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March 17, 2014, 9 a.m.
Business Models

In Brazil, a group of reporters is trying to build an independent platform for in-depth content

Seeing declining resources and newshole in newspapers, they believe there’s room for something like Byliner or The Atavist in Brazil.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

When journalists meet to talk about the future of the profession, the conversation often turns pessimistic: shrinking newsrooms and fewer spaces for in-depth reporting are some of the most common complaints. But some see the crisis in traditional journalism a source of opportunities. This vision brought together four Brazilian reporters and a French engineer around a project: Indie Journalism.

During a recent conversation on Google Hangouts — where Indie’s team members normally meet since they live in different cities — the group’s members shared their ultimate goal: to create a platform for both readers interested in long-form journalism and journalists interested in producing it. More than that, the site is betting on developing a new business model and a new kind of digital journalism product.

Breno Costa, a reporter with Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and one of the journalists behind the initiative, explained that it emerged as a response to the old model that has led newspapers to cut pages and reporters and produce fewer in-depth stories every day.

Costa, along with the three other journalists behind Indie — Andrei Netto, the Paris correspondent for Brazilian newspaper Estadão; Felipe Seligman, a Folha reporter in Brasilia; and Fernando Mello, also with Folha — have spent most of their careers at large print media outlets in Brazil. From the inside, they’ve been able to identify some areas for improvement.

“The crisis is knocking on our door, and we still haven’t seen the light at the end of the tunnel,” Netto says. “It’s up to us journalists to find our own way. I’m not saying newspapers are going to disappear — in fact, I think it’s not going to be that way. But the fact is that each media format has its strength, and it has become difficult for the large media outlets to invest in in-depth reporting because their structures were specifically designed to mainly deliver hard news.”

According to him, there aren’t enough journalism companies focusing exclusively in producing special reports and experimenting to find new relationships between different journalistic formats, like text, photo essays, and documentaries. That will be Indie’s mission, he said.

The platform will work as a digital newsroom for independent journalists to self-publish their investigations. Even though the team is not currently revealing specific details about the project, Breno said the stories will come from two sources: from journalists working at or invited by Indie, and from independent journalists who will self-publish their stories without requiring Indie’s approval. Still, he said, “we’re going to act like trustees to guarantee the quality of the publications.”

Netto summed up the initiative as a digital publisher that will seek to fill the need for high-quality narratives, following the examples of sites like The Atavist and Byliner in the U.S. and Mediapart in France.

The price of good stories

Indie expects reader payments to be the main source of income for the project. It will offer its readers a menu of different topics for in-depth investigations for them to choose and pay for. Seligman said that what motivated them to create Indie was in part their faith that good information will always have an audience and that journalists will continue to be its mediators: “We believe there are people who recognize the value of long investigations and are willing to pay a fair price for them, and we believe that we will attain this value. It is a bet based on what we have seen, but also on the future behavior of the users.”

In the beginning, the platform will not have a space for advertising. Mark Sangarne, the only non-journalist in the group and the person responsible for the group’s business plan, said that one possibility would be to add value to the stories using technology and a good digital marketing strategy: “We don’t know what the ideal business model will be for the journalism of the future, but we have a good idea on how to make Indie sustainable and we’re going to experiment.”

Besides the direct sale of stories, Indie will have a technology branch that will produce its own apps and a laboratory to finance innovations in journalism. The group is also considering the possibility of offering consulting services to companies that are looking for new digital products and making partnerships to share content with traditional media outlets.

To improve its visual skillset, Indie’s five founders invited to the team André Liohn, an award-winning Brazilian journalist who will be in charge of editing pictures, and Tomás Silva, the art director who will design the platform.

“We have to approach the art of journalism with the goal of transmitting information with the highest degree of refinement possible,” Netto said. “There are subjective ways to complement objective content.” If it were up to the group, there’d be more Snow Falls.

The platform is still under construction; the team said the site will be launched by mid-year.

POSTED     March 17, 2014, 9 a.m.
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