GKillCity produces special interactive site and social media content ahead of Ecuador's presidential elections

When Ecuadorians head to the polls on Feb. 19, 2017, they will have eight candidates to choose from as a replacement for current President Rafael Correa, who will leave that office after 10 years.

The team at digital magazine GKillCity is hoping to provide them with enough articles and data to make an informed decision. For that reason, they’ve launched a mini-site specifically dedicated to the upcoming presidential elections.

“It is likely to be the most stark and bloody campaign in our Republican history: although the candidates come from a broad political spectrum, it seems that the options are reduced to two – continuity (continuance?) or change (regression?),” read an email announcing the new site on Nov. 18, the final day for presidential candidates to register. “How do you cover an election that promises cruelty and polarization? It is the question we have asked ourselves in the last six months, for which we have been preparing in silence and with great dedication.”

Isabela Ponce, founding editor of GKillCity, told the Knight Center that the 2017 elections are important “now more than ever” because of the end of the Correa era and the economic crisis confronting the country.

“It’s not a typical election, I think it’s more than that,” she said.

Regarding the election and recent global events, Ponce said it was important “to do our jobs as journalists…It’s kind of a social responsibility in these kind of moments. We could just continue our job, our normal edition and focus on different things. But, I think it’s really important for people to start to wake up and have more awareness of what their vote means. I hope that the U.S. experience and Brexit experience can be something that they learn from.”

In addition to long-form articles and political commentary and analysis that are commonly offered on GKillCity’s site, the elections project features several special sections to engage voters.

In the first section, readers can choose one of the seven candidates and view several “cards,” each answering a specific question on the candidate’s background or positions on policy. The text contains multiple links to facilitate further research. Ponce explained that the section was modeled after “Card Stacks” from digital news site Vox.

In Open Letters, a citizen who is an expert on a particular issue will address an individual candidate on a delicate issue.

In the first entry of this section, lawyer Juan Pablo Torres wrote to candidate Iván Espinel about a recent statement the latter made concerning the death penalty. “If it’s necessary, tomorrow in the country (…) both rapists and people with criminal records who murder, we will apply the death penalty,” Espinel said, according to El Universo. Torres confronts Espinel on multiple points of his candidacy, but in particular, he presents the argument that the aforementioned proposition goes against the International System of Human Rights and therefore has no legal validity.

Ponce said the goal is to create a more even relationship between citizen and candidate and to have candidates answer these letters. In past years, Ponce said candidates have done just that.

A fact-checking section, El Verificador (The Verifier), provides analysis to determine the veracity of candidates’ statements.

“During campaigns, candidates promise the impossible,” Ponce observed. So, GKillCity will look at the statements, numbers and statistics the candidates provide to determine how true or false they are, whether they’ve been manipulated.

Fact-checking has grown in Latin America and throughout much of the world in recent years as a popular tool for judging political discourse. Another team of Ecuadoran journalists recently launched Ecuador Chequea, a digital site dedicated exclusively to analyzing electoral discourse.

GKillCity also included the section ¿Qué, muy machito? (roughly translated to What, so you are macho?) to create awareness of sexism as a systematic problem in politics, and in Ecuador more broadly. As part of a game, the reader is presented with seven phrases and must choose who said them. Upon guessing, the reader is given the correct answer and the context in which the quote was said.

And finally, Baúl Politico (Politics Trunk) is filled with facts and figures relating to the political landscape in Ecuador.

One of the entries in the trunk is on women in Ecuadoran politics. It provides percentages of women and men in various offices on the national and local levels. There is also a review of four key legal reforms that advanced women’s participation in politics and short biographies of women involved in this fight for reform. The brief and easy-to-share information is accompanied by special illustrations done by the site’s graphic designers.

Another entry will show the number of times each candidate has run for office, but has not won the position.

“It’s trying to show political contemporary history to give some context for young people and also for people that are not Ecuadorians so they can understand why we are where we are,” Ponce said.

A couple sections are forthcoming.

The team will add video interviews with each of the candidates in the coming weeks. Due to lack of internet access in rural areas, GKillCity is forming an alliance with community radios there to transmit the interviews, and possibly, other content.

“We’re talking about small towns in the highlands where the only media you get is radio,” Ponce explained. It’s an opportunity to expand the audience, and to get information to more people.

They are also working on a special audiovisual project on the candidates with political humor group Avena Cómica.

In the course of the next 13 weeks, the journalists at GKillCity will populate each section of the site with more information.

“The main objective of this site is to give the most information Ecuadorians can get so they can vote more responsibly,” Ponce said.

The GKillCity team – composed of four journalists, two designers, a community manager, programmer, executive director and various interns – have worked on the project for two-and-a-half months. They received a grant from Czech non-profit organization People in Need for the project.

Ponce noted that the team’s historical strength is with well-written pieces, but now they are working with the staff’s graphic designers to be more visual.

For example, Ponce said the elections project will have a strong presence on social media with content produced specifically for those platforms. They will be shareable infographics that focus on things like the candidates’ stances on big topics.

GKillCity was founded in June 2011 in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and the namesake for the site. It is “the first liberal, digital and alternative media of Ecuador,” according to the digital magazine’s site.

Ponce said millenials who live in the bigger Ecuadoran cities – Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca - make up most of the audience. About 70 percent of the total audience is readers from Ecuador and the rest is divided between the United States, Spain and Latin America.

Based on the usage of their site, they’ve determined that their readers generally have the luxury of accessing the site during work time hours and so may be in jobs that provide a higher economic income.

Aside from politics, they focus on culture, food and music.

“We know people are not one layer, they like politics, but they also want to eat well, they want to travel, they want to know about the world, they want to know about sports,” Ponce explained.

In addition to their permanent team, more than 400 people around the world collaborate and contribute to the site.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.