In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa's government has had a stormy relationship with the media. Since he took power in 2007, he has encouraged public media while classifying the self-dubbed “independent media” as the “corrupt press.” Several watchdogs have accused him of repressing press freedom by interfering in broadcasts, filing defamation lawsuits against journalists critical of his leadership and enacting new restrictions.
In this tumultuous media environment, digital journalism website GKill City plays an important role, as it's the country's only 2.0 media outlet that gives a voice to different ideologies and perspective. Journalists and citizens from all walks of life write for the site. What GKill City publishes consistently sparks debates on social media.
Since mid-2014, the team comprised of José María León, Isabela Ponce, Ernesto Yturralde, Pablo Cozzaglio, María Fernanda Mejía, and Andrea Balda is in Argentina training with MediaFactory, a Latin American digital media accelerator.
The idea for the site arose three years ago in the mind of José María León, currently the general editor. When in January 2009 a US Airways Boeing plane landed in the Hudson River in New York, the closest photo taken of the accident was one from a Twitter user who was on one of the rescue ferries. The images from big conglomerates were from a distance. “So I said something that was quite obvious but at the time seemed like a revelation to me: ‘Good journalism can be done with few resources and it can reach many people thanks to new technology',” León said in an interview via email.
Amidst the discussion between official and independent media, it seemed to León that citizen interests were not being taken into account. “There, Gkill City was born, as an experiment of digital and liberal citizen communication in denial of the false dilemma that proposed a radical ‘either you're with me or against me'.”
The essence of the site is “countercultural journalism”, an antithesis to the traditional. León said that starting a project of this nature is easy; the difficult part is keeping it up. Citizens of the world who contribute text, video and photos for the website have been its pillar throughout the last three years. León said that for a long time, the media have acted as a spokesperson for society or the country, but he doesn't share this stance because “no one can speak for everyone else.”
Since GKill City was created, it has seen the impact of its coverage more than once. Recently, a story entitled “The forest will die soon“, which showed the potential destruction of a forest in the city of Guayaquil, managed to make authorities guarantee that they would not allow its urbanization.
Read about three other key moments below:
The claim at the Salón de Julio
Soon after GKill City launched in 2011, it covered an accusation of unconstitutionality relating to the Municipality of Guayaquil's painting competition, the “Salón de Julio”. The city's Director of Culture Melvin Hoyos had forbidden expressions of “explicit sex” and the team considered that to be censorship, something that is prohibited in Ecuador, according to the article 18 of the Organic Law of Communication of Ecuador. “It was great moment because we got to discuss the exercise of individual freedom in the country and the manner in which public funds were being used to endorse personal moral codes,” León said.
Letters answered by politicians
During the 2013 election, the team selected eight contributors ideologically opposed to the eight candidates to write them letters about the candidates’ projects and management in the hopes of an answer. Some of them did. “Many people felt that in that way, politicians would get closer to their voters to answer specific questions.” In 2014, when columnist Ricardo Flores sent a letter to Viviana Bonilla, a ruling party candidate, the text was so warmly welcomed that the website crashed and had to move to a new server. Bonilla answered the letter immediately.
“Without a doubt, winning the MediaFactory investment has been instrumental in our lives. It will give us a huge boost to do things we previously could not,” León said.
What began with an almost youthful energy has undergone a metamorphosis in search of its identity. MediaFactory will not change GKill City's values nor its style, but rather help strengthen its resources and use of new tools. For this Ecuadorian team, content cannot be made into a business. “The business is to have excellent content that people share, that generates reflections and a community available to participate in sustaining a project that, bit by bit, has become a platform by everyone, for everyone,” León said.