As thousands of antigovernment protestors flooded the streets of Caracas in February 2014, three journalists gathered in a bakery for a brainstorming session. Amid the turmoil in Venezuela, Luz Mely Reyes, 49, saw an opening. “People needed information in real time,” Reyes told AQ. “We had a hole to fill.”
Three years later, Efecto Cocuyo (Firefly Effect), the independent news site born of that meeting, is one of the main digital news sources for the 62 percent of Venezuelans with Internet access. The website has grown from three journalists huddled around an iPad to nine regular contributors and 12 full-time employees who transmit news from across Venezuela to roughly 1 million monthly readers.
Reyes, an award-winning journalist, has covered Venezuelan politics for 25 years. The site is her latest attempt to keep honest reporting alive in a country where media censorship is rampant and attacks against journalists have become commonplace. Between March and May 2017, 17 journalists were detained and 99 were injured by public security forces.
Reyes seemed destined for her role as Efecto Cocuyo’s director and business manager. Her first day working as a journalist coincided with President Hugo Chávez’s first (unsuccessful) coup attempt in 1992. When her mother asked her to avoid going out to the streets, Reyes refused. “I told her, ‘I have to go out. I’m a journalist.’”
She has maintained that determination in the face of pressure, whether it came from Chávez’s threats on national TV in 2006 because of a corruption scandal she had exposed or from current President Nicolás Maduro’s anger at a newspaper headline, which led to threats of jail time in 2013.
“It’s not that we aren’t scared,” Reyes said. “But we keep (reporting). We just do.”
Efecto Cocuyo isn’t alone. Independent outlets have proliferated as reporters navigate the adverse environment. And Reyes is working to move beyond crowdfunding by implementing subscriptions and increasing ad revenue to make Efecto Cocuyo self-sustaining. She hopes to expand with fact-checking and investigative teams.
Despite the danger, Reyes remains optimistic. “The past two years have been the happiest ones of my professional life,” she said.
“It’s the best time to be a journalist. Especially in Venezuela.”
Krygier is a journalist based in Caracas, Venezuela