If 2016 was the post-truth year, 2017 will be the year of transparency for Brazilian journalism. More than a prediction, it’s a necessity for professionals and publications that want to reaffirm a contract of confidence with the public.
The good news is that there’s room to mend our relationships with readers, viewers, listeners, and Internet users, and the way to do that is to be honest and attentive to the public. This is one of the many lessons learned from the 13 contributors to the project O jornalismo no Brasil em 2017 (Journalism in Brazil in 2017), a series of texts inspired by Nieman Lab’s annual Predictions For Journalism series. It was a joint project of Farol Jornalismo, which is dedicated to the research of trends in journalism, and the Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji), the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism],
O jornalismo no Brasil em 2017 provides insights into the present and the near future of the complex and exciting journalistic scene in the largest country in Latin America. For this piece, we’ve selected some highlights of the project, from seven of the 13 predictions that were published.
As in the U.S., we in Brazil are experiencing increasing polarization via social networks. If there the situation seems to have exploded with the election of Donald Trump, here it had a climax during recent developments in the political crisis that has affected the country for over two years. After the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, we went through an impeachment process for President Dilma Rousseff and municipal elections. The result: In 2016, the number of Facebook shares of fake news about Lava Jato (Car Wash) — an operation responsible for scrutinizing corrupt relationships, especially involving politicians and large corporations, often compared to the Clean Hands Italian operation of the 1990s — was larger than the number of shares of true news.
In O jornalismo no Brasil em 2017, Tai Nalon, the director of Aos Fatos, a pioneering Brazilian fact-checking initiative, draws attention to the need to verify content. For her, next year, social networks should become a place where news should be checked, not just spread. This, says Nalon, will work to prepare us for the 2018 presidential elections in the country.
Although it is essential, fact-checking has its limitations. Total objectivity is unreachable, writes Rogerio Christofoletti, professor at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina and coordinator of the Observatório da Ética Jornalística (ObjETHOS, or Journalistic Ethics Observatory). Hence the importance of transparency as an essential part of journalistic ethics. He recalls cases in which the Brazilian audience demanded that old journalistic pacts were kept when media vehicles tried to get closer to the public by mistakenly appropriating languages and attitudes that are typical of social networks.
It is necessary to leave this arrogant and paternalistic attitude behind, since readers often no longer depend on conventional journalism for information. “Nowadays, it is expected for individuals and organizations to be accountable and to give explanations. Journalism does not exist outside of the society and can not deviate from this requirement,” he writes.
Openness and transparency can help journalism reaffirm its value with the audience, creating the conditions to leverage new business models. That’s what Pedro Burgos, a Brazilian journalist who is part of The Marshall Project team, writes. Like Nalon, Burgos used the post-Trump situation to propose reflection on what we can learn from the latest developments in U.S. media. Besides the increase in subscriptions that traditional vehicles such as The New York Times have had after the election, he notes that nonprofit initiatives are receiving more investment. This creates an opportunity, he says, for journalists to develop strategies that can show the public the value of our work — something that has already been demonstrated by Stanford economist James T. Hamilton in Democracy’s Detectives.
The economist Frederic Kachar, Globo’s general director of print media, bets on reinventing the relationship with the public as a way of recovering from declining revenue. “Having impressive numbers and pageviews is not enough — it’s necessary to have a qualified audience that sees enough value in good journalism to pay for it,” he writes, mentioning the creation of a new way of working that would be capable of delivering good journalism 24/7. It is necessary to invest in the “essence of professional journalism.”
In this new way of working, sending a professional to cover a story with a camera to take a single photo is an outdated practice, predicts the documentary maker João Wainer. The definition of 4K video cameras allows the extraction of frames and their publication with excellent quality, both on paper and on the internet. “It’s the end of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment,’ but whoever confuses it with the end of photography is wrong,” writes the documentary maker, highlighting the new role to be played by the photo editor and the importance of the “specialized look that will once again make a difference.”
The question is how to put all these innovations into practice in Brazil. When writing about national investigative journalism in 2017, Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reporter Rubens Valente predicts that high-quality journalism — the type of work that can differentiate itself from the content on social networks and make a difference — will face structural challenges. Getting smaller and smaller and still steadily reducing staff, traditional newsrooms find it difficult to invest in surprising themes and approaches, as they need to focus all their efforts on the huge amount of day-to-day news.
In parallel with the situation of legacy media, Brazilian journalism has seen a considerable increase in the number of new journalistic initiatives over the last two years. While on one hand this has oxygenated Brazilian journalism with specialized coverage, often offering points of view different from the traditional media’s, it has also brought professional instability and the risk of journalists losing their credibility, their greatest asset, in favor of the causes to which they dedicate their work.
This is the prediction of the journalist Sérgio Lüdtke, author of research on Brazilian digital journalistic enterprises. He says that in order to mitigate these two threats, more planning must be on the horizon of journalistic entrepreneurship in Brazil in 2017. When creating a business plan, entrepreneurs in the journalistic market will have better chances to answer questions that are essential to the survival of their product, both financially and in relation to the transparency pact mentioned by Christofoletti.
Moreno Cruz Osório is cofounder of Farol Jornalismo.