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domingo, 5 de diciembre 2021
05/12/2021
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Alternative Media Reconfigure the Colombian Media Ecosystem

By: Johansson Cruz Lopera - Journalist

Alternative media have found a new space for their flourishing thanks to the possibilities of the Internet and social networks. Traditional news bulletins are going through a business model crisis, but they retain a place of relevance in the new, denser and more demanding ecosystem.

 

 

Illustration: Carolina Gomes.

"Journalism is free, or else it is a farce " Rodolfo Walsh 

A little more than a decade ago, sitting down to read a newspaper in the morning was the ideal plan for parents. Those long and difficult-to-fold formats contained enough information, with its respective analysis, to guide the opinion of many generations of Colombians. Those elaborate editions were joined by the 7:00 pm broadcast of the television news and the radio news in the early hours of the day. At that time, the media had the exclusivity of what was happening in the world. 

However, the Internet and the explosion of social networks changed everything. Now, there is a new ecosystem that is increasingly denser with more options and more users looking for different views and ways of delivering information, not only in the traditional media: radio, press, television. 

According to the Digital News Report 2021 study, by the Reuters Institute of the University of Oxford, the largest survey of media consumption in the world, 87% of respondents in Colombia say that social networks and the Internet are their main sources of news. This spectrum displaced television from the podium.

What are the reasons for the emergence of independent or alternative media, different from the traditional ones? What are they like? Has the way audiences are informed changed? Why are traditional media said to be in crisis?

One Click Away

According to Víctor García Perdomo, professor at Universidad de la Sabana and author of the Colombia chapter of the Digital News Report 2021 study, social networks are clearly changing consumption trends, no longer only associated with the printed product, the radio dial or television broadcasting. 

"In this survey, online sources stand out as the main source of information for people -—87%— and thus surpass traditional media such as television —58%— and printed media—24%. Facebook —67%— and WhatsApp —45%— are the main social networks to receive news", commented the analyst (see comparative table). 

For journalist Juan David Ortiz, UdeA professor and editor of El Armadillo, an independent journalism project from Antioquia that emerged this year, the new state of affairs has a close connection with the massification of the Internet because "this makes equipment much cheaper and the joining of forces for the creation of alternative media much more viable for people who are not necessarily from economic and political elites". 

He added that "the audiences are going through a transformation. The public debate today takes place on the Internet and not so much in the public square. In this sense, it is only natural that the media that are emerging, and those that already exist, find that social networks are an essential arena for the construction of new audiences".  

For Natalia Arenas, journalist and editor of Cerosetenta, "what is interesting here is not to see the networks only as a means of disseminating information produced by the media but also as a place where news happens and where you can interact with users to understand their consumption routines". Cerosetenta is an Universidad de los Andes digital investigative journalism project founded in 2011. It publishes reports, chronicles, interviews, reviews and opinions through photography, videos and podcasts. 

"I feel that there is a demand from this generation for alternative media, and that is to have a political affiliation. That is regrettable. We have not educated audiences that understand the place of journalism in a democracy yet. We believe that they are there to be part of an ideological discussion, which is the natural consequence of the little diversity that has existed in the media", Juan David Ortiz, UdeA professor and editor of El Armadillo.

Apart from these opportunities, there is also a relatively new phenomenon, the "diaspora", in the words of Santiago Rivas, artist and journalist of PresuntoPodcast, a digital radio program that emerged in 2018 to analyze the way that the media cover current affairs in Colombia. He refers to the diaspora or migration of journalists who have become independent as a result of massive layoffs. This has favored the emergence of new formats and productions and the re-emergence of ones "that were dormant".

This state of affairs has favored the diversification of productions. Ómar Rincón, media analyst and university professor, explained that these new projects are ghetto projects, that is, "feminists, environmentalists, sexual diversity activists have their own media. The mass and reference media are there for all the power and Jurassic system". 

In fact, for the researcher, the emergence of alternative media confirms that the traditional business model is in crisis since "they are no longer the narrators of democracies". 

Crisis 

The Oxford study reveals that, in Colombia, 40% of the population trusts in the traditional media, a low figure that exposes the information crisis in this sector. 

"There has been a kind of shake-up in the audiences. Now, they are asking for other approaches, other ways of seeing reality. There is a lot of distrust. I’m not saying it’s a general phenomenon, but there is a portion of the audience that distrusts the traditional media. You already know who their owners are", said journalist Jose Guarnizo, a Social Communication and Journalism graduate from the Universidad de Antioquia and director of Vorágine, an independent digital media of investigative journalism and illustration that emerged in 2020. 

Regarding this "crisis of trust" in the traditional media, Natalia Arenas gave the example of the current situation under social mobilization. "The traditional media cannot display their logos because people do not let them in to cover the news. They do not trust them or the version they will give".

However, Juan David Ortiz stressed that the traditional media have a wider scope and more possibilities than the small ones, for example, with daily news and stories in real time. They "can tell people that there are mobility problems near them, something that has just happened and has news relevance", and that is essential for people to make decisions in their daily lives.

The truth is that written, radio and television journalism is now part of a denser conversation. There are more views and opinions transmitted through other platforms, such as social networks, often faster than the press can publish them. This, of course, requires more verification of information sources. 

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 study, which surveyed more than 33,000 people, Colombians' trust in traditional media has declined in the last six years. This has generated an "information bankruptcy" and opened a space for the emergence of new alternative and independent media. The Edelman Trust Barometer has measured people's trust in institutions in 28 countries around the world for the past 21 years. 

 
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