Brazilian Press: Bring Back the Journalists!

    
Brazilian Press: Bring Back the Journalists!

    The media, taken as industry or institution, finds itself paralyzed. Its
    reactions are
    counterproductive or, at best, conventional and remedial.
    This ‘journalism-without-journalists’ concept (hiding
    behind the waves
    of lay-offs) is as preposterous as the neglect practiced by every large
    publisher in the
    last 10 years regarding their own human resources.

    by:

    Alberto Dines

     

    The relationship between government and the press is getting sour in Brazil and this time it’s really serious because
    the issue is political, not economic. The communications industry is in the middle of its worst financial crisis ever and there
    is a pervasive pessimism overflowing to the news. It is not blackmail and it is not exactly a climate of persistent demands,
    either; it is more like a tone of ostensive sourness that does affect the content of information, creates a climate of artificiality
    and makes public opinion vulnerable to all kinds of orchestrations.

    The government cannot do a thing to relieve the affliction of the media: any sign of generosity can compromise the
    image of responsibility that the administration needs to maintain, as well as a sense of justice. And even if there was some kind
    of homeopathic, patient-ward relief to be provided, the truth is that Brazilian society has reached a standard of
    transparency in which any privilege—including privileges to the media—is very hard to dissimulate. If the picture already seems
    somber on a macro level, the day-to-day reality looks dreadful.

    ** Newsrooms are being emptied out under hundreds of layoffs.

    ** The chances of getting re-hired are minimal because the economic sectors which are in any way associated with
    the media (advertising, consulting and marketing services, for example) are facing an even worse depression.

    ** Media companies are all in danger, with no exceptions. Some are
    de facto bankrupt, others are under the
    ‘white’ intervention of banks and the most fortunate ones are paralyzed.

    ** The recession in the world at large does not allow for much in terms of an afflux of foreign capital and the same
    goes for partnerships and investments sourced from domestic conglomerates.

    ** Recovery will take a while, even if the Monetary Policy Committee (Copom) approves a substantial reduction in
    the prime rate.

    ** Journalism in general is already losing quality, especially printed materials which are used for reference.
    Weeklies are no longer indispensable and will soon be disposable.

    ** Advertising and promotional gimmicks have become too obvious. IBM is investing heavily on the campaign to
    sell its "on demand" concept (started on June 16). The idea has disfigured newspapers and business sections and blurred
    the boundaries between information and advertising definitively. The corporation and its agency are protecting their own
    interests; newspapers and other journalism companies, by focusing only on the bottom line, have forgotten theirs.

    ** The public, increasingly skeptical about the media’s reliability and frustrated with its lack of balance, is
    withholding trust.

    ** And in the middle of all this, the media gets ready to blame the government, which takes us back to the starting
    point of this analysis: in spite of the 9×3 score of last Sunday’s
    pelada (soccer match) at the Alvorada Palace, our journalism
    runs the risk of joining the second division.

    What to do? How to do it?

    Management gurus are joining hands with experts in signology, or the study of Chinese ideograms (foreign to most
    regular folks) to declare that crisis and opportunity are two concepts with one common origin. True or not, the axiom at least
    works as an antidote to nihilism and an elixir against affliction. In immediate and concrete terms, however, this
    ‘discovery’
    solves nothing.

    The government has its hands tied. In any case, it’s not the government’s role to intervene directly or indirectly in a
    process which must by definition be free from any official action. José Dirceu, then a candidate for the House of Representatives
    and currently head of a federal department, brought up the idea of a "Proer
    for the media" in the TV show Roda Viva last
    year (10/28/2002). The minister’s idea is a daring one: the media is an issue of national interest. Here is the quote from Dirceu:

    "It’s not only Rede Globo who is in financial difficulty. We could actually say that the whole sector, including the
    written press, is also going through serious financial trouble. We have to treat this as a matter of national interest and deal with
    it as an issue for the State to handle. It’s obvious that the country is facing a scarcity of financial resources and it needs to
    establish priorities and guarantees about how to allocate funds made available by either BNDES or by the process of
    renúncia fiscal [fiscal waiver]. But there’s no denying that we must pay attention to the situation faced by the communications sector.
    There is one alternative, which is the association of foreign capital, that we must end the regulation of legislation. Another is
    capital stock restructuring, mergers, associations, and a third one is a kind of financial engineering in which not only private
    initiative can participate but also entities such as public banks, in order to try to recover this or that company".

