Dariela Sosa felt a sense of urgency to document what was happening in her home country of Venezuela, as well as a moral duty to spread news from media daring to produce truthful and timely content.
The result was Soy Arepita, a free email newsletter that makes its way to Venezuelans inboxes every morning, just in time for breakfast.
“Too many things happen in Venezuela and it is difficult to keep up with the news. There is censorship in traditional media and a lot of misinformation on the web,” Sosa, director and founder of Soy Arepita, told the Knight Center. “It is also an emotionally tough process to find out what is happening. That is why Arepita emerged in March 2017, due to the need to optimize the information experience of Venezuelans.”
In addition to protecting against cyber attacks, the newsletter format is a more “intimate” space than social media, according to Sosa.
“It promotes five minutes of exclusivity with the reader. Those five minutes are vital to provide more context about a story,” she explained.
The Arepita team is part of a growing movement in journalism creating personal newsletters that can develop intimate connections with readers.
'Arepita' is the diminutive of arepa, a bread made of corn flour, with a filling, that is popular in Venezuela and Colombia, "it easily connects us with Venezuelan breakfast," explained Sosa.
The daily Arepita is constructed in three parts: the filling (main information), the masa or dough (contextual articles/analysis) and the shell (a curious image/ or bit of humor). To divide the information into each section, the team does a deep revision of the daily news and then decide which information is essential.
“We wanted to do something journalistically rigorous, but colloquial, creative and irreverent,” Sosa said.
"Everything here smells more like Cuba, while in Cuba they de-Cubanize." The Cuban regime has decided to formally say goodbye to building communism by eliminating the concept in the preliminary draft of the constitutional reform while in Venezuela everything seems to get worse. This is an example of the creative and irreverent language the team uses in each section of its newsletter.
She said the team can not fall into a blind optimism and that is why they work every day to comprehensively cover the crisis that exists in the country, "but at the same time we add other positive news to the informative experience, that build pride in the Venezuelan people and make people have a better taste in their mouth after ‘eating their Arepita,’” Sosa added.
Sosa is a journalism graduate from the Andrés Bello Catholic University and holds a Master's degree from Columbia University. After graduating, the idea of "Soy Arepita" was born as a parallel project while working in Washington, D.C. for the Colombian television station NTN24.
Along with her, there is a team of professionals 'behind the skillet' who share the same objective. Among them are José de Bastos, journalist and business partner; Melanie Pérez, journalist and editor; Laura Solórzano, a graduate of philosophy; Alexis Correia, journalist and manager of social networks; Juancho Pinto, sociologist; María Antonieta Ramírez, economist and marketing manager and Clavel Rangel, journalist and editorial coordinator.
Half of the team lives in Caracas, Venezuela, while the other half works from Chile and Peru. Sosa, along with two of the editors, are dedicated to this project on a full-time basis while the other five have other jobs.
The newsletter uses collaborative writing, where nobody signs a piece (in the style of The Economist) which, according to Sosa, is vital to obtain high levels of information and creativity.
Reaching more than 5,000 readers, Arepita is funded through advertisers, an affiliate marketing program on Amazon and contributions from Patreon, a platform where readers pay a monthly amount and in return receive benefits such as attending talks with public figures, historians or economists.
According to Sosa, one of the challenges at the moment is reaching 20,000 subscribers. "In this business model you need more scope so that the project really starts to be sustainable and profitable."
In the future, they hope to develop the 'Arepita' brand, using the team's skills to create products that have value to the public, such as flannels and board games.
"The more funding sources we have, the more support there is for independent journalism," Sosa said. "The challenge is to do these things without deviating from the main objective we have, which is journalism and informing people," she added.
The idea started by addressing an audience of millennial women. But without waiting for it the receptivity was growing by different avenues: currently they are adults between 35 and 55 years old, with 45 percent women and 55 percent men. Seventy-five percent of readers are Venezuelan, 8 percent are in the United States, 4 percent in Spain and the rest are distributed in other Latin American countries.
But, like many of the media in Venezuela, this project also faces challenges. According to Sosa, access to several of the news sources they follow such as El Pitazo, NTN24 or Armando.info have been blocked within Venezuela and their journalists have been persecuted.
Nevertheless, the team is still bringing the Venezuelan reality to its subscribers Monday to Friday. Like many recent weeks, one of the stories this morning looked at the crisis in the country with respect to the purchase of cash for three times its value in order to be able to pay for some services.
Sosa hopes for an end to these kinds of headlines in the future. "I dream of the day when hunger is no longer news in Venezuela," she said.