Cristián Mackenna

Ashoka Fellow
cristian_mackenna_headshot.jpg
Chile
Fellow Since 2015
This description of Cristián Mackenna's work was prepared when Cristián Mackenna was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .

Introduction

Through his news outlet, El Definido, Cristián Mackenna is ending the journalistic myth that good news is not news. With a constructive and purposeful editorial line, he is rebuilding social trust, promoting community collaboration, spreading good ideas, and giving citizens the information they need to move from seeing themselves as victims to agents of positive change. In its two years as an online media outlet, El Definido already has more readers than many of Chile’s other major newspapers.

The New Idea

In Chile and globally, most news is bad news. However, Cristián Mackenna is working to change this so that “news” actually becomes a source for not only pointing out problems but giving consumers the tools to fix them. To do this, Cristián has started by creating the only online daily journal in Chile that specifically reports on positive ideas and solutions to social problems, highlighting those driving change. Called El Definido (“the well-defined”), the online paper contextualizes the news, and surfaces initiatives, ideas, and stories that other media do not feature or choose to ignore. Then, by offering ideas and solutions to the social problems encapsulated in the stories and convening in-person gatherings, el Definido serves as a platform for its readers to act.

Christian aims to put forward a change in society’s attitude and to fight against defeatism and criticism. He believed that the most powerful tool to achieving this would be to create an online medium, using objective facts and a language familiar to people to show the good, positive and constructive things Chile and the world has to offer. The aim of this would be to encourage a change in mentality, which goes beyond the political sphere and permeates all of society and areas of life.

Unlike traditional outlets, El Definido is building social trust, promoting community collaboration and disseminating good ideas. The journal invites its readers to participate and interact through features such as a mood-meter that gauges their feelings about each news piece, a space for opinions under each article, and red phrases in the text on which readers can comment and vote. To further generate a community of “active readers” (readers that act),El Definido organizes meetings with them to talk about specific issues and strengthen its mission of generating informed citizens with both critical ability and desire to create change Since its launch in 2013, El Definido has reached about 1.5 million people, and has an increasingly evident influence in social networks, both in Chile and the rest of Latin America.

Cristián is set on achieving an even larger social impact and growing his readership. To do so, he is already planning additional journals on specific topics, in order to diversify his readers’ profiles and multiply his community. If Christian’s formula can be demonstrated to be financially successful, not only will it grow its own readers in Latin America but it will almost certainly be imitated by others. That would be a significant breakthrough.

Christian strives to go further and generate causes by using the community of readers and his network to promote positive causes which help to build a better society. These causes include rubbish collection on the streets, acts of solidarity, changes in public policy and other larger scale causes.

The Problem

Chile is characterized as a stable country -- it has low levels of violence, high rates of education, and elatively good relationships with other countries in the region and the world. However, within the country, confidence indices are notably low:  only 13% of people trust each other, according to studies by the OECD. Not only that, a general distrust in the government and business has recently increased due to political and corporate corruption scandals.

This widespread sentiment is aggravated by the media, which tends to transmit mainly bad news. The crime report occupies a large space in the newsreels, showcasing a violent Chilean society, where institutions do not function and healthy development is not happening. This preponderance of negative events leaves people feeling victimized by their environment, which in turn fuels more distrust.  These themes are evident on social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, where a majority of comments are critical and charged with anger against the system, politicians, and wealthy classes of Chilean society. However, in many cases the commentators appear to be only partially informed. Regardless of the accuracy of information, a negative sentiment, based on criticism instead of solutions, prevails.

Adding to this environment, journalism schools teach that ‘good news is not news,’ and television networks and internet portals argue that good news gets low ratings and readership. With this assumption, the media is losing opportunities to publicize good news, solutions, and innovations, which could begin to clear the country’s trust crisis and get more people to contribute to society.

The Strategy

Cristián Mackenna created El Definido in response to one main question—how do we improve the society in which we live? More specifically, Cristián wanted to find a way to make Chile a place with higher trust, civic participation, and overall quality of life for all citizens. The solution El Definido offers is demonstrating, with real stories, that generating change in society is not only possible but infectious. To do this, in 2013 Cristián invited four professionals from different areas of expertise to create an online communication medium with him, and hired the first journalists who showed commitment to his idea.

Every individual on the El Definido team is chosen for his or her resume and abilities, but more importantly for personality. Considering that the newspaper is also a learning space, having a constructive vision for the world is also a fundamental criterion for team members. Today, El Definido has a team of 9 people: 1 director, 1 business executive, 1 editor, 1 illustrator, 1 web designer, and 4 journalists.

All of the published content is first analyzed and discussed by the team, and both the editor and the other colleagues propose the ideas. They seek to always maintain a positive and purposeful focus and to present the content in an attractive way. Cristián, as director, and the editor lead the editorial line; however, everyone contributes content and ideas to the site, as the active participation of the entire team is essential to the model.

