Attracting young people and converting them into loyal news consumers remains a challenge for most news organizations around the world.
One of the hardest parts is meeting people where they’re at. Taking a complicated, in-depth investigation and turning it into captivating video or an engaging Instagram story — one that isn’t patronizing but also isn’t boring — is work.
In Brazil, where young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up 16 percent of the population, some news outlets are trying something new. Ten digital news startups have gotten together to launch Reload, an initiative to produce news stories in creative, innovative ways on the platforms that young people are using today.
Reload’s collaborative newsroom is made up of journalists from ((o))eco, Agência Lupa, Agência Pública, Amazônia Real, Congresso em Foco, Énois, Marco Zero Conteúdo, Ponte Jornalismo, Projeto #Colabora, and Repórter Brasil.
The project was one of the selected projects for the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge in 2019 and officially launched on September 1, 2020. One of the specific goals of Reload is to better understand how Brazil’s youth, particularly urban youth, consume news and what they’re interested in. That data is shared among the 10 news outlets for them to consider in their own work.
Every Monday, each news outlet sends an editor on its behalf to a Reload editorial meeting. There, they pitch stories from their publications that would be well-suited for Reload. Natalia Viana, the co-founder and director of Agência Pública, is leading Reload. She said that one of the challenges is focusing less on what the journalists think young people should know, and more on what actually interests the audience they want to reach.
“The main goal is to show the audience that journalism is cool, because it is,” Viana said. “And it can be even cooler to also engage them with the news.”
During a three-month research phase, Viana came to understand that part of why young people were turned off by traditional news outlets is because most stories didn’t offer them the context they needed to understand how an issue affected them.
“When I was a teenager in school, we would debate about the news and what was being talked about on TV or in the newspapers,” Viana, 41, said. “For my parents, the talk of the time was what the newspaper published on its front page. Now, with these kids, there is a whole parallel conversation [on social media] going on that the media is not accessing and that’s what matters to them. It doesn’t matter [to them] what the big newspaper is talking about, and the media is not going after them in these places because they don’t care.”
While the 10 news organizations produce the journalism, Reload works with a diverse group of 12 influencers from all over Brazil and they’re the ones who script and the star in the videos. It helps that the hosts each have their own audiences already and that they better represent Brazil’s demographics than the traditional news media industry might. They all have different personalities and different accents from across Brazil, making them more accessible, relatable, and perhaps more trustworthy to new viewers. The name Reload is an English word, and one that avid video consumers are familiar with. All the content, however, is produced in Portuguese.
Their work is to explain issues in the news in layman’s terms. Then, the news organizations share the Reload version of the story with their audiences on their own social media platforms.
“They retell the story in their own way with what they think is the most important, their own language, their own way of speaking, and their own humor,” Viana said. We give them this freedom to create and this is what makes it relevant and communicable.”
In June, Agência Pública published an investigation about a man named Tiago Silva, the son of Brazilian Supreme Court vice president Jorge Mussi. Mussi has refused to recognize Silva as his legitimate son. The story exposes issues of racism and classism, as Silva is Black and his mother is a Black domestic worker, while his biological father, Mussi, is white and a government official.
The Reload team took the story and wrote a song to explain it. It’s just over two minutes long and the lyric video is a colorfully illustrated cartoon. It’s a samba song, meaning it’s of a popular Brazilian music genre that originated in Afro-Brazilian communities in the early 1900s. On Instagram, Reload’s most popular platform, the video was viewed over 14,000 times.
In just two months, Viana has developed a keen sense of what stories resonate best with Reload’s audience. Reload employs a data analyst who has found that young people don’t care as much about corruption and politicians as much as they do about climate change, LGBTQ issues, and indigenous affairs. And while these issues are serious, there are ways to present them that are fun and engaging.
“It’s very clear that environment, for instance, is a huge issue,” Viana said. “It’s funny because on our website, the environment is a big issue, but it’s much bigger for the younger audience I think because they know that they’re getting screwed by the older generation.”
Lately, Reload has also been focusing on debunking misinformation, a problem that’s only become more dire in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right administration during the pandemic, and ahead of municipal elections in the country.
One video by Reload host Samela Awiá explains the causes of the fires in the Amazon and why Bolsonaro’s claims that indigenous communities caused them are false. The video sources stories Amazônia Real and Congresso em Foco:
Over the next months, Viana is hoping to work with more traditional and mainstream media outlets in Brazil, which she explained have historically been concentrated in the hands of a few families and has never been very innovative.
“Listen to [young people]. It’s really that easy,” Viana said. “Ask them to get involved in creating the news.”
Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer for Nieman Lab.