure. Women and younger people are not per se less interested in politics and more into gossip – the audience of
consists of people involved in politics(male, over 50 years old) and the design and coverage is based on their tastes and preferences.
Animal Politico will have to decide if they want to be like
or if they want to gain a wider audience that can look to them as a "go to" medium. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so broad like
The Huffington Post
, but it could be political gossip in Mexico or more investigative stories that tell untold stories. With the duopoly in Mexico the only stories that are being told are the ones that are being censored by the media moguls. What else is out there? According to Elemberg, they are going to go find out no matter what it takes. That is part of being a good journalist, he says.
Supplementary Articles on U.S. News Trends:
The Pew Research Center for People & the Press
60% of young adult American's get their news from the TV...
Young Adults get their news from Comedy Shows?
Colbert Stewart Alternatives to Traditional News?
Newspapers Are Out
According to Gapminder
Mexico’s Internet user population in 2008 was of about 25 million people, which represent 21 percent of the country’s total population.
This represents a 5.5 percent increase from the amount of users in 2007.
Notwithstanding the relatively small amount of users and the fact that the income per capita is less than 12 thousand dollars (US), broadband connections in Mexico are among the most expensive and slow, even below other offerings in Latin America. According to a report from Signals Telecom Consulting,
while companies such as Telmex –whose owner is the infamous mogul Carlos Slim- in Mexico offer a connection of 2 Mbps to 71.61 dollars, in Colombia ETB sells 6 Mbps to 46.89 dollars and Telefonica in Chile has an 8 Mbps service for 59.
In the case of Telmex, also includes a package of local and long distance telephony, but the rest of the comparisons of firms offer more services than broadband. Furthermore, in 2008, almost 61 percent of Internet users accessed this service through computers that were outside their home, which represents 14.1 million Internet users. Of these, 64 percent have no computer at home and the rest do have personal computers but not Internet connectivity. However, the Internet remains one of the few independent and democratic spaces available for launching a new medium such as Animal Politico in Mexico. Daniel Eilemberg, on the other hand, states that
the Internet offers huge advantages that other mediums do not, in that it allows immediacy, interaction with readers, the ability to report on any mobile device, and the relationship that the medium builds with its audience, which is very important. Making people part of the news is one of the premises of Animal Politico.
According to Roberto Rock, Editor in Chief of Animal Politico, one of the main advantages of the project is
that it is founded by foreign capital, which allows it to avoid the traditional ties that the media owners have with important actors from the political sphere, whether due to business, friendship, or ideological and partisan identity, and often limits their willingness to report on certain issues. One of Animal Politico´s goals is to have greater autonomy with respect to this Mexican political culture where, unlike what happens in the U.S., publishers are more restricted and are constrained by the owner’s commitments. Animal Politico seeks to compete with those who are used to having a monopoly on information and the Internet will allow it to do so as it represents a new possibility to offer information through various channels.
Most of the reporters and editors that will be joining Animal Politico are people who are tired of being limited regarding the issues that can or cannot touch, or people about whom they cannot write. The Animal Politico staff is now debating
about whether it is sufficient to have only an Internet platform to gain the influence that they are looking for and also develop a business model. "We are considering having strategic alliances with other media, a periodically print publication as they did in Politico.com since its inception, or perhaps a radio station to combine with the website and achieve a higher penetration," said Rock.
Similar Initiatives in the Past
There have been a few similar initiatives in the past years to establish an interactive multimedia news website in Mexico. Although not comparable they somewhat reach the same group of people that Animal Politico would be targeting. These are Reporte Indigo and Eje Central.
Launched in 2006, Reporte Indigo, in the words of its founder Ramon Alberto Garza means a "digital media experience." It covers policy issues, economics, and social interest news. It paints a very interesting picture of what the new lines of communication will be like in Mexico. It is defined as an opening, free exercise of communication. It is very new and very dynamic, where one can access not only information and data, but analysis and a very comprehensive understanding of issues.
according to Garza
, "is a digital media experience which integrates writing, video, and audio to journalism, to give people not only information but understanding. It does not pretend to compete with the newspapers, but to help understand what lies behind things and entertain at the same time. We want to help people to be better citizens."
Reporte Indigo is a project of Indigomedia México S.A. de C.V. headquartered in the city of Monterrey. According to startbrain.com it is visited by an average of
4,097 individuals per day
. Above all, Reporte Indigo was conceived to be an alternative medium that will privilege contents that the mass media don’t present or they try hide amid hundreds of irrelevant information.
Run by Raymundo Riva Palacio, a former editor of El Universal (Mexico’s biggest newspaper), Eje Central highlights the most important news from other media on its home page. The page is supplemented by some exclusive columnists and incorporates YouTube videos that are linked to important sources of information.
