Local Journalism Project Case Study: El Debate (México)

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The backstory:

El Debate was founded in Los Mochis, a city in the north of Sinaloa state, in 1941 by Manuel Moreno Rivas, whose son now runs the company. 

Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for the press. Nine journalists were killed in 2019 and 11 in 2020, according to IPI’s Death Watch. There have been five killed so far in 2021. Especially at risk are journalists covering organized crime and the drug trade. Impunity is a massive problem in Mexico: the killers of journalists are almost never held accountable.


The El Debate group has 210 million monthly users on its digital platforms (Comscore 2021). Fifty-six percent are from Mexico and 44 percent from abroad. “If the content is good, they will read you”, the group’s editorial director says. El Debate is one of the most-read Mexican media outlets.

Value proposition: 

News and current affairs in Sinaloa, Mexico and the world. The development of verticals has been their major innovation as a regional newspaper, making them  the national digital lead. The verticals comprise a broad scope of niche content from fishing competitions to entertainment, and also sites related to young people. 

The team:

They have five newsrooms in the state of Sinaloa, one in each of the main cities. Its print editions circulate in the state of Sinaloa, mainly in the cities of Los Mochis, Guasave, Guamúchil, Culiacán, and Mazatlán.

Product and distribution:

The El Debate group delivers 10 daily print editions. A very active events department produces around 125 events a year with an audience of 120,000 people. They started to allocate resources and strategic planning to the digital area nine years ago and have grown exponentially thanks to their vertical strategy. They use the chat apps Telegram and WhatsApp to distribute information but Facebook is their most-used social media platform. Due to the nature of the audience, Twitter and Instagram have low impact.

Business model:

The main source of income is advertisement, both from local businesses and Google ads. The company also has an important share of income from newspaper sales. The organization owns buildings, clinics, and other real estate. Vertical sites with niche content have been a source of income and traffic for El Debate. They have verticals for sport fishing, couples, health, entertainment, and personal finance. These include Soy Carmín (5.24 million unique users), Soy Futbol (3.63 million), and Mi Bolsillo (2.5 million).. The operation of the verticals consists of teams between four and eight people, according to editorial director Andrea Miranda.

The future:

Keep experimenting and failing until they get it right. They are about to launch more verticals. 

Ask them about:

During the pandemic El Debate launched 20 vertical sites to address a variety of niche audiences. In total, they run 32 niche sites. Sixty-four percent of their traffic comes from this vertical ecosystem and they are always on the lookout to launch new verticals, responding to a need detected from the audience. 


About going digital: “We messed up a lot of things, we also spent a lot of money, but we have a boss who lets us do it. And for me that has been essential. He is with us and lets us do it. The mistakes we make are part of the learning process and we accept them as such and they allow us to continue investigating and making decisions.”

“We work for our readers. They are our source of work and our main interest. We do not work for the authorities.”

“We like to be close to people, to walk the cities, to be in the markets, to know what is happening and to be engaged in the neighborhoods.”

“We are very optimistic. Now that Facebook’s Meta has been presented… we would love to be there, right? We want to be there and we want to be in everything new that comes, to be part of the innovation. We’re on board. I think we have developed that spirit. We adapt to whatever comes.”

Source for information and views in this case study: Interview with Andrea Miranda, general editorial director, El Debate 

This story is part of IPI’s Local Journalism Project. The publication of these case studies – part of IPI’s wider work mapping, networking and supporting quality innovative media serving local communities – is supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.