WhatsAppening to the news in Brazil? A mixed-method study on news publishers’ struggle to adapt to WhatsApp’s inherent characteristics of mobile and interpersonal communication
After Facebook started prioritizing posts from family and friends on its newsfeed at the beginning of 2018, news consumption on social media increasingly migrated to other mobile applications such as WhatsApp. This has put pressure on media organizations to establish channels on the platform in an attempt to compensate for the decline in audience figures. Journalistic practices on WhatsApp remain poorly understood. Building on the “diffusion of innovations” theory, this article examines whether the way newsrooms have adapted to WhatsApp follows similar patterns to their adoption of social media for news distribution, or whether they have been able to develop new practices that fully consider the tool’s inherent characteristics of mobile and interpersonal communication. Focusing on Brazil as a case study, this study draws on the analysis of 8,855 messages sent to WhatsApp news channels and interviews with 21 editors and executives from publishers, and shows that newsrooms have hardly adapted to the possibilities of WhatsApp beyond its technological aspects. Audience engagement has often been neglected or has been addressed with a lack of consistency. According to the interviewees, constraints presented by WhatsApp, such as the large amount of manual work it requires of newsrooms, make it difficult for news organizations to adopt the platform to transform their relationship with their readers.
Keywordsjournalism, WhatsApp, diffusion of innovations, news distribution, audience engagement, mixed methods
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