AUSTIN, Texas – One of the success stories featured at the International Symposium on Online Journalism was Animal Politico, a digital newspaper based in Mexico City.

Editor-in-Chief Dulce Ramos was part of a panel discussion titled, “Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs in Online Journalism.” Ramos said her publication has made a splash by focusing on corruption, government transparency, education and immigration in Mexico. The paper currently has six reporters.

Dulce Ramos, editor-in-chief of Animal Politico.
Dulce Ramos, editor-in-chief of Animal Politico.

“We are a native digital journal that started in 2009 as a twitter account, Pájaro Politico, or Political Bird. A year later it became a news website. Currently, we have 800,000 followers and more than a million Likes,” Ramos told the audience.

“Despite the fact that it is a pretty small organization with just six journalists, Animal Politico has become pretty influential. It has become the most read outlet among independent digital websites in Mexico.”

Ramos said she attributes Animal Politico’s success to two things. “First, it has found its own voice because Pájaro Politico is a character that brings the news, tweets the news instead of having them tweeted by a brand or by a news agency. So, it can allow itself to be somewhat irreverent. And, second, because we have taken the journalism focus back to the citizen, to their concerns.”

Ramos also told the audience that Animal Politico is “trying to do good, innovative journalism but we are also trying to save democracy.”

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Ramos explained how her news service came into existence.

“Back in 2009, when we started, what we were doing was pretty innovative. Our aim was to put the focus back on the citizen in a media landscape where media and power have strong ties. Finding a native digital media and an independent media was not common in Mexico,” Ramos said.

“This was a time when the crisis of violence was getting greater, when the traditional media outlets were ignoring the decrease in human rights. The traditional media put the transparency and corruption stories on the last pages.

“Then, in 2011, the presidential election began. The ties between the PRI and the media became pretty obvious. People were looking for well-balanced information and that is where we found our niche. We kept reporting about the disappearances and the gender issues, about inequity and education and all the big reforms that Peña Nieto was proposing.

“We were the first to concentrate the telecommunications reforms, especially the Internet and digital rights. Our coverage spiked a couple of demonstrations outside the Senate. Fortunately, the reforms were not passed into law. If they had been, the government would have had the opportunity to take down websites that challenged them during demonstrations.”

Animal Politico’s brand of news and irreverence has paid off, Ramos said.

“Now, we are the most read. We have 3.5 million visits each month and back in the first days of the disappearances of the 43 students in Guerrero we got more than four million visits. I think we are doing a great job because we are making the most of our digital platform. There are a lot of news portals out there now. I am proud to say we are truly trying to build multi-disciplinary things and make multi-media journalism.”

One of the things Ramos is most proud of is the interaction with readers.

“We were the first media company to start a conversation with our readers. Pájaro Politico is a character, just a little bird. It can be irreverent. It can have a conversation with the readers. Twitter and Facebook are our currency because that is where we have to be to be in the conversations with the citizens. We started a great dialogue with them,” Ramos said.

By way of an example, Ramos cited a new fact checking project.

“We have an email account where readers can send us phrases that they believe are a little shady or deceitful for us to check. But, we also ask the government for their position. They say, why do you ask if you are going to beat us up? But, the relationship is smooth. We always try to give both sides of the story. We always ask the government to tell us why. We always tell them we are running a story on them. Many media in Mexico do not do that.”

Asked to name the three journalists who started Animal Politico, Ramos said: “París Martínez, who did the finest coverage of the 43 Disappeared, Francisco Sandoval, who is now at an NGO, Article 19, which focuses on freedom of speech issues, and I.” Asked to name the six reporters now working at the paper, Ramos said: “Nayeli Roldán, who covers education, Tania Montalvo, who is doing our fact checking project, París (Martínez), who is still there, Gonzalo Ortuño, our cub reporter who does practically everything, Arturo Ángel, who covers organized crime, and Manuel Uresti, who is from Spain. He does immigration.”

Ramos said that at present Animal Politico does not have any reporters on the border. “We tend to go there ourselves.”

Asked what is next for Animal Politico, Ramos said: “My challenge is make a series of sub-sites. We are going to start an entertainment site for viral content but link it to the everyday news. It will be called Click Necesario, or Necessary Click. We will also have a food information web site which will be called Animal Gourmet. We are looking for all these verticals to group them in a project that will be called Animal Digital. That is my next project for the next few years.”

Asked if any of her online newspaper’s content is hidden behind a paywall, Ramos said: “All our content is free. But we will have a newsletter that donors will pay for.  It will be called tomorrow’s newspaper – El Periodico Mañana. Donors will get some books and tickets, theater tickets, movie tickets. They will receive extra content.”

The donors are being brought in via crowdfunding, Ramos explained. “We have started the first crowdfunding project in Mexico to fund these journalism projects and to fund our multimedia projects.”

Ramos said the crowdfunding project started last November and has currently brought in 550 donors. “As it was the first of its kind in Mexico we really did not know what to expect. We are always looking to have a diversified funding stream, similar to the Texas Tribune. We look pretty much like them – we rely on a lot of sources for our revenues. We do not have too many live events yet but we do have native advertising for our health campaign. We also offer consultancy to help local newspapers transfer to digital.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the 2015 International Symposium on Online Journalism. Click here to read Part One, which focuses on Univision.