When I was starting in journalism in 1999, the movie “The Insider” came out, chronicling the way 60 Minutes handled the story of a tobacco executive who blew the whistle on the industry.
To a young reporter, Lowell Bergman, the 60 Minutes producer who broke the story, appeared larger than life. Played by Al Pacino, he was the kind of journalist you wanted to be when you grew up. But even the veteran newsman got a dose of humility when, at one point, Bergman (Pacino) identifies himself to a source by his name and the name of his famous news program. He then adds, “You take the ‘60 Minutes’ out of that sentence, nobody returns your calls.”
For some reason, that became my favorite part of the movie: the seasoned reporter acknowledging that the impact of a story depended more on where it was being presented than the talents of even a great reporter. It validated everything I had been taught in college about journalism: You are not the story, and whatever influence you aspire to will come from the news organizations you work for.
That was common thinking in those days, when news on the internet consisted of shoving the day’s newspaper onto the web. But the wide and deep impact the internet has had on journalism over the past quarter century has changed that. It used to be rare that a journalist’s name had impact, with the exception of some network anchors and a handful of others in talk radio. In today’s media landscape, however, journalists can quickly make a name for themselves and amass an audience rivaling that of legacy brands.
I got a taste of what a future like this means for journalism and the news business when a product built from scratch in four days by a team of five people managed to steal the audience from a podcast produced by one of Mexico’s most recognized publishing brands.
In the summer of 2021, Grupo Expansión, publisher of business and lifestyle magazines in Mexico, decided to launch a daily news podcast with a summary of the day’s top stories. The format was a conversation between two hosts with contrasting perspectives: a millenial woman from Mexico City and a Gen X man from the northern part of the country.
The podcast was called “Expansión Daily,” and I was paired with Maca Carriedo, whose background could not be more different from my own. She is a social media-savvy journalist and influencer who has a career in television but also in entertainment, while my background is in hard news, working in newspapers and radio. But it worked, and after Grupo Expansión launched a high-profile ad campaign, we quickly climbed the rankings on Spotify, Apple, and other platforms.
Podcasting has become a new trend for news delivery in Latin America. Legacy media has penetrated the market with great success in some countries, such as Argentina, where La Nación, one of the country’s top newspapers, also produces the top news podcasts. The same has happened in Chile, where Sonar — one of the country’s top radio networks — also has the top news podcasts.
New outlets have used these methods to build an audience, as did La Posta in Ecuador. Their content is distributed only via social media and their podcast, “Café La Posta,” hosted by three of their journalists, is one of the most popular.
Podcasting has also allowed journalists to expand the reach of their names across media brands. In Chile, for example, Alberto Mayol re-packages his commentaries, which are made first for radio and TV stations, for streaming platforms under the banner “Alberto Mayol en medios,” which has become one of the most popular news titles on Spotify, Apple, and other platforms.
In Colombia, María Jimena Duzán has taken “A Fondo” to the top of the news rankings with interviews and commentary, and the podcast enables her to reach a wider audience without the help of legacy media. In Ecuador, a group of six young social media influencers mix news with musings about celebrities and daily life in “Sorbito de Opinión,” one of the most popular podcasts in the country.
That was what happened to Maca and me. For the two years we worked on “The Daily,” we sometimes wondered whether we could stand on our own feet without the support of an institutional brand. We had fun doing the podcast and felt we were connecting with an audience. Suddenly last May, when Expansión decided to produce “The Daily” in-house and dismissed us, we had the opportunity to test that reach.
Maca sensed we needed to do it quickly to catch the wave of an audience that had liked the product and said in their comments they would miss it, a reaction that took us by surprise, given the vast number of choices for news podcasts.
One recurring theme in those comments made us realize we had stumbled onto something. Many listeners said they had not followed the news until they came across our podcast because it was an easy way to keep up with events. They liked having a 20-minute conversation on the day’s top five stories, packaged in a way they could fit in their routines: They could listen while exercising, cooking breakfast, or driving to school or work. The length was perfect for a commute in Mexico’s major cities.
We replicated the format in our new podcast, “El Noti.” We assembled a team including two of the best producers in Mexican talk radio, Salvador Zaragoza and Daniel Guerra. We also hired Nadia Rodríguez, a writer from the news program La Saga, where Maca works, to handle the scripts. The five of us launched the new podcast on June 5. The following day, “El Noti” was the top rated news podcast in Mexico on Spotify and Apple. By the end of that week, it ranked in the top 10 of all podcasts in the country. And by the end of that month, we had our first sponsor.
We basically took the audience from “Expansión Daily” with us to the new podcast, and I believe it offers a lesson in what can happen when names are developed as brands in journalism. We amassed that audience in the first place thanks to Expansión’s aggressive promotional campaign in magazines and on billboards and shopping mall screens to build an audience, which in the old days, a news outlet might have expected to retain even after letting go of the hosts. To my surprise, the opposite happened.
If 25 years ago audiences talked about the most influential news outlets, today they talk about the most influential journalists. Media columns routinely track the journalists with the most followers on social media and don’t bother in counting the followers that a news organization has. Names are prevailing over brands.
A quarter century ago I was trained as a journalist to think that your name did not matter as much as the brand you worked for. Now, the equation is reversed. Almost six months into it, this radical change has been an eye-opening phenomena to witness in this new journalism age.
Javier Garza Ramos is co-host of El Noti, one of the most popular news podcasts in Mexico. He is the editor in chief of Horizonte Lagunero, a local news platform in his hometown of Torreón.