Turning to data, diversity and democratizing access, new voices in Brazil are pushing back equally against the widespread news deserts and a legacy media still largely owned by not more than five families from the country’s elite.
These independent journalism initiatives have been searching for new ideas to survive financially, helping to untie the knot of growing misinformation, fighting the constant dishonest attacks from the now-gone Bolsonaro government and trying to soothe the scarcity of information in small communities across the country.
It’s forcing a reorganization of news in Brazil: delivering an ecosystem that’s less concentrated, more diverse and pluralistic, characterized by an obsessive search for solutions.
The political turmoil of the Bolsanoro government has made it harder: Every news outlet (traditional or not) struggled to survive the chaos caused by the government’s constant press-bashing and attacks on journalists. Just getting by demanded a rare mix of structure, ballast and guts as everything changed. Moreover, with a population of 60% black, and over half of the total living with food insecurity, the Brazilian news agenda is still based on informing a privileged white and wealthy minority.
A 2022 review of local and regional media in Brazil, Atlas da Notícia shows that more than a third of Brazil’s population – around 70 million people – live in so-called “news deserts” with no record of printed or digital news media “where neither the City Hall nor the Town Hall is covered, among other things”.
Prepared by the think-tank Observatório da Imprensa, the report identified more than 5,300 media – printed newspapers and websites — in 1,125 cities that cover 130 million of Brazil’s 230 million population.
For decades, radio was the main source of information for local audiences. Now, broadcasters are turning to digital platforms, attracting a larger and younger audience. This comes with a rising generation of young journalists and editors focused on local journalism, striving to revitalize and reinvent the craft.
Some draw on grants from organizations like International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) or the big platforms (particularly Google and Meta). — but above all with funds from their audience through crowdfunding, membership or subscription plans – or a mix of all three.
Innovation is still mainly centralized in the golden news triangle: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasília leaving organizations in smaller cities with less access to financing, training and incentives.
According to report co-author Sergio Ludtke many of these small-sized digital natives, have few resources and often little knowledge of the business, asking the question: “Can these new digital media fill the information void?”.
“In the short and medium term, unfortunately, it ends up compromising editorial independence”, he says. “They are forced to agree to projects or content paid by people who shouldn’t be paying anything for them, such as local politicians or administrations.
“Due to the lack of a vision for the future and sustainability, they end up being short-lived”.
Camila Mont´Alverne, a postdoctoral research fellow at Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, says Brazilian journalism does well when innovators explore new possibilities like other platforms or products. One example is WhatsApp, a tool with about 165 million users in Brazil. Another tool is collaboration, like in Comprova– a consortium of media outlets struggling against disinformation.
“However,” she says, “Brazilian journalism is slower than many other countries to innovate in an aspect that’s crucial to better serve audiences: diversity, whether in newsrooms or the coverage. There are efforts, but a 2021 RISJ study shows there were no editors-in-chief in the main Brazilian newsrooms that were not white.” (White Brazilians are less than half the country’s population.)
The emerging media have suffered under the four years of the Bolsonaro government, including media freedom, access to public data (that has been hidden or deleted by the government) and the ability of journalists to operate without intimidation. scene. Here are stories from the survivors:
Núcleo Jornalismo has pulled together a team of newborn stars in journalism to confront the challenge of misinformation. They’ve built an editorial staff of about 20 people – an initiative of enormous significance at the national level.
Recently, the outlet won the Cláudio Weber Abramo Data Journalism Award in the Innovation and Experimentation category with their BotPonto project– a bot that is capable of reading video transcriptions and letting fact-checking and journalists easily find content that might be wrong or misleading. By pinpointing the exact minute a potential falsehood is stated on a YouTube video, it reduces the time spent assessing online recordings.
They have also developed a suite of social media listening and monitoring applications that have been used by both their own team and others to find and analyse political speech and data.
“For projects like this to work, it is necessary to understand the value that technological development has for journalism, and treat codes and technologies as journalism and not as a supplementary area, investing in something beyond content, setting up interdisciplinary teams with technical and content people”, said Nucleo’s executive editor Sérgio Spagnuolo.
If somebody is talking about voter fraud or voting machines, they will identify those words, whether those words were used and ask people to help them check if they are right. Since 2020, Núcleo has been closely following politicians on Twitter, to draw up a specific strategy for political coverage.
Launched in 2018, Agência Mural wanted to tackle the deep problem of diversity in the Brazilian press with a novel approach: writing about Brazil’s poorest communities from within, with a team of journalists born and raised in poor communities writing about priorities, needs and relevant issues for their bubble interest. Now, they oversee nearly 90 correspondents in dozens of favelas throughout São Paulo.
Agência Mural has evolved from a fledgling blog to a well-respected news site, with its most recent venture being a collaboration with a major national TV news network releasing content ranging from culture to chronic issues like infrastructure and sanitation. During the recent campaign elections, the project “Papo Reto no Zap” (“Straight Talk on Whatsapp”) was highlighted for involving the population of neighbourhoods in the outskirts of São Paulo to help combat the misinformation about the region where they live and whose was ignored by the major media outlets.
Participants forwarded suspicious content about the elections to be evaluated and, where possible, verified. Each group was managed by an “ambassador”, who lives in those regions, paired with a fact-checker, both trained by project-partner Lupa, the country’s leading fact-checker. The organisation diversified its distribution of debunked content through texts, audio, links, gifs, videos, stickers, art and information cards.
Sometimes a name tells it all: “Don’t LAI to me” is the joking title of Fiquem Sabendo’s fortnightly newsletter which aims to democratise the use of Brazil’s Access to Information Law. (LAI – pronounced “lie” – is the law’s Portuguese acronym.)
An independent data agency specializing in providing access to information the government does not disclose to the audience, Fiquem Sabando also trains citizens capable of exercising control of public resources and services alongside its team to promote a culture of transparency and engaged civil society.
The newsletter delivers unpublished bases, news, tips and reports produced on or based on data obtained via the current (and not enough used) law.
Fiquem Sabendo team encourages the audience to share suspicious accusations, and obscure government agendas for them to investigate. They also shelter declassified documents making them a true hub of privileged information hidden by the government.
In 2021, their Transparent Agenda Project was selected for the Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge in Latin America 2021. It’s a tool to help journalists using real-time monitoring of the agendas of Brazilian authorities and public agents, based on information that is currently available in a dispersed and non-standardised manner online.
The emerging media are encouraging traditional mastheads to catch up.
The 80-year-old O Liberal, from Pará, a northern state home to the Amazonia national park, republishes content on Amazonia and environmental issues produced by local digital influencers on their social networks, making the newspaper become a kind of content hub in accessible language. During the recent presidential campaign, they launched Amazônia Check, to monitor and check the statements of presidential candidates about the Amazon, including the environment, population, human development index and more.
O Estado de Minas
O Estado de Minas, (founded in 1928) and has built a network of over 300 local contributors in the main municipalities of the state. The contributors are responsible for providing the newspaper with local, verified news.
What did they do differently? “They listened to the people”, said Sergio Ludtke.