Four million people have migrated from Venezuela since 2014. Inflation, food scarcity, political crackdowns and rising violence are just some of the reasons that this mass exodus could turn into the biggest migration in the world as soon as 2020, when as when many as eight million Venezuelans will be relocated across the world.
This has had dire political, economic and social implications for Venezuela, not to mention the massive challenge this presents for journalists working in and around the country. For those who have migrated from the country, there’s still a need to feel connected to those who remain. That need to feel connected has fallen, in part, on the shoulders of journalists whose job it is to tell the diverse stories of modern-day Venezuela.
Arepita, the first Civil newsroom from Venezuela, is a newsroom bringing local news to those who have left the country, as well as those who remain. This job is not always an easy one.
“You have to be brave to be a journalist in Venezuela,” says Dariela Sosa, founder of Arepita. “We as journalists have a protocol. We know what we should do if somebody on the team is detained or goes to jail. We try to help each other. At Arepita, we say that if we’re going to risk everything, we make sure every word is well chosen and factual. One of the most difficult parts of being a journalist in Venezuela is that you are never safe.”
Founded in March 2017, Arepita sends a newsletter to around 9,000 subscribers every morning from Monday to Friday. Currently, the newsroom consists of three full-time journalists and half a dozen part-time journalists. The team is spread across Venezuela and the world, as is their audience; this year, 63% of Arepita’s audience reported as being in Venezuela, dropping from 76% last year. Sosa herself has been forced to relocate to Buenos Aires.
Arepita prides itself on its small, brief morning updates (a “small bite” of Venezuelan news, as an “arepita” is a “small bite” of a typical breakfast for northern countries in South America). The newsletter’s open rates are double the industry standard, at 33%; Sosa attributes this, in part, to the newsroom’s intense focus on audience engagement. As she sees it, Arepita has helped to forge a connection between a people and their country, even if they’re not physically located in the country on which the newsletter reports. Regardless where they’re located, subscribers can contribute to Arepita’s ongoing Patreon campaign for newsroom operating costs.
“We found out that if we are really connected to the audience, they improve our newsletter, and they also feel involved. If they can, they contribute financially, and if they can’t, they invite their family and friends to subscribe,” she said.
Arepita journalists read and respond to every email from readers. The newsletter link is also shared by WhatsApp and on social media. This is a necessary way to get the word out in a country where the government blocks news, and even, at times, blocks social networks.
In order to expand their reach to more Venezuelans, and inform outsiders of what’s happening inside their country, Arepita wants to expand to tell those stories through other mediums. Some people may feel connected to the news, but they just don’t like to read it. Or, they want more than “small bites” of the news that Arepita’s newsletter currently offers. They may instead prefer to listen.
Cue Civil Boosts.
Arepita has launched a Civil Boost to fundraise for an investigative podcast about migration in Venezuela. A successful Civil Boost will help get this project off the ground — and could be a good way for Arepita to fundraise for new episodes in the future.
Each podcast episode will be around 45–50 minutes, and while the first episode will focus on Venezuelan migration, subsequent episodes may be about other issues affecting the country, such as the lack of medicine, humanitarian aid, hyperinflation, U.S. sanctions and electricity outages, or Venezuelan comedy.
Federico Santelmo is spearheading Arepita’s podcast project. An early subscriber of Arepita, he immediately loved the brevity and simplicity of the newsletters.
He soon joined the Arepita team and began to ask the audience about themes that they’d like to read about. The audience was particularly interested in stories about migration.
“We created a simple Google form and reached out to our readers a few questions: do you live outside Venezuela? Have you gone through the process of migration? What was that process like for you [to] move to a different country? We already have at least 100 answers,” he said.
According to Santelmo, Arepita’s audience will have an active role in the development of the podcast content, just as they do the newsletter. The Arepita team has experimented with the podcast format in the past and it was received positively from supporters. They work with a group of active collaborators who will get early access to the podcast so that they can continue to improve each episode.
One of the biggest upsides piloting Civil Boosts with Arepita is that much of the newsletter’s audience already own cryptocurrency.
“One of the advantages of having an economic disaster is that we as a country had to have alternative mediums to beat hyperinflation,” Santelmo joked. “Digital currencies are big. Many Venezuelans see [cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin] as a way of holding money to beat hyperinflation.”
The podcast will bring stories and updates of modern Venezuela, as well as give updates about how people are doing. Hopefully, it’ll bring people to conclusions that listeners haven’t thought about before.
“People living abroad want to continue to have some sort of connection to Venezuela. It [was] big when we realize that Arepita was not only a newsletter, but it was also a way [for people to] understand their identity and own country.”