When Documented first launched Documented Semanal in 2019, it began as a weekly newsletter to engage New York’s Spanish-speaking community. Distributed via WhatsApp, it soon evolved into a hub to connect immigrant New Yorkers with services available to them across the city.
Since then, Semanal has grown to nearly 2,000 members, 60% of whom identify as undocumented. Not only the Semanal readership has access to key reporting on immigration. It also provides tips, interviews, and valuable source information for a number of investigations – a type of reporting that we call “community powered.”
Following research into the information needs of Spanish-speaking immigrant communities in New York, Documented created Semanal with two main goals: to provide them with the information they need to successfully navigate the immigration system in the U.S., and help bring our newsroom closer to them.
Early in the research process, Documented found that reliable information about immigration flows in very close networks. If someone doesn’t have access to those networks, they simply can’t access vital information like legal support, benefits, or health care services. As a result, Documented Semanal wanted to make that information available to every Spanish-speaking immigrant in New York.
To meet them where they already are, Semanal is distributed via WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app among these communities. We identified privacy as a priority and we decided against creating a WhatsApp group. Otherwise, members would have been able to see and reach each other. Instead, we created a WhatsApp broadcast list. From a reader’s perspective, they are having a private conversation with Documented.
On top of receiving trustworthy information, this approach has allowed community members to engage with our reporters, sharing their questions and stories with us. We make sure that each user who asks a question receives an individual response. We also send the answers to the most recurring questions to our entire list.
Our main digital tool for our community-powered journalism, Semanal has empowered members to alert us of scams running rampant on WhatsApp affecting them. It has helped us identify delays in government agencies that were keeping undocumented workers from accessing benefits. Most importantly, it has allowed us to develop a type of reporting that addresses people’s needs and increases trust while providing them with critical information that can’t be found elsewhere.