In Brazil, a push for pluralism

“Awareness of the profound relationship between the health of the people and the right to information materialized the need to advocate for democracy.”

The political and public health crises Brazilians faced in 2020 have made journalism stronger. Public agents’ erratic and irresponsible management of efforts against the spread of the coronavirus helped the press claim its role as a key player in defense of people’s lives. When it became clear that trustworthy information was a matter of life and death, journalism guaranteed access to data that governments could not manage or would not publicize. Awareness of the profound relationship between the health of the people and the right to information materialized the need to advocate for democracy. That need reaffirmed the importance of journalism even when under attack by the federal executive power and parts of society.

In 2021, coronavirus will remain in circulation, governments will lack, and attacks will not cease. In order to gain more relevance and respond to the hostilities accordingly, journalism must broaden its understanding of and its relationship with the society it serves. On the one hand, it must strengthen the mechanisms that allow it to watch over the public good, especially investigating. On the other, it must make an even more significant effort to embrace the plurality of an unequal continental country. That sometimes means pushing our own boundaries and working side-by-side with other players in favor of democratic values.

Pushing our boundaries means staying alert to what happens on the borders of journalism as we have known it historically. That is why we will see more combative, plural, and anti-racist journalism become more robust in 2021. Journalism that is not necessarily produced by professional journalists but by peripheral communicators who use ethics and journalistic language to inform and relate to their public will gain prominence. We will see journalism that is more attentive to what is said in social networks, which, however toxic, have become a fruitful ground for the emergence of narratives that can shape public discourse.

The challenge is tremendous — mainly because the adversities we identified in previous issues of this project still stand. The business model crisis and the race for new forms of sustainability are still very much real. They are as present as misinformation, which is still a significant target of journalistic efforts worldwide. In recent years, both points became intertwined with the relationship journalism maintains with social media platforms. In 2021, things will not be different. There will be an aggravating factor, though, since the independent ecosystem — the protagonist that will push the boundaries to keep journalism relevant — is the most financially vulnerable and is, therefore, the one that depends on the most on the money coming from tech giants.

The pandemic added two more additional points to the list of trials journalism must face in 2021: the precariousness of labor and the challenges to its professionals’ mental health. Neither is new to us, but remote work and the nature of covering a pandemic have brutally worsened the effects of both. Journalists reach the end of 2020 broken — both mentally and financially. Reflecting and acting on that reality will be decisive for journalism to be relevant and trustworthy in 2021. It will not be easy. Both fronts are related to the organization of labor and how journalists see themselves, elements that are deeply rooted in the profession’s imaginary.

For the fifth time, Farol Jornalismo and Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji) invited journalists and researchers to reflect on what awaits journalism in the year to come. If permanence is what gauges transience, one may say that 2021 was an exceptional year. Rupture entails a search for explanations: all over the world, people saw themselves forced to find new meaning in their everyday lives as the pandemic turned their world upside down. In a country governed by hesitant leaders such as Brazil, the role of curating information to offer certainty amidst the chaos was frequently left to the press. A new range of possibilities became, thus, available to journalism. Finding a way to make the most of them is the challenge proposed to the 9 authors invited to join us in this special issue of Jornalismo no Brasil.

For Luiza Caires, science editor for Jornal da USP, Brazilian science journalism will be more investigative in 2021 and must incorporate practices from other fields. “A good science journalist must not only be able to transform complex pieces of information from natural, hard, and humane sciences into palatable news that make sense to people’s lives. They must also comprehend how science news relates to today’s political and social environment,” she wrote. In addition, Caires draws attention to the need to escape the “deceitful neutrality of hearing many sides of the story.” “I do not see,” she continues, “any conflict or demerit in science journalism openly siding with the standards of good science.”

By taking sides, even if it is the side of science and human rights, journalism creates tension around questions that still hover its definition (or the definition of what it should be). Partly, the hostility suffered by journalists may be explained by simplistic and sometimes dishonest appropriations of principles like neutrality and impartiality. That being so, attacks are likely to escalate over the year to come, further damaging democracy, anticipates Débora Prado, from the NGO Artigo 19. As a response, she writes, journalism must be attentive to “disseminating diverse information, produced responsibly from the standpoint of the distinct realities we have in this country, is a solid approach to tackling an adverse environment.”

Our focus point in 2021 must be that which has been reshaping journalism from the inside out.

