Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mexican blogger builds a business out of political satire

Chumel Torres
Versión en español aquí. 

Chumel Torres is a video-blogger whose satiric take on politics and journalism has managed to attract 483,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel in just one year.

He has made a business out of the sponsors he attracts to his weekly program,  El Pulso de la República (The Pulse of the Republic).

And he has a message for other young people who are frustrated with the coverage of politics by the major media: if you don't like what they are doing, start your own program or news site, he said in an interview.

"If the newspaper doesn't like you, doesn't listen to you, doesn't give you any money, doesn't offer any opportunities, well then, create your own project. Anybody can shoot a video or record a radio program and upload it to the web. The only limitation is what you have in your head."

Satire and dark humor

Torres, on the cusp of 30, says he modeled "El Pulso" on the work of his heroes,  Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report.

His program is full of dark humor and political satire laced with vulgarities that would never appear in print or on the air of conventional media. But his young audience loves it.  In addition to the 483,000 YouTube subscribers,  his social media numbers are:
Stature and influence

He did not disclose revenue numbers but said he makes money from advertising and sponsorship on his YouTube and Twitter accounts.

His social media numbers make him one of the most important bloggers in Mexico, as was evidenced by the fact that he was invited to give a talk and a workshop last week at an international conference on digital journalism in Cancun, the Congreso Internacional de Periodismo Digital y Redes Sociales. (I also gave a lecture and workshop there.)

Torres and a journalist who only writes on Twitter and goes by the name of Callodehacha (he has 401,000 followers) took the stage and talked seriously (mostly) about the new media landscape in Mexico. They see themselves as a counterweight to the "oficialismo" of the major media, meaning their tendency to regurgitate the platitudes of politicans unquestioningly.

In this more-open media environment, the public is deciding who is truthful, who merits their support and who really is a journalist.

Independent voices

Another speaker at the conference was Jean-François Fogel, a journalist, author and digital media consultant from France. He said in an interview that there is not doubt that Torres and Callodehacha are journalists who represent the new wave:

"They are journalists who specialize in the journalism of opinion. They are in the vanguard. Their form of expression is of a kind that is recognized by all the journalistic codes and media. They have mastered all the journalistic techniques and they are doing it with great talent, obviously."

Torres treasures the freedom of expression he has in "El Pulso." When he was invited by the dominant television network in Mexico, Televisa, to produce his material on their air, he said his response was, "You're the enemy, man."

Televisa has 70 percent of the television audience. "For 50 years they have been censoring the news and stomping on the truth," Torres says. "It's a news source that nobody believes. My target audience doesn't watch it. It's on the point of dying, if not economically, because of its content, you know?"

An audience of "average Joes"

He used the English expression of "average Joe" to describe his target audience, mainly young people up to age 34. But it also attracts adolescents, which generates some comments from worried parents.

"Some parents commented, 'Hey, man, my son in high school has a political opinion and is challenging me'." This tickles Torres, who sees his program as an alternative form of educating young people about what is going on in Ukraine and Venezuela, for example.

Mechanical engineer

Originally from the state of Chihuahua, which borders New Mexico, Torres studied mechanical engineering in college and worked for seven years in a maquila, one of the many border factories that assemble goods for sale in the U.S.

He says a maquila is the world in miniature:

"It teaches you how to get along with the super ultra turbo chairman of the board who tells us what to do and the workers on the floor who are doing the assembly and working their butts off. You learn this sense of balance: diplomacy on the one side and an understanding of the working conditions on the other. That sensitivity has always served me well."
The School of Twitter

He got his start in writing on Twitter. It was there he says he learned how to write a script. "It's like a school for structuring an argument. Short stories. The dramatic arc of a story. Almost all Twitter specialists know how to tell stories."

It was a satirical Tweet about the 2012 elections in Mexico that shot him to stardom. (That story, in Spanish, is told here and here. For a while, he held down several writing jobs with his current writing collaborator, a Twitter specialist who goes by Durden.

Frustrated with trying to sell their ideas to conventional media, they decided to drop everything and put all their energy into launching "El Pulso." It was a big leap into the unknown with no certainty of success.

His message to young people was that they should do the same. "You have to believe in yourselves. Bottom line: you have no idea of how little idea the mainstream media have about what they're doing. You are really in charge."


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Journalists need to educate themselves to stay relevant
10 digital entrepreneurs test new style of learning
News entrepreneur advises, 'Don't think about it -- do it'
What makes a professional journalist? Ethics 

The video interview with Chumel Torres is below (in Spanish).



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