Newsroom Exchange Gives Brazilian and U.S. Journalists a Crash Course in Shared Challenges, Political Melodrama
BRASÍLIA — Protesters gathered outside the National Congress as I made my way inside to visit the lower chamber. Hours later, the demonstrators, angry over a pension reform plan, would be met with pepper spray as they tried to enter the chamber.
One of the journalists I met told me current affairs had become so engaging in Brazil that soap-opera fans were tuning into the news because it reminded them of their telenovelas.
So it was an incredible time to visit newsrooms and meet with journalists as they wrestled with questions like these: Is it a good idea to publish messages between a hacker and Brazil’s first lady?
Just last spring, I knew little about Brazil’s politics or journalism.
That’s when ICFJ sent a Brazilian journalist to spend three weeks at my workplace, The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization that covers Texas government and politics.
Days after the journalist, Juan Torres, arrived in Austin, Brazil’s president — Dilma Rousseff, the first woman to hold that office — was suspended.
Over Texas barbecue, pickup soccer and newsroom gatherings, Juan gave my colleagues and me a crash course in politics and journalism in Brazil. We also learned about Juan’s coastal hometown of Salvador, Brazil’s first capital and a hub of Afro-Brazilian culture. Juan, the innovation editor at Correio newspaper, told us about his work to create a digital strategy for his organization.
Then it was onto Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo with my incredible host, Guilherme Alpendre of Abraji, the Brazilian Association For Investigative Journalism. We visited a fact-checking operation, a huge media organization, several major newspapers, and startups focused on the country’s judicial system and the Amazon. We toured favelas with community journalists who tell stories about impoverished neighborhoods. We also took in a soccer game.
Over many cups of coffee, I talked with innovative journalists who are navigating the same challenges as my colleagues at The Texas Tribune: how to use data to tell compelling stories online, how to engage with audiences, how to get our hands on information that should be public, how to pay for the journalism we do.
I hated to leave Brazil, because I wanted to spend more time with the journalists I met, and to see up close the next stages in the country’s political saga.
But other soap operas awaited me at home in Texas.