Editor’s Note: There are lots of new stories to read from the newest issue of our sister publication Nieman Reports. But Nieman Lab readers might be particularly interested in this story by Fabiano Maisonnave, 2016 Nieman Fellow and a senior reporter for Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper.
It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the Amazon basin to Brazil. At approximately five million square kilometers, the region represents 59 percent of the country’s territory, an area just over 10 times larger than California. The most diverse rainforest in the world borders seven countries, three of which supply a majority of the world’s cocaine.
About 25 million people live in ever widening swaths of deforested areas. Some are newly arrived workers attracted by infrastructure projects, such as Belo Monte, the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Others are members of indigenous tribes who have had little or no contact with Western culture.There are endless stories to be told in the Amazon — from climate change to the ongoing loss of indigenous cultures — but fewer and fewer media outlets still have the budgets for the flights, cars, and boats needed to reach and report in such remote areas. It is harder still to find the cash to maintain a permanent presence. In April, Folha de S.Paulo, the most influential newspaper in Brazil, closed its last bureau in the Amazon. (Disclosure: I am a senior reporter at the paper.) Twenty years ago, it had three bureaus in the region. The other main national newspapers, O Globo in Rio de Janeiro and O Estado de S. Paulo, closed their offices in the past few years, as did Veja, the country’s largest weekly newsmagazine.
The retreat of mainstream print media as it transitions to digital has not only impacted coverage of the Amazon but also beats as diverse as soccer and books. Brazilian journalism faces the same problems the industry does in the rest of the world — including declining ad revenue — and greater ones, as well. In 2015, six journalists were killed for their work, the third most of any country tracked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ’s Carlos Lauria says attacks on journalists in Brazil have increased in the last five years, especially on independent journalists covering crime and politics outside of major cities.Despite this, and the country’s fraught political and economic climate, entrepreneurial Brazilian journalists are striving to revitalize and reinvent the profession. Dozens of journalists are leaving traditional newsrooms and creating new niche media startups online, including Amazônia Real, working to report stories in the Amazon that legacy media aren’t; Brio, specializing in longform narratives, and its sister publication Jota, focused on the Brazilian judiciary system; Ponte, covering mostly public security, human rights, and justice; Aos Fatos, a fact-checking platform; and Agência Pública, a news agency focused on investigative reporting on issues such as the impact of the Olympic Games preparations.
“These organizations are not focused on profit but rather are committed to producing quality journalism and to finding new forms of financing it,” says Natália Viana, one of three female journalists who founded Agência Pública in 2011. “The result is deeper, less hard news-based journalism. It is more personalized and open to experimentation.”