Knight Center
Knight Center


Brazilian newspaper Extra celebrates one year using WhatsApp to connect reporters and readers

By Guilherme Ramalho

In the middle of the June 2013 protests that brought thousands of people to the Brazilian streets, the carioca newspaper Extra took advantage of the popular mobilization to start a pioneering project in the country: The use of a message app, WhatsApp in news coverage. Quick, simple, and direct, the readers started sending texts photos and videos directly to the publication. In an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas the editor Fábio Gusmão, the founder of the project, strikes a balance with that collaboration and is excited about the results of the initiative. This Tuesday (June 24th) marks the project’s first anniversary.

Extra Newspaper editor Fabio Gusmão bets on Whatsapp to connect readers and reporters.

“In June, when the protests began, I thought of the Arab Spring, when Twitter and Facebook were blocked, but everyone communicated through WhatsApp” the journalist said. “We announced the initiative on June 24, 2014 online and later in the paper. In 48 hours, 348 people from across the country and around the world joined. There was a lot of material about the protests, but not exclusively. Information began trickling in about openings, water shortages, an important story about a woman that was killed by her wife,  [stories] that no one in the press new about. And [the project] only started to grow.”

 Today Extra has more than 26 thousand registered users according to Gusmão but more than a million messages were sent for stories, more than 50 thousand photos, two-thousand videos and 1,800 audio recordings. But not everything has been tried yet. Total, there were around 500 news reports published in the paper and 1000 in the site. “We do not take advantage of even five percent of what comes in because it’s impossible. There is a lot of content that does not become news. But we try to use everything relevant that comes through here,” Gusmão said.
With an army of thousands of people traveling everyday throughout the city, Extra has been able to [citizens’] complains and exclusive information, especially at the moment the story takes place. The application brought has brought reporters closer to their audiences changing the newswriting cycle and driving journalistic production. “[The App] is our set of ears now. We use it even to search for people. Sometimes, the reporter can pratically cobble together material because everything happens there. Many times-and this is the beauty of [WhatsApp]- a witness contacts us and tells us what he saw, but he also counts on videos, photos, audio, and everything beyond just the story. From that evidence, something might cause the reporter to go to the streets. Sometimes everything starts there,” Gusmão said

To administer messages with more efficiency, the Extra uses WhatsApp in the computer. Reporters and editors take turns responding, but only one person at a time actually is able to use the app since several people cannot use the same account from different apps. So that more journalists can participate in the process, two televisions were installed in the newsroom. When something urgent appears, anyone can see and alert other colleagues.
“It’s not yet a functioning operation, but it’s much better than it was in the beginning. Before, it was very limited” admitted Gusmão. According to him, the platform is still being perfected and many contacts are lost during the periods of instability. “[The App] was reset multiple times. We’ve already been blocked two times by WhatsApp. Today we are part of a VIP list. My goal is to reach 100,000 users by the end of the year. We would have reached it by now if not for the tech problems.”

The growing number of cellphones with internet in Brazil permits more people to report and share everyday realities in real time. Statistics from the National Agency of Telecommunications (Anatel) show that the number of cell devices in the country grew 526% in the last ten years and that  a base of 275.45 million cell phone lines registered in the middle of this year now exceed the Brazilian population itself. Recent studies have indicated that an ever increasing number of Brazilians access the internet through mobile devices.

With more people connected through cellphones, WhatsApp has rapidly gained popularity and changed people’s behavior. Created in 2009 by the ex-CEOs of Yahoo, the App revolutionized the communication between between cellphones, providing an alternative to texts. Leader in the market, and with more than a billion active users today, Facebook bought the App in February of this year for $16 billion, the highest value ever paid for an App. “Facebook bought the biggest phonebook in the world” said Fábio, who researched on his own for months, ways to implement the App in the newsroom. “I spent Saturdays and Sundays, reading, reading, reading, reading...I researched a lot! And I figured it out little by little.”

The idea of using WhatsApp for journalistic purposes developed out of the editor’s daily observations, when he noticed more people on the streets with their cellphones, the majority of the time with their heads down unceasingly typing.
“When I walk in the streets, I observe people a lot. I see a different attitude. For example, you don’t use Facebook or Twitter with that physical behavior, frenetically typing. No one uses texting that way either, because there is always a delay. I began to research and I saw that everyone was using WhatsApp, mainly the younger generation.”  He said.
With the success of Extra, other mediums of communication in Brazil, like Folha de São Paulo, Estadão, Zero Hora, CBN, and SBT, started using WhatsApp in their newsrooms. Attentive to these trends, Fábio tested all of these organizations’ cellphone publications.

“Every time that someone publishes [from their cellphones], I send a message. There I can see from the response if the person knows how to use it or not. No one is doing it right. They don’t know how to do everything this tool lets them do, they don’t know how to use people to their advantage, they don’t know how to use their sources. Those that work with cellphones aren’t going to respond the way that we are responding here. Even we, in a more comfortable platform, can’t do it. The content is going to be shared with people who relate better to each other. That’s the secret.”

A sharing network between reporters

After a year of experimenting with the use of Whatsapp to broaden the relationship of the newspaper with its audience, Extra created a sharing network between journalists that cover organized crime in Latin America, the Narcosul Network. Started in June of this year, the network, using the App, connects reporters in the entire continent wanting to exchange information, ideas, and seek help on stories about drug trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, and border evasions.

The intiative also came from Gusmão, during the production of a series of stories, “The ambassadors of Narcosul” published by Extra on May 25. The report, co-sponsored by the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), involved trips to Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru, as well as capitals and cities on Brazil’s border. The reporter involved in the story, Guilherme Amado, counted on the collaboration of various journalists from around the continent.

“What we’ve worked on recently is the sharing of tips for journalists. The network is to create a shortcut. One person passes information to the other, and afterwards [they] create groups. People start to hear about and form these networks to help with their stories. It’s working.” Gusmão pointed out.

The Narcosul network is open to independent investigative journalists as well. Many times these journalists do not have teams to share techniques and exchange ideas about their coverage. Through WhatsApp, any journalist can write to the number of the Narcosul number (+55 61 9963-4315) and ask for help on a story, without having to say exactly what he is working on.

Guilherme Ramalho is a Journalism student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Edition: Natália Mazotte

Translation: Travis Knoll





Subscribe to our weekly newsletter "Journalism in the Americas"

Boletim Semanal (Português)
Boletín Semanal (Español)
Weekly Newsletter (English)
Marketing by ActiveCampaign