Pedro Borges, from Alma Preta, highlights the importance of local, black, peripheral journalism in establishing credibility with the people. “Trust between communicators and territories is built mainly on everyday, direct contact,” he writes, pointing out that this bond became even stronger in 2020. “In 2021, the positive experiences collectives of black communicators had with the communities during the pandemic may well inspire the emergence of new groups of journalists (or non-journalists) in these areas.” For Borges, this shift will be fundamental for journalism, “providing news deserts with quality information, will consequently aid in the development of a different, less unequal and less violent country.”

The professor and researcher Cleidiana Ramos highlights the anti-racist discourse that emerges from social networks as being able to reshape journalism. “It is part of a lifelong struggle for this country. Anti-racism and the recognition and appreciation of Afro-Brazilian culture will find fuel in digital environments to fight for diversity and representation in journalism and the various social settings,” Ramos writes. She believes that this dynamic will become intensified in 2021, and quotes facts such as the pressure that initiated a change in the Globonews show Em Pauta as examples: “it will benefit from the growing intersection between journalism and other forms of communication, native to the digital environment. Special attention should be paid to their potential to set the agenda for traditional news outlets.”

Finally, Caê Vasconcelos, from Ponte Jornalismo, expands the discussion with a call for journalism made for all LGBT individuals. According to him, it is necessary to “understand that we live in a society built on sexism, LGBTphobia, and racism.” For journalism to be effectively inclusive in 2021, we must look outside the “white bourgeois cisgender heterosexual bubble” in which journalism tends to dwell. “In 2021, journalism must understand that real diversity can only be created with the participation of trans men and women, non-binary, intersex, and agender people. In 2021 journalism must understand that real diversity can only be created with black and peripheral people,” he writes.

How can we give visibility to these forms of journalism? How can we make them financially sustainable?

To properly reflect on these matters, we must confront the relationship between journalism and social media platforms. Over the last few years, the discussion of that dynamic was centered around content distribution and misinformation; lately, a new chapter has been written: the investment big tech companies have made on journalism worldwide. For Guilherme Felitti, from Novelo Data, “concentration of power and money in the hands of few tech companies directly affected journalism, not only because it dismantled the traditional business model…but also because it introduced countless traps disguised as lifesavers.” There is no easy way out. It is for journalism to find the balance to maintain the independence it needs.

The balance will also be necessary at the crossroads between transparency and data protection. That is the hunch of Fernanda Campagnucci, executive director of Open Knowledge in Brazil, on how the Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) — Brazil’s version of Europe’s GDPR — will affect journalistic work in 2021. “The efforts to cover the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 taught us that journalism could be a driving force to undo the setbacks regarding transparency we have experienced, and push open data forward,” she writes, adding that “the unprecedented opening of data we saw in the health sector,” will likely “extend to other sectors of public policy.” For her, with new people in the office at the municipal level in 2021, it will be the ideal moment to expand that demand.

Big tech and transparency are not the only challenges we face.

The pandemic changed how we do journalism in 2020. Social distancing deprived us of one of the main assets in our professional practice: on-site observation. Beyond the hardships imposed on narrative production, the extended quarantine emptied press rooms, and journalists started working from home. Remote work made the now-familiar process of precariousness blatantly clear, points out the president of the Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas (Fenaj), Maria José Braga. “For the recognition of journalism by the public to be maintained and intensified, which happened during the pandemic, and to guarantee quality journalism in 2021, journalism professionals must first be recognized and appreciated,” she writes. The problem, she says, is that there is no evidence to suggest such recognition.

The precariousness does not jeopardize only the quality of journalistic work. The workers themselves are also affected. Not only financially but also mentally. In 2020, the pandemic lifted any veils left to hide that obvious conclusion, as journalists were forced to work strenuously on its coverage. “There is a certain hazard in reporting and being in direct contact with the greatest source of distress in the world right now,” said Marco Túlio Pires from Google News Lab to Guilherme Valadares, director of research at the Instituto de Pesquisa & Desenvolvimento em Florescimento Humano and founder of the website Papo de Homem. For Valadares, the mental health of journalists must be center-front on the agenda. Mainly because “exhausted, depressed, anxious, overworked and poorly rested journalists narrate a world seen through that same emotional landscape.”

It is clear at this point that, just like the year that will soon come to an end, 2021 will be tough. Journalism must do more than narrate facts, it must help build a better reality. For that purpose, it must unyieldingly strive to defend the ethical and deontological values that are the cornerstone of our professional practice. It must also be more plural and open to new voices, new practices, new bodies. Only then will journalism be able to act consistently more decisively in defense of democracy and the health of the people in the coming year.

