Arepita was born in 2017 amidst the most important anti-government protests in Venezuela in the past decade. At the time, news media organizations became increasingly censored, journalists were harassed, and some even jailed. At the same time, the government pushed misinformation and propaganda campaigns to try to control the narrative. The result was a population that had trouble keeping informed, and became increasingly frustrated and apathetic about news.
Inspired by other newsletter-based media organizations in the US and Europe, we saw an opportunity to make a contribution. We created a newsletter to summarize what was happening in Venezuela, curating the best coverage from existing news organizations and taking a big picture approach. We bet on the newsletter model because it was a quick way to beat censorship, taking the news directly to people’s inboxes. And we made a decision to write our news in an approachable, creative, colloquial and even humorous way, to fight citizen’s frustration and apathy. The newsletter’s name is the diminutive of “arepa”, the country’s staple breakfast food. The concept was to have the newsletter be a nutritious and digestible information breakfast to start the day.
Arepita has three sections. The first section is the “Relleno” (the “filling”), which presents a curated summary of the previous day’s news in a conversational and context-filled manner. Every news item mentioned includes a censorship-beating link to a trusted local or international news organization, for those readers who want to know more about the topic. However, we aim to explain the news sufficiently, in case the reader doesn’t want to open any links, or has limited internet access (an all-too-common occurrence in Venezuela).
The second section is the “Masa” (the “dough”), the place where Arepita’s team takes a broader view of events. Most commonly we take an in-depth look at an important, sometimes overlooked, news story. We also use the space to contribute our own reporting, frequently interviewing people who can explain and or give context to important events. But it is also an experimental section: we invite people to author op-eds, incorporate infographics, or even share the results of reader surveys. The Masa has also been the space for a valued pet project of ours: giving voice to the almost 6 million venezuelans who have left the country in search of a better future. We call the section “Masa Migrante”, and it serves as a permanent weekly space in which Venezuelan migrants share their perspectives on their new countries.
The last section is the “Concha” (the arepa’s “outer crispy border”). In this section we use humor (or most frequently irony) to discuss serious issues, and try to leave a good taste in readers’ mouths. The Concha uses a video or an image, frequently from social media, to highlight the many absurdities in our society, especially those coming from the people in power. We finish the newsletter with a final sentence including a link to an article or long-interview that is upbeat or optimistic.
Judges liked so much about this project: the presentation, length, format, visuals, mission and design were all compelling. What stood out was the intentionality of it all, as this newsletter fulfills a clear civic need for an audience without regular access to strong internet. That audience is empowered with critical information, and the team listens to suggestions on what seems important or interesting to fact-check.
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