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Feb. 4, 2020, 1:32 p.m.
Business Models

As other U.S. publishers exit the Mexican market, Business Insider is moving in

The New York Times, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, El País, and others have all retrenched from the country in various ways recently. But Business Insider sees potential in reaching younger, upwardly mobile Mexicans.

By now, we’re more used to seeing American media companies shut down operations in Mexico than launch them. BuzzFeed shuttered its news team in Mexico City a year ago; HuffPost dropped the Mexico vertical it had hastily launched in time for the 2016 U.S. presidential election last March; The New York Times scrapped NYT en Español this past September. The Spanish newspaper El País even stopped printing its Mexico edition in December.

So who’s left to try next to make Mexico work?

Business Insider launched a new Mexico edition today — as first reported by the Mexican business newspaper El Economista last month — making it the first of its dozen-plus international editions to focus on Latin America. It plans to cover business and innovation in Mexico as it relates to Business Insider’s broader mission of “better capitalism.” It starts off with a staff of 15, including reporters, editors, video producers, graphic designers, and a community manager.

Business Insider and its general news sister site Insider fall under the larger Insider Inc. umbrella, which is owned by the European digital publishing house Axel Springer. Capital from Springer has fueled BI’s international expansion since it bought the company in 2015.

“We arrive in Mexico with the certainty that our journalism is a determining factor in the migration towards a better capitalism and a more inclusive economy, one in which we all have a seat at the table. We are interested in sharing stories by and for Mexicans who share these convictions,” Antonio Castañeda, CEO of Business Insider Mexico’s license partner Mediasurf, said in a release.

One reason for optimism: Without any committed presence in the region, BI was already generating about 800,000 unique visitors in Mexico per month.

Verónica Galán, BI Mexico’s editor-in-chief and the former editor of CNNExpansion.com, said there’s a younger audience that she thinks will be drawn to the site’s style of coverage. “Business news coverage [in Mexico] continues to be the hard news story, where X stock rose X percent,” she said. “It doesn’t really help you as a regular person how that stock rose or fell. With BI Mexico, we want to break away from that and make information accessible for everyone, for young people, for business people who are starting to see what they want to start, or those who want to develop their talent.”

“One of the extraordinary things about Business Insider is that it’s the only business publication in the last two decades to have real success with young people,” said Manuel Rivera, the co-founder of Mediasurf and the former CEO of the Mexico’s second-largest magazine publisher Grupo Expansión. “If we want business culture to be more inclusive, we have to reach future businesspeople and the ones who will one day be CEOs. The sooner, the better.”

How will BI Mexico succeed where previous American media efforts have failed? In many cases, international expansion efforts have struggled to gain internal support back at headquarters, especially when it comes to building out revenue streams. And when it’s time for media companies to cut back, lopping off an international arm can seem like a cleaner solution than smaller cuts across more departments.

Former NYT en Español editor Paulina Chavira spoke to the freelancer community Study Hall last year about what she considered the lack of internal initiative to grow the vertical.

But despite its successes — in July of this year, Columbia University awarded a prize for international journalism to one of the Español editors — former staffers say that the vertical never received the resources it needed to thrive. “The Times had no plan for monetization. There were no regional ad sale strategies or even a way to try to convert readers into subscribers,” tweeted Eli Lopez, the site’s founding editor (Lopez declined to be interviewed for this story).

For the final two years, Español didn’t have its own product manager, a position that could have helped the section become more financially viable, and the office in Mexico City was distant from the Times’ headquarters in New York, both geographically and culturally. “I don’t know who in the US could read Español and say, ‘Yes, this is well done. It’s up to the standards of the Times, it’s fact-checked, it’s well-written, it’s well-structured,’” says Chavira; there were few who could provide substantive feedback.

Chavira believes that the fundamental problem with Español was the newspaper’s chosen target audience. “A majority of the time, an article would be quite general. Why? Perhaps because it’s meant to explain what’s happening to a reader in the United States” rather than a local audience, she says. She offers as an example the Times’ coverage when Mexican forces captured — and then released — the son of El Chapo, the former head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. “What could I expect to read in the Times? Well, obviously a more thorough explanation, and that did come out — three days later,” says Chavira. “And that’s the big problem. As a Mexican reader, what the Times is offering is something that I already read in the Mexican press for free.”

In the case of BuzzFeed News Mexico, former freelance reporter Melissa Amezcua said the site was never able to meet the numbers targeted by management in the United States. Mexicans weren’t familiar with the BuzzFeed News brand, and she said the company didn’t do enough to market it. Amezcua was laid off during BuzzFeed’s massive layoffs in January 2019, which also resulted in the news bureau’s closure. (She is also suing BuzzFeed for wrongful termination.)

“BuzzFeed News never connected with people here,” Amezcua said. ” They knew of BuzzFeed in terms of quizzes and memes, but we always had to explain what the news division was.”

Looking at how these major news organizations only lasted in Mexico for two or three years, Rivera and Galán argued that Business Insider sets itself apart through its diverse sources of revenue, combining advertising, subscriptions, events, and its research wing Business Insider Intelligence. They’ll apply what they learned Grupo Expansión, which was to let each brand take a stance with its content, develop it for multiple platforms, and then market it to the point that it incited change.

It’s also worth noting that Axel Springer specifically bought Business Insider with an eye towards international expansion, calling it “a vital part of Axel Springer’s strategy to broaden its global reach.” Instead of an English-dominant publisher dipping its toes into other languages, it’s a German-based company that operates in more than 40 countries and owns an English-language news brand already publishing in French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Polish, and Spanish.

Galán also said it was important to have Mexican journalists on staff who understood the market. When international news organizations cover Mexico, the stories are told from a foreign point of view and don’t capture the full picture of what life is really like there. That’s why BI Mexico’s stories will focus only on Mexico — not Latin America as a region — for Mexicans.

“Unfortunately, the stories that often make international news have to do with violence, but it’s rare that they lead with this humanist capitalism or journalism focused on how to help you have a better quality of life,” she said.

Rivera also said that, while they don’t have a hard number of pageviews or subscriptions to meet by a certain deadline, they’ll be monitoring those metrics as well as advertising and testing out what topics start gaining traction. Galán said they’ll be covering everything from politics to professional development. Its first few stories look at slow progress on a controversial airport project in Mexico City, the increase in avocado exports ahead of the Super Bowl, and what a Supreme Court decision on pensions will mean for citizens.

“There’s no one for us to follow,” Rivera said. “We have to put a paywall and we have to charge. We have to deliver on the quality of the content and test the waters. It might be slow or it might be fast, but we want to go there because that’s part of the sustainability model.”

POSTED     Feb. 4, 2020, 1:32 p.m.
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