    The materialization of this idea, though, is extremely complicated. The banking system is controlled by Banco
    Central and the remedial measures (undertaken in 1995) in some banks to avoid an overall bankruptcy were successful because
    they were strictly controlled by the government. There was no deviation. Any similar inspection in the area of media is
    unthinkable, though. Without the proper inspection, any attempt to bring more financial health is doomed. Not to mention the
    reaction of the so-called setores de
    vanguarda (avant-garde sectors), which have always disliked Proer, in spite of its
    undeniably positive results.

    On the other hand, the media, taken as industry or institution, finds itself paralyzed. Its reactions—when they do
    react at all—are counterproductive or, at best, conventional and remedial. Corporate creativity is at its lowest level. As far as
    any sustainable increase in circulation is concerned, the joint promotion by Globo and Folha de S. Paulo to offer a collection
    of romance novels with large discounts will have a mere placebo effect, at the most. It is a waste of resources and energy
    and it will only add to the boredom already felt by readers.

    This ‘journalism-without-journalists’ concept (hiding behind the waves of lay-offs) is as preposterous as the neglect
    practiced by every large publisher in the last 10 years regarding their own human resources. Brazil has produced and trained large
    amounts of talented individuals and made them available to printed media publishers. This talent is now summarily sacrificed
    and/or replaced by youngsters without the necessary level of experience, who can’t be blamed for being called upon.

    The Way Back

    Consulting services were hired but the results were disastrous, even criminal in some cases, almost amounting to
    the accomplishments of Jayson Blair of the New
    York Times: slowly and innocently, they fooled everyone and created a
    tumor that finally had to be lanced. A gang of international pilferers with excellent connections in the academic
    marginalia traveled the country from north to south selling the idea that all problems would be solved with large overhauls in printing
    systems. Systems were redone everywhere, but not a single one of these geniuses dared to say to his respective contracting
    parties that before taking care of the packaging, we have to produce content. If they did, they would miss their break.

    The geniuses in finance and administration hired to do all this reengineering never changed any of the framework, let
    alone concepts, nor did they prevent media entrepreneurs from committing the prodigious collection of crass and irreparable
    mistakes perpetrated in the last few years. The exceedingly high salaries were or are being pocketed as we speak, but the actual
    bill was paid by all who were decapitated in the recent downsizings.

    The only reasonably successful strategic initiative was the search for a new segment of readers among those layers
    of readership that had benefited from the Plano Real. Popular newspapers did, in fact, mushroom everywhere. The benefits
    of the plan, however, did not endure. The whole segment stalled and in some instances even retracted due to the adverse
    economic situation. The surprise factor works well in the beginning, of course, but you have to put out a new paper every day.

    Where to Go for Help?

    Help can only come from journalists. Although they cooked some of the fiascos themselves, the damage was
    endorsed and thickened by business people who understand very little or nothing about the business and/or lack the
    psychological discipline to resist the temptations of power. The occasion calls for professionals of the press who are able to think with
    an entrepreneurial mind—because it has proved very hard to convert entrepreneurs into journalists.

    We need to remember history: all journalism companies were created, operated and expanded by journalists, with
    extremely rare exceptions. It’s time to bring them back. This is a great opportunity created by the current crisis. The
    government can create incentives; agencies can regulate the market and its practices; the legislative power can be called upon to
    curb abuses related to concentration of ownership or conflicts of interest. But journalism can only escape this crisis if
    journalists are the ones making the decisions. Including decisions about the photos of presidential
    peladas.

     

    Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos
    Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and
    editor of the Observatório da
    Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily
    Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at
    obsimp@ig.com.br

    This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa
    www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br

    Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an
    accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact:
    terezab@sbcglobal.net

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