Moreno Cruz Osório is co-founder of Brazil’s Farol Jornalismo.

The political and public health crises Brazilians faced in 2020 have made journalism stronger. Public agents’ erratic and irresponsible management of efforts against the spread of the coronavirus helped the press claim its role as a key player in defense of people’s lives. When it became clear that trustworthy information was a matter of life and death, journalism guaranteed access to data that governments could not manage or would not publicize. Awareness of the profound relationship between the health of the people and the right to information materialized the need to advocate for democracy. That need reaffirmed the importance of journalism even when under attack by the federal executive power and parts of society.

In 2021, coronavirus will remain in circulation, governments will lack, and attacks will not cease. In order to gain more relevance and respond to the hostilities accordingly, journalism must broaden its understanding of and its relationship with the society it serves. On the one hand, it must strengthen the mechanisms that allow it to watch over the public good, especially investigating. On the other, it must make an even more significant effort to embrace the plurality of an unequal continental country. That sometimes means pushing our own boundaries and working side-by-side with other players in favor of democratic values.

Pushing our boundaries means staying alert to what happens on the borders of journalism as we have known it historically. That is why we will see more combative, plural, and anti-racist journalism become more robust in 2021. Journalism that is not necessarily produced by professional journalists but by peripheral communicators who use ethics and journalistic language to inform and relate to their public will gain prominence. We will see journalism that is more attentive to what is said in social networks, which, however toxic, have become a fruitful ground for the emergence of narratives that can shape public discourse.

The challenge is tremendous — mainly because the adversities we identified in previous issues of this project still stand. The business model crisis and the race for new forms of sustainability are still very much real. They are as present as misinformation, which is still a significant target of journalistic efforts worldwide. In recent years, both points became intertwined with the relationship journalism maintains with social media platforms. In 2021, things will not be different. There will be an aggravating factor, though, since the independent ecosystem — the protagonist that will push the boundaries to keep journalism relevant — is the most financially vulnerable and is, therefore, the one that depends on the most on the money coming from tech giants.

The pandemic added two more additional points to the list of trials journalism must face in 2021: the precariousness of labor and the challenges to its professionals’ mental health. Neither is new to us, but remote work and the nature of covering a pandemic have brutally worsened the effects of both. Journalists reach the end of 2020 broken — both mentally and financially. Reflecting and acting on that reality will be decisive for journalism to be relevant and trustworthy in 2021. It will not be easy. Both fronts are related to the organization of labor and how journalists see themselves, elements that are deeply rooted in the profession’s imaginary.

For the fifth time, Farol Jornalismo and Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji) invited journalists and researchers to reflect on what awaits journalism in the year to come. If permanence is what gauges transience, one may say that 2021 was an exceptional year. Rupture entails a search for explanations: all over the world, people saw themselves forced to find new meaning in their everyday lives as the pandemic turned their world upside down. In a country governed by hesitant leaders such as Brazil, the role of curating information to offer certainty amidst the chaos was frequently left to the press. A new range of possibilities became, thus, available to journalism. Finding a way to make the most of them is the challenge proposed to the 9 authors invited to join us in this special issue of Jornalismo no Brasil.

For Luiza Caires, science editor for Jornal da USP, Brazilian science journalism will be more investigative in 2021 and must incorporate practices from other fields. “A good science journalist must not only be able to transform complex pieces of information from natural, hard, and humane sciences into palatable news that make sense to people’s lives. They must also comprehend how science news relates to today’s political and social environment,” she wrote. In addition, Caires draws attention to the need to escape the “deceitful neutrality of hearing many sides of the story.” “I do not see,” she continues, “any conflict or demerit in science journalism openly siding with the standards of good science.”

By taking sides, even if it is the side of science and human rights, journalism creates tension around questions that still hover its definition (or the definition of what it should be). Partly, the hostility suffered by journalists may be explained by simplistic and sometimes dishonest appropriations of principles like neutrality and impartiality. That being so, attacks are likely to escalate over the year to come, further damaging democracy, anticipates Débora Prado, from the NGO Artigo 19. As a response, she writes, journalism must be attentive to “disseminating diverse information, produced responsibly from the standpoint of the distinct realities we have in this country, is a solid approach to tackling an adverse environment.”

Our focus point in 2021 must be that which has been reshaping journalism from the inside out.

