A lost dog in Setúbal, a Taiwanese restaurant in Espinheiro, a 91-year-old barber from Jardim São Paulo. These are the kinds of hyperlocal issues specific to neighborhoods in the metropolitan neighborhoods of Recife, Brazil that one-year-old news platform PorAqui aggregates for thousands of readers throughout the capital of Pernambuco state.
Already present in 20 Recife neighborhoods, PorAqui (meaning “Around Here” in English) now wants to expand its hyperlocal content network to 1,000 neighborhoods and regions of the 150 largest Brazilian cities.
The platform aims to be a trusted source of information catering to specific interests of area residents, such as stories about new businesses and restaurants, interesting community figures, and neighborhood recreation programs. These kinds of issues usually do not reach larger outlets and only circulate on social networks.
PorAqui's vision focuses on the “micro,” thinking about what impacts the daily lives of its readers. "The stories seek to empower people and local communities," Raíssa Ebrahim, content coordinator, explained to the Knight Center.
For Ebrahim, the hyperlocal content that the platform offers fills a growing demand from both readers and content producers.
"On the one hand, newsrooms are getting leaner, having to cover an ever-growing universe of information,” she told the Knight Center. “On the other hand, the news consumer can easily become aware of what is happening in other parts of the world, but does not know his neighbor. In addition, with cities increasingly swollen and with security problems, people tend to live longer in their neighborhood.”
PorAqui is divided into 10 'stations,' which target an audience of an average of 5,000 monthly readers from each community, according to the platform's journalists. Story production is done by nine fixed journalists, called content writers, who also coordinate the curation of a network of local collaborators, paid by story. Readers also contribute with texts, photos, suggestions of stories and complaints. All published content is checked and edited by a team of two editors, who have the help of two content writers.
The content is available by app for Android and iOS, as well as a website. In the mobile tool, the use of geolocation allows the user to customize the 'stations' to meet their specific information demands. The reader can also receive news notifications for a set of streets or a particular neighborhood. They can also follow different stations related to their house, work or school, for example. In the last month, PorAqui’s content reached 110,000 users, with 205,000 pageviews, according to the team. The application received 6,800 downloads through the Android and iOS operating systems.
The platform began about a year ago as part of the Master’s degree project of Misael Neto, now the site’s chief developer. His adviser, Silvio Meira, a professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco, joined as an investor along with Ikewai, a network of entrepreneurs of Porto Digital, an innovation zone of the Recife Antigo neighborhood. The operation of the platform is carried out by Xarx, a startup whose name comes from the sharks that surround the city’s coast.
Grupo JCPM, owner of Sistema Jornal do Commercio de Comunicação, a traditional media company from northeastern Brazil, soon bought the idea and christened the initiative.
Today, PorAqui has an ambitious goal: to expand the hyperlocal content network to 1,000 neighborhoods and regions of the 150 largest Brazilian cities. The expansion is reaching neighboring cities and Neto said it should be present in other states in the region by the end of the year.
"We started with this pilot in our background, in Recife, to understand this expansion. We believe that our management model, of generating content, can be scaled and that in up to three years we can achieve this goal. We need a lot of people to collaborate and to produce a lot of content," Neto told the Knight Center.
The reports also have the support of a technology team, which works closely with the journalists. "[The journalism and technology team interact] for the evolution of the product. If we have the need to tell a story with other features, such as maps, external links, all this has to do with the platform and how we can interact with the user," Klaus Hachenburg, commercial director, told the Knight Center.
To produce stories relevant to local communities, all PorAqui collaborating journalists live nearby and understand the reality of the region they cover in their stories. "We have a fixed eye, from our fixed journalists who live in the place, but we also have a more plural, more diversified, view of the different collaborators who contribute to us. They know the coolest stories and are aware of the news," Ebrahim said.
PorAqui also aims to serve as a foothold for the creation of new community communication initiatives and for the local production of newly trained journalists. The team even reached a partnership that helped to launch a hyperlocal newspaper.
"A journalist and an advertiser were creating a neighborhood newspaper project and they came to us. Today they are part of PorAqui, they did not have, for example, to bear the great costs of creating a platform from scratch. We believe that this partnership model can yield good results and also scale PorAqui. It's a great entrepreneurial opportunity for young people," Ebrahim explained.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.