Having won over New York’s migrant Latina community with the award-winning Semanal newsletter via WhatsApp, launched in 2019 and now reaching more than 6,000 weekly subscribers, Documented has extended its reach to the city’s Caribbean and Chinese communities. It is the newsroom publishing its journalism in NextDoor, and is the only non-Chinese newsroom in the US with a product on WeChat. 

“This is a breakthrough, because news in the Chinese language is so state-controlled,” says Nicolás Ríos, Audience and Community Director, outlining the extensive research into how the immigrant communities access, and respond to, news – and their surprising findings (see below).

Formed in 2018 to serve New York’s immigrant community, Documented provides original, multilingual reporting on the ground-level impact of shifts in labour policy, law-enforcement practices and bureaucratic requirements, and on the effects of new federal directives.  It offers community-powered news, investigations, and resources to serve immigrant New Yorkers in English, Haitian Creole, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish.

Content is not just translated, though: “One story can be published on WhatsApp, for the Latin community – but it may not be published on WeChat because it doesn’t really speak to the needs of Chinese,” explains Ríos, adding that their resource guides, too, have to be adapted and customised for specific communities.

This customisation of content is key to audience adoption, notes Ríos, as the research findings showed distinct differences in how communities identified themselves, accessed and sourced news, and more. 

Also See: How A Community-Oriented Approach Grew Our Immigrant Audience 

And: What Audience Research Proved Us Wrong About Caribbean New Yorkers

“There is no such thing as a Caribbean community, but many communities – and people refer to them as communities in plural. In Latino or Chinese, for example, it’s one blanket community that they organise, whereas Caribbeans are divided, first into nationality, and those nationalities into neighbourhoods,” explains Ríos.

“The Chinese community showed a straight need for information on public safety and crime, most likely due to xenophobia attacks at the time, while Caribbean communities said that they needed useful information and that their main issue with the current coverage of them in the in the mainstream media is that they are always portrayed as Africans, or perpetrators of crime.

“So what we’re doing is coming up with content that is either helpful, or shining light on good things happening in the neighbourhood. That’s journalism, and the only difference between us and other newsrooms is that we are bringing journalism to people that will never be looking for journalism in the first place.”

Going social: how Documented grew audiences online, and in real life 

On WhatsApp, cartoons explained hard-to-understand news. These images were shared in bulks of four, purposefully distributed the same way that fake news are distributed via the “forward” feature on the app. This will be replicated again, and done so on  NextDoor and WeChat.
Documented’s useful resource guides were packaged as a booklet, printed and distributed at several asylum shelters. These proved so popular that they soon ran out, and have requests for distribution in languages. Booklets translated into French and Arabic, and plans are afoot to expand printing and distribution to immigrants in shelters.
Documented attended community events to promote their services and encourage registration to their various news channels, building bridges and an audience.

Journalism for real, in service

In effect, Documented now has “a permanent two-way conversation with organisations, community leaders, and immigrants” to propel their community-centric news offerings, and deliver effectively on audience needs. 

Yet Rios baulks at the term ‘service journalism’. “I just call it pure journalism – mainly because, when a legacy newspaper like Bloomberg or Washington Post publishes a guide on how to invest in crypto, we don’t call it service journalism, when they’re actually explaining something. It just happens to be service journalism when we’re talking about poor people,” he suggests.

“We’re not bringing you your everyday News Digest, but we are bringing you reported pieces on how to access this service; which, at the end of the day, is still journalism – because we’re reporting; we hold interviews; we’re vetting and comparing sources… our processes are the regular conduct of journalists. But what we do, is that we make journalism that we know for a fact that is useful. We know we make journalism that comes from needs that we had previously identified.

“So, instead of us deciding what should be reported on, this is us listening to, and acting on,  what our audiences are  saying.”

Differentiating Communities’ Needs

Documented’s research unearthed new findings within these communities, including:

85% of Chinese New Yorkers who participated said they have seen information shared by others that they suspected to be false information or fake news when using social media like WeChat or Facebook.
77% of Chinese respondents don’t see themselves well represented in the news.
87% of Chinese respondents mention feeling “worried about the public safety in NYC” or feeling “unsafe” or that it is “dangerous” living in the city.
57% of Caribbean respondents said that the current media coverage is “too negative”
70% of Caribbean respondents use the apps “Nextdoor” or “Citizen” as a source for local news.

WATCH: Chats in progress

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