WhatsApp restores communication between Brazilian newspaper and readers after a 16-day block

Following spread of the news that WhatsApp had blocked communication between the Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper Extra and 70,000 readers, the publication’s account on the messaging service was restored late June 9, according to information published on the daily’s website.

With the restoration, readers were able to resume sending information and complaints to the number (21) 99644-1263, which had been shut down for 16 days.

"We are happy with the return because of our readers. Because we believe that we should always be close and available. Since the return of the service, we have received 1,800 messages. This shows that people like the channel, the ease and the contact,” said Fábio Gusmão, online editor of Extra, in conversation with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas on June 10.

The strategy will now be to diversify the use of messaging platforms, as the reader can communicate with the newspaper through other services like Telegram or Messenger.

“We have had accounts with other messengers since 2013. We created all of them at the same time as the WhatsApp number. The difference is that we focused efforts,” Gusmão said. “Now, after that block, we decided that it is crucial to always remind readers that they can and should use all possible media, which are also simple and easy to operate, in order to connect with us. And Telegram is first. We will continue to talk about Telegram and its benefits. And people are increasingly using it.”

Since Extra started using WhatsApp in a pioneering way over three years ago, the newspaper has exchanged more than 6 million messages with its readers, according to Gusmão. Throughout this period, the more than 70,000 users on Extra’s channel sent around 120,000 photos, 6,000 videos and 15,800 audio files.

Information received from readers helped in disclosing crimes and problems with essential services such as public transport and access to hospital care, according to Extra.

Extra’s model was even praised by the chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, Gene Policinski, and was a finalist in the category of “Best Reader Engagement” for the LATAM Digital Media Awards from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

The newspaper attributed the blocking of WhatsApp to probable confusion, since the large number of messages between the thousands of readers of Extra may have been mistaken for spam.

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.