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It’s no big news that Organizações Globo — Rio de Janeiro’s main information source — has been struggling to staunch losses in TV viewers and readers. Young people don’t read newspapers and don’t watch television. What next?
The ninth Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism, or Abraji) conference, which took place in São Paulo last week, showcased new journalistic practices and perspectives. As Brazil’s democracy develops and matures, such practices are likely to play a key role in Rio de Janeiro’s transformation.
The blog recently discussed the responsibilty and potential of local media in this context, when Gilberto Scofield left his post as Rio editor at O Globo newspaper. Evidence of corruption in the mayor’s inner circle, revealed last Friday, underscores the importance of investigative journalism regarding public funds. And it’s crucial to stay focused: in 2010, Extra newspaper reported unusual growth in the personal finances of the mayor’s right-hand man, Rodrigo Bethlem — now accused of major bribe and kickback schemes.
Conference workshops and debates introduced highly useful tools for reporters who’d like to contribute to the dvelopment of Brazil’s democracy. For example, Gil Castello Branco, Secretary General of the not-for-profit organization Contas Abertas (Open Accounts), taught reporters how to access and analyze government data. The place to begin any research is the Portal da Transparência (Transparency Portal) Incredibly, a password is still required to get into some government data bases.
At a panel on conflict of interest in the Judiciary, the cases presented demonstrated an impressive lack of awareness — attention? concern? — among members of this branch of government. Here too, it is the media’s role to call attention to what’s going on, for example, judges partying at a resort as guests of a company hoping for favorable decisions. Clearly, while weak institutions force Brazilians to depend on personal networks to deal with daily challenges of life, the institutions are themselves weak because Brazilians put so much stock in their personal networks.
Sometimes, the networks — i.e., conflicted relationships — of traditional media limit their capacity to question government officials, to investigate and make accusations. So now, in the Internet age, engaged journalists are turning to alternative media. Presented during one session, Ponte, a new site focusing on public safety in São Paulo state, is an example. The founders, energized by their newfound freedom, recounted several cases of police and human rights abuse where their reporting made a difference.
Perhaps the most heartening development at the conference is a partnership between the American site, Vice News, and YouTube. Vice, with a bent towards in-depth print reporting and videos, intends to set up shop in Brazil, in both English and Portuguese. The site is barely known here, up to now.
As conference attendees saw, the news is no more a monolithic entity. No longer do we have a daily menu created by electronic or print media giants, telling us what we need to know.
Instead, news consumers access a varied information flow, and must choose and prioritize on their own — or depend on recommendations from social media friends and acquaintances. “Today’s youth are savvier,” Jason Mojica, Vice editor-in-chief said reassuringly, in answer to a question from RioRealblog about the prospect of a news curation vacuum. Given the merciless information flow, how can one best discover what’s really going on in Rio de Janeiro?
We’ll never know if today’s youth are in fact savvier than those of previous generations, but the fact is that, given the shrinking importance of mainstream media and the growing attachment to social media, we will all have to learn to think critically. The question is, will journalists fully take on their role? Will they go beyond simple investigation, beyond the raw news, providing their stories with global and historical context?
Journalists themselves must learn to think critically, which means keeping up a constant mental or real dialogue with readers and viewers, not just those who already see the world the way they do. It means asking oneself all the questions the public are likely to ask.
If we are to understand ourselves in the greater world and find ways to contribute to a more just democracy, this work is crucial.
- During the Abraji congress a new journalism award was announced, for coverage of public policy and legislation regarding drugs, the Prêmio Gilberto Velho de Mídia e Drogas. Participate here.
- The Brazilian chapter of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which participated in the meeting, also gives a journalism award, for reporting on sustainable urban mobility. More information is here.
- For those interested in contributing to the electoral debate, in the public policy arena, Casa Fluminense will hold the Fórum Rio and launch its 2017 Agenda Rio on August 16 at the Crescer e Viver Circus. Open to all.