Young Argentinian media outlet bets on membership model and reader participation to end 'information intoxication'

The amount of information created today by news media can be overwhelming for consumers. A one-year-old news site from Argentina was born to counteract this noise.

"We believe that there is a part of the audience in the digital environment that suffers from, what we call, a certain information intoxication," Chani Guyot, founder and director of the website Red/acción, told the Knight Center.

Group portrait of Red/acción's work team.

Group portrait of Red/acción's work team. (Courtesy)

Worldwide, the number of people increasingly avoiding news consumption will grow in 2019, according to a recent prediction from professors Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff for the Nieman Lab journalism observatory at Harvard University. Among the reasons for this trend are a lack of confidence in media and a discomfort generated by the news, according to cited research.

For Guyot, the negative focus of the news, false news and the overabundance of headlines that seek to produce more pageviews for media – without necessarily offering original content, he stressed – are the main reasons for the fatigue that readers experience and that lead them to stop following the news.

Therefore, Red/acción seeks to do another kind of journalism, Guyot explained. A constructive journalism that has original reporting, that integrates some elements and tools of solutions journalism and that deals with social problems around issues such as education, health, gender, sustainability, focused on people and organizations that are doing something to solve those challenges, he explained.

"And all this believing that the most distinctive thing that has happened to society and that happens to those who are online today, is the phenomenon of participation, so that in many ways, and on various occasions, we are appealing to the participation of the audience in our content," he said.

For Adriana Amado Suárez, a journalist at Radio Ciudad on the channel Todo Noticias and president of the organization Info Ciudadana, the proposal of Red/acción is very original. The type of journalism that they do is focused on the citizen's agenda, "that is, the originality of the proposal consists of subverting the logic of the beginning of the news: that it is the citizen's need that proposes it," Amado told the Knight Center.

"I see [in Red/acción] a new model and that makes me happy, I see a model that seeks the protagonism of audiences and that also makes me happy, I see a pursuit different from that of the big media and I like that it’s happening in the country," Ana Gueller, art director of the Argentinian newspaper La Nación and Guyot’s former colleague at the publication, told the Knight Center. "I think it contributes as much to society as to traditional media," she added.

Recently, the Argentine Journalism Forum (Fopea) and Google awarded Red/acción the Digital Journalistic Innovation Award. The jury chose the Argentinian site for its originality of content meant for the web, its coverage with a human approach and the search for solutions.

The jury also highlighted Red/acción’s business model, which includes memberships, as something new for Argentina, as Fopea published on its website. "It is not only an economic proposal, but an action of loyalty and search for participation of its audience," it said.

Experimenting with membership and a nimble design

Red/acción recently completed one year since its launch in May 2018. Since then, it has also experimented with a business model, relatively new to journalism, that involves a membership program.

In Argentina, "the challenge Red/acción has is to generate a new type of reader," Amado said, referring to the fact that there is no culture in the country of paying for digital news.

According to Guyot, this new model offers members more opportunities to participate in the editorial process prior to the writing of articles.

Red/acción Digital offers three membership plans for different monthly amounts: digital membership, full membership (which also includes print content) and patron membership. For plan, which include various benefits, members can participate weekly in planning future articles.

"Every Friday our members receive a newsletter. There we tell them what [topics] we are working on and we invite them to participate," Guyot said.

Additionally, although 90 percent of the outlet’s content is freely accessible, the membership plans include access to exclusive content.

Revista Mono

Mono, monthly publication only for members of Red/acción.

That includes Mono, the monthly print publication from Red/acción that is produced and designed for its members. It won a silver medal in design in February 2019, awarded by the Society for News Design (SND).

It is a 16-page multiformat magazine that is very visual, that according to Guyot is read in 15 or 20 minutes and that can be unfolded so that information is presented in multiple formats. It starts as a small magazine, then opens to a tabloid format and ends in a standard “ sheet," as they call it.

This emphasis on design is also present on the website, which is redesigned every six months, taking into account the needs of the Red/acción audience and its team.

"This last redesign is part of this mindset that we established from day one. The new face that we presented less than a month ago has as its main objective to improve the user experience –with greater desktop and mobile phone loading speed– and the interface –greater presentation of content in the first scroll,” Maxi De Rito, editor of design and production, told the Knight Center.

Newsletter as a product in itself

Other products that distinguish Red/acción in its objective of achieving greater audience participation are its seven daily and weekly newsletters.

"I think most of the media keeps thinking about the newsletter as a means of distribution, and we consider them a product in itself," Guyot explained. The types of newsletter from the site cover topics of technology, sustainability, society, free time, books, news.

Each newsletter has an author, a defined theme, a focus, an identity with which they seek to cultivate "radical transparency.” It is "like a kind of declaration of principles," in addition to its original reporting, Guyot explained.

The journalist commented that they spend a lot of their time in attending to and answering the comments of their general and newsletter readers, from whom they receive a lot of feedback and participation.

Journalism of impact

In its reporting, the Red/acción team strives to present both the problems affecting communities and cities and the solutions those same people are finding to fix them.

For example, in a report related to environmental sustainability published last March, on how cattle grazing is destroying the grassland of the Pampas, journalist and general editor of Red/acción Javier Drovetto shows the solution alternatives that local producers have found to remedy it.

Red/acción's team.

Red/acción's team. (Courtesy)

In another report, journalist and editor Stella Bin addressed the problem of suicide among young people in Argentina. According to her investigation, suicide is the second cause of death among Argentines between 15 and 20 years old. In her report, she tells about a suicide prevention program led by the same young people from the city of Fiambalá, in the northern province of Catamarca.

In terms of the interaction they seek with their audience, Red/acción created a tool, which they call the "action button," that invites readers to take part in issues that concern them.

Each week, the readers of the site who wish to participate answer a group of questions from the action button section on social networks, in order to share their experiences and knowledge. At the end of this short survey, which sometimes is also posted within an article, an action is proposed for the reader to take.

For example, one of the topics chosen for this tool was autism. The survey begins by asking the reader their knowledge about when the comprehensive and interdisciplinary law of autism spectrum disorders was passed. Two questions are posed in the survey, and after they’re answered, there is a proposal. Readers are asked to send a Tweet or an email to the presidency asking for the law to be enforced.

"I think that at some point the madness for pageviews and volume has distracted a portion of journalism and then it’s necessary to return to focus on resolving in what way journalism that we do has a positive impact on society, among other things, generating greater participation,” the founder of Red/acción said.

The action button was launched in February 2019. Since then, it has generated more than a thousand responses or actions among its members.

The type of journalism that Red/acción engages in to try to do to involve their readers is what they call human journalism, "which aims to resolve the disconnect generated by the excess of negativity, so that audiences can reconnect with a journalistic brand that is reliable and close," Guyot said.

"This challenge to make news from scratch and involve the audience in the creation is new and, therefore, as always happens in the media, we must wait for the audience to understand this new game and take advantage of the potential that it has," Amado explained.

Guyot confessed that they have learned a lot from experimentation, wanting to do something new in journalism with their project.

"How do we listen to our audience? Not only how do we interpret their clicks, but how do we truly listen to them; or how represented is our audience in terms of sources or in terms of images? How aligned are we with their needs and interests?" Guyot asked. And, he continued, it is about just that, about using some technological tools but also having a very human and old attitude like empathy or listening.