To generate a more significant impact at the time constructive news breaks, El Definido focuses on creating a community among its readers, both online and offline. The staff is attentive and engaged with all of the interactions that occur in the various spaces for opinion that the journal offers online. In order to share an opinion, a reader must first register on the site, making them accountable for their comments. This allows for more responsible participation and reasonable dialogue, as participants cannot take refuge in anonymity.

Every reader opinion is answered by the journalist in charge of the particular news piece. The journalist checks the comments and, if they contribute to the piece, the journalist can add the relevant or conduct an investigation to resolve a specific doubt. At the same time, no comment is deleted, as the objective is to promote conversation; even if some comments are negative or inappropriate, these also generate dialogue.

El Definido also evaluates the reactions that the news pieces provoke in their readers using an emoticon-based marking system. This provides them with immediate feedback on the effect of different types of news, which in turn gives the team a closer understanding of their community.
Each story written is based on four components that make the information attractive and shareable. They content must be: simple, surprising or unexpected, concise and credible, and relate emotions and stories. The El Definido team also conducts deep research to find changemakers that are solving social problems, not only to make them visible but also so that readers see them as examples and become motivated to make changes themselves.

To properly analyze the true impact of the journal on its readers and in order to create links with them, El Definido organizes offline meetings where all registered users and readers are invited. At these meetings, the team introduces themselves and their objectives, both for the journal and for the changes they are looking to generate in society. The team members (including the columnists) then conduct workshops and ask the readers for their perception of the newspaper, their areas of interest, and any other suggestions they have.

Thanks to these strategies, today El Definido has achieved more than 1.5 million unique visits and has over 7000 registered users, surpassing the readership rankings of several consolidated newspapers in Chile. Furthermore, the journal seeks to generate an impact both on the readers and in the media community, inciting others to publish with this new mindset. This change is already evident, as other media have begun to renovate their news outlets, incorporating some elements of El Definido in their online versions.

Additionally, El Definido has been able to track changes in attitudes of their readers by the evolution of their comments. These are often negatively charged at the outset, but after conversation with the journalists who answer their questions and thoughts, the readers are able to see the problems in a new light and with different perspective. Reception of El Definido is positive: the team receives emails from its readers thanking them for what they are doing, and even traditional news outlets have congratulated El Definido for their work and use their articles as templates for their own media. For example, another more traditional news source copied El Definido’s emoticon rating system for news pieces. Universities have also begun to invite the team to discuss their work with students.

Currently El Definido has a large number of readers in Mexico who found the platform through social networks. This indicates the transferability of the platform to other Spanish speaking countries. Cristián sees expansion will happen naturally to some extent, but also plans a media expansion through the creation of new thematic journals, which would keep the constructive editorial line of El Definido while focusing its content to specific niches to increase its audience (for example: sports, science, health).

A key issue for Cristián is to make El Definido self-sustaining, and in the quarter to December 2014 it achieved this goal. With news outlets throughout the world in a state of flux and many traditional quality newspapers losing money, his formula will be examined with real interest by other publishers. Its positive approach can influence other publishers and broadcasters. 

The Person

Cristián grew up in a close family where he was given the freedom and encouragement to follow his passions and talents. At 18, he decided to pursue a career in professional racecar driving. For three years, his entire life revolved around racing, and he had many achievements for the sport in Chile. In 1995 he was recognized by the National Karting Club as the "Best Go-karter in Chile" and a few years later was regularly referred to as the best racer in Chile by sports journalists. He had by then, as a very young man, achieved success on the International Formula Three circuit and with sponsorship he had raced for three seasons in Europe.

The sport taught Cristián that falls are just opportunities to get back up and continue to improve one’s ability. He also learned first-hand the difficulty sports professionals experience in getting funding to dedicate themselves full-time to their sport, especially in Chile.

After studying economics at university, he went on to start a company to help other athletes to boost their careers and obtain financing. An important part of his company’s success hinged on publicizing their results in the media, which made him realize the importance of his role as a social communicator for society.Meanwhile, studying economics taught Cristián the massive influence public policy changes have. This left such an impression on him that he never stopped thinking in terms of widespread social impact, and he ultimately decided that his passion for finding social solutions was greater than his passion for sports.

That is when his entrepreneurship changed course and he decided to launch El Definido. This combination of entrepreneurship, fundraising, sports at a professional level and academic formation allowed Cristián to create a successful and fruitful strategy which defied tradition and motivated him to follow his passions and ideas in the face of other’s adversity. Cristián’s commitment to changing the way news influences people was evident from the start, when although people told him what he wanted to achieve was impossible, he decided to mortgage his house to begin the project. In all this Cristián has a clear idea of the problem he wants to change: constructing a more participatory society, motivating people to be social change agents and building societal trust.