Pedro Borges, from Alma Preta, highlights the importance of local, black, peripheral journalism in establishing credibility with the people. “Trust between communicators and territories is built mainly on everyday, direct contact,” he writes, pointing out that this bond became even stronger in 2020. “In 2021, the positive experiences collectives of black communicators had with the communities during the pandemic may well inspire the emergence of new groups of journalists (or non-journalists) in these areas.” For Borges, this shift will be fundamental for journalism, “providing news deserts with quality information, will consequently aid in the development of a different, less unequal and less violent country.”

The professor and researcher Cleidiana Ramos highlights the anti-racist discourse that emerges from social networks as being able to reshape journalism. “It is part of a lifelong struggle for this country. Anti-racism and the recognition and appreciation of Afro-Brazilian culture will find fuel in digital environments to fight for diversity and representation in journalism and the various social settings,” Ramos writes. She believes that this dynamic will become intensified in 2021, and quotes facts such as the pressure that initiated a change in the Globonews show Em Pauta as examples: “it will benefit from the growing intersection between journalism and other forms of communication, native to the digital environment. Special attention should be paid to their potential to set the agenda for traditional news outlets.”

Finally, Caê Vasconcelos, from Ponte Jornalismo, expands the discussion with a call for journalism made for all LGBT individuals. According to him, it is necessary to “understand that we live in a society built on sexism, LGBTphobia, and racism.” For journalism to be effectively inclusive in 2021, we must look outside the “white bourgeois cisgender heterosexual bubble” in which journalism tends to dwell. “In 2021, journalism must understand that real diversity can only be created with the participation of trans men and women, non-binary, intersex, and agender people. In 2021 journalism must understand that real diversity can only be created with black and peripheral people,” he writes.

How can we give visibility to these forms of journalism? How can we make them financially sustainable?

To properly reflect on these matters, we must confront the relationship between journalism and social media platforms. Over the last few years, the discussion of that dynamic was centered around content distribution and misinformation; lately, a new chapter has been written: the investment big tech companies have made on journalism worldwide. For Guilherme Felitti, from Novelo Data, “concentration of power and money in the hands of few tech companies directly affected journalism, not only because it dismantled the traditional business model…but also because it introduced countless traps disguised as lifesavers.” There is no easy way out. It is for journalism to find the balance to maintain the independence it needs.

The balance will also be necessary at the crossroads between transparency and data protection. That is the hunch of Fernanda Campagnucci, executive director of Open Knowledge in Brazil, on how the Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) — Brazil’s version of Europe’s GDPR — will affect journalistic work in 2021. “The efforts to cover the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 taught us that journalism could be a driving force to undo the setbacks regarding transparency we have experienced, and push open data forward,” she writes, adding that “the unprecedented opening of data we saw in the health sector,” will likely “extend to other sectors of public policy.” For her, with new people in the office at the municipal level in 2021, it will be the ideal moment to expand that demand.

Big tech and transparency are not the only challenges we face.

The pandemic changed how we do journalism in 2020. Social distancing deprived us of one of the main assets in our professional practice: on-site observation. Beyond the hardships imposed on narrative production, the extended quarantine emptied press rooms, and journalists started working from home. Remote work made the now-familiar process of precariousness blatantly clear, points out the president of the Federação Nacional dos Jornalistas (Fenaj), Maria José Braga. “For the recognition of journalism by the public to be maintained and intensified, which happened during the pandemic, and to guarantee quality journalism in 2021, journalism professionals must first be recognized and appreciated,” she writes. The problem, she says, is that there is no evidence to suggest such recognition.

The precariousness does not jeopardize only the quality of journalistic work. The workers themselves are also affected. Not only financially but also mentally. In 2020, the pandemic lifted any veils left to hide that obvious conclusion, as journalists were forced to work strenuously on its coverage. “There is a certain hazard in reporting and being in direct contact with the greatest source of distress in the world right now,” said Marco Túlio Pires from Google News Lab to Guilherme Valadares, director of research at the Instituto de Pesquisa & Desenvolvimento em Florescimento Humano and founder of the website Papo de Homem. For Valadares, the mental health of journalists must be center-front on the agenda. Mainly because “exhausted, depressed, anxious, overworked and poorly rested journalists narrate a world seen through that same emotional landscape.”

It is clear at this point that, just like the year that will soon come to an end, 2021 will be tough. Journalism must do more than narrate facts, it must help build a better reality. For that purpose, it must unyieldingly strive to defend the ethical and deontological values that are the cornerstone of our professional practice. It must also be more plural and open to new voices, new practices, new bodies. Only then will journalism be able to act consistently more decisively in defense of democracy and the health of the people in the coming year.

Moreno Cruz Osório is co-founder of Brazil’s Farol Jornalismo.

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