Following Our Audience to Telegram

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Late on the first Friday night in March, Vindu Goel, an audience editor for The New York Times, sent an email to his colleagues with the subject line: “If gets blocked in Russia … ”

It had been over a week since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, and several Western news organizations had already suspended their operations in Russia in the wake of a crackdown on media and free speech by the country’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. Russia had already taken steps to ban or restrict Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Mr. Goel began pondering the question: If our website is blocked in Russia, how can we get our news and information to people who need it?

From his home in California, Mr. Goel typed the email. To continue delivering the news to readers overseas, he wrote, The Times should start a channel on the fast-growing messaging service Telegram. He copied his boss; his boss’s boss; Michael Slackman, the assistant managing editor for International; and Snigdha Koirala, an international deputy editor. Within minutes, emails were flying back and forth. Everyone wanted to figure out how to get it done.

“We want to be where the audience is,” Mr. Goel said in an interview. “We realized that a large chunk of the audience who would be most interested in accurate information about the war is on Telegram, and we weren’t there.”

Telegram is a combined content distribution platform and messaging app. The platform is free to use, and offers end-to-end encryption for messages for enhanced security and privacy. Telegram reports that it has more than 500 million monthly active users, a number which has likely grown since the invasion began. It was founded in 2013 by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, brothers who fled Russia years ago, and has since become Russia’s most popular messaging tool.

With Russians receiving censored news and Ukrainians under attack or fleeing the country, Mr. Goel said it was…

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