At the moment, Eje Central serves primarily an informative function, allowing interaction among users and agglutinating information generated by other media. However,
Riva Palacio acknowledges
that "the evolution of the media resulting from the rapid emergence of new technologies makes necessary the creation of an Internet environment that generates its own content". That means that they do not want to lose its identity as a website that is capable of researching, creating, and reporting independently.
Analysis of Opportunities for Animal Politico in Mexico
Comic of Mr. Emilio Azcarraga, owner of Televisa, walking two congressmen from The PAN and PRI political parties
Mexico could have 100 million phones in the near future in about two years, and a reasonable estimation would be that about half will have Internet access. So it will be important to consider having a presence in cellular devices of various types, utilizing Internet, SMS messages, and smart phone (e.g. iPhone or Blackberry) application platforms.
Current Situation of Mexican Congress
The balance of power has been changing in Mexico since 1997. Now, there is a shared government and congress plays an increasingly important role in making decisions relevant to many areas of the country. While some people think the solution is to give the voice back to the Congress, this project believes that it is necessary to look very carefully what happens in government in general and in other regions of the country. Certainly there are many people who despise what happens in Congress and in politics in general. But Animal Politico should aim to help these people discover that the political arena does generates information relevant to their daily lives, which influences decisions they have to take.
Comparatively, Mexico has fewer Internet websites than many similarly-sized countries in Latin America and the developed world. Considering its population, income per capita, internet penetration and other indicators, Mexico should have a significantly higher number of Internet projects. The lack of this kind of initiatives might have both beneficial and detrimental impacts for Animal Politico. It may be detrimental because there is insufficient Internet penetration, and very few people in Mexico consumes it as part of their daily lives. However, this can be beneficial to them because there are fewer competitors, which offers a first-mover opportunity to establish a leading innovative project in this market.
Opportunities vs. Existing Projects
As mentioned above, there are very few Internet projects that feature political news in Mexico. According to Rock, there may be only a couple dozen of websites of a similar nature, and these are primarily columnist's blogs or small journalistic groups. Such political news websites are very scarce. Some newspapers and magazines do have an online websites, but enterprises which feature an Internet-only project are few and far between.
Reporte Indigo provides important insights to its customers, and is an electronic magazine which features good technological resources. It has a journalistic angle that many people like, but it is not comparable with the product that Animal Politico is looking for. In the case of Eje Central, it falls into another category which includes less serious information such as rumors and gossip from the political arena. It serves primarily as a link of content from other news sites.
In general, magazine and newspaper websites witness higher usage, but represent a sector with more competition. However, advantages can arise from being involved in such a sector, as these websites may serve to be a platform by which consumers get introduced to political content. Once the interest is sparked and searches are made for resources that provide more in-depth political news analysis, that may eventually bring these consumers to Animal Politico.
Animal Politico and Development
Transparency and Accountability
Through this project, Animal Politico aims to bring greater transparency to the actions of members of the political class. This is something that they are not used to. For years, many Mexican politicians have been accustomed to working without pressure from their constituents. Many of them would just attend occasional congressional meetings and vote only on important issues. The absence of information on their daily actions has created a lack of initiative among elected representatives, alleviating the political pressure that should be exerted upon them.
Rock explains: "The difference is that Animal Politico will submit detailed information on the congressional agenda, how each Representative or Senator is voting. Also, matters such as how the federal and state governments and Congress are processing the transparency issues will be reported." This project will draw out a greater level of accountability from political representatives, who will for the first time feel compelled to keep their campaign promises, or at least provide reasons for their delay or failure. With the transparency and accountability that comes with Animal Politico's coverage, the aim is to create a political scene where politicians will really have to work for their constituencies if they wish to get their party re-elected.
Political Independence of the Media
According to Rock, there is a tendency amidst the media to line up around some parties and some characters towards the elections of 2012. Many of these characters have become "untouchables". This project seeks to ensure that these politicians no longer remain "untouchable". This will not be done through "yellow journalism" but by a mission to cover issues that are not addressed by the mainstream media, be it due to commercial interests or political sympathies. The development of such an independent media outlet would represent an important development in the Mexican media industry.
Information for Better Governance
In any journalistic exercise, the goal should be to convey objective information aimed at solving essential community problems. We should also imagine that this information represents a tool that helps people to make decisions that help them to govern themselves in a better way. Rock affirms this thought, "I hope this portal contributes importantly to this goal because this is the mission of it: giving people tools to govern themselves”
The Los Angeles Times "White House Using Social Media to debunk 'myths' about healthcare reform", The Los Angeles Times, April 10,2009.
Rasmussen Reports, "Nearly One-Third of Younger Americans See Colbert, Stewart As Alternatives to Traditional News Outlets", Rasmussen Reports, March 25, 2009.
Rasmussen Reports, "30% Read Local Print Newspaper Regularly, Just 8% Read It Online That Way", Rasmussen Reports, March 4, 2009.
Gapminder World Interactive Chart
Mejía, Angelina. “La banda ancha en México es cara y lenta”, El Universal Online, March 31, 2009.
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