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Feb. 22, 2017, 11:09 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Brazil’s own Politico? Supported by paid newsletters, Poder360 digs into the country’s power structures

Revenue from a three-times-daily insider newsletter for corporate clients supports a newsgathering operation of more than 20 writers.

Something like the Politico model is having success in Brazil.

Poder360, a news site based out of the federal capital of Brasília, covers the ins and outs of Brazilian government — and its newsroom of 18 reporters and three opinion and analysis writers is supported entirely by revenue from corporate subscribers to its premium newsletters. (Think of a cross between Politico Playbook and Politico Pro.)

The site’s founder, longtime Brazilian political reporter Fernando Rodrigues, cites both Politico and Axios, a new venture started by several ex-Politico founders, as models.

“I’m always impressed with Politico, which works with approximately 300 people, and Axios, which started with almost 50 people. This is all in the United States, a country where the presence of the state is less important than in Brazil for the lives of citizens,” Rodrigues, a former Nieman Fellow, said. “But until now, we have not had a journalistic site with national scope, covering power, based in Brasília. It is a unique situation for a country of this size.” (Folha de S. Paulo and O Globo, two of Brazil’s major national newspapers, for instance, are headquartered in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively.)

Poder360’s premium newsletter subscribers receive three daily issues — 6 a.m., noon, and early evening — with behind-the-scenes policy news, analysis, and projections on topics such as congressional votes and Supreme Court decisions. The newsletter is available only as part of a corporate bundle, and pricing is negotiated depending on the number of people set to receive each email. Subscribers can also opt into receiving WhatsApp and Telegram alerts. The main Poder360 site, which features breaking policy news as well as analysis and opinion, is free.

In the two months since its official launch as an independent site, its coverage has already had national repercussions: An interview with the science minister Gilberto Kassab, for instance, revealed plans to limit fixed broadband data in the country.

But Poder360 didn’t just burst onto the scene in January with a full newsroom and working business model in two short months.

Rodrigues, a longtime reporter at Folha de S. Paulo, had been running his own political blog, hosted through the Internet portal UOL, since 2000, where he wrote a popular weekly post called “Drive Político da Semana” (Political Drive of the Week). After he was laid off from Folha in 2014, Rodrigues started a new company, Poder360 Jornalismo, and began looking for ways to turn his blog into something more substantial. By March 2015, he’d hired another reporter and an intern. By June 2015, he’d turned his weekly column into a paid-for email newsletter — a product that became what’s now known as Drive Premium.

Until the end of 2016, all work done by Rodrigues and his growing staff was published at UOL, but negotiations to maintain the publishing partnership with UOL went nowhere, so Poder360 relaunched in January as an independent site. Most of Poder360’s employees have been hired in the past nine months.

The current audience for the relaunched Poder360 hasn’t reached the same levels as its predecessor had when it was still hosted at UOL. But the new site has a “solid target” of 1 million monthly unique visitors by March, according to Rodrigues.

“It’s the old story: If you build a good product, readers will come,” he said. “I don’t want to say that I’m not worried about the audience, but it’s about being very clear that in our model, which has already started paying off with Drive, we have the time and conditions to build an outlet that will appeal to a certain audience that is not necessarily the complete bulk of all news consumers.”

Rodrigues wouldn’t disclose the number of Drive Premium subscribers or specific revenue figures, but he said that Poder360 doesn’t plan to implement a paywall for the general news stories on its sites. (The site will introduce ads on its main site later this year.)

Rodrigues insists he isn’t concerned about conflicts of interest that might arise from being financed by corporate clients (the sales team sits — literally — far away from the reporters, in São Paulo). The site also has no paying subscribers from the government or government agencies, according to Rodrigues: “Not that we might not have that in the future, but as an initial strategy, we thought it would be better to keep Poder360 and Drive entirely independent from the government.”

Much of the media industry in Brazil and all around the world has gone in circles trying to find sustainable business models to support journalism online. For many traditional newspapers, making up for declining print revenues through digital subscriptions and online advertising has been a Sisyphean task, with Rodrigues himself having been part of the layoffs that ensued. But with Poder360, he’s betting now that the site’s mission of “providing an information and analysis service honestly, with the highest quality and integrity” will always yield an audience large enough (and resource-rich enough) to sustain its reporting.

“We should not go into an arms race for clicks. Our business is quality journalism. If we fulfill our mission, our product will appeal to millions of Brazilians who are eager for independent, serious, extensive and informative coverage of power and politics,” he said. “Good journalism never dies. The Brazilian reader has never been so interested in matters related to power and politics.”

A version of this story was published at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Photo of Brasília’s National Congress of Brazil by Frank van Leersum used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 22, 2017, 11:09 a.m.
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