Brazil’s largest daily newspaper, Folha de São Paulo has just signed contracts with more than a dozen new writers. Not professional writers, but citizen journalists, who join a robust online community created by Knight International Journalism Fellow Bruno Garcez. Launched in late November 2010, the site is thriving – and attracting new viewers every day.
“We have been actively recruiting new bloggers to contribute to Mural,” says Izabela Moi, editor of Folha’s education weekly section, who oversees the blog site. “We have 25 active bloggers who have been with us from the beginning, and have just signed contracts with 15 more who will complete training and then join our team. It’s become a community in the true sense of the word.” She reports there were 15,722 page views in the month of October, and 12,080 unique visitors to the site.
The Mural blog is important, she says, because it provides a platform for citizens from small, often overlooked communities to speak out about the issues that are important to them.
“Before Mural was launched, the peripheral areas of São Paulo were generally the focus of news stories on just two occasions: when there was a crime or tragedy, and when an activist organization with strong funding and a good press office went to work to put the word out,” says Moi. “Mural changed all of that. It allows our trained citizen journalists to tell the stories of those invisible communities. It gives a face to those areas and helps to challenge the pre-conceived notions of violence and victimization that have been spread through mainstream media for so long.”
One blog report, for example, highlighted the complaints about a new public technical college in a lower-income community. It offers daytime-only classes, when many in the community are working, and training that primarily leads to low-wage occupations. “These young people from poor areas have the same expectations, desires and hopes of any other,” wrote citizen journalist and blogger Vagner De Alencar, who included numerous quotes from students and area residents. He also included comment from the general administrator for the entire system of technical colleges in São Paulo. The official acknowledged the problems but explained that classes were chosen based on research. He also said the school is new, and that more classes will be added over time. For the blog to get a public response from such a high-ranking official was nothing short of “amazing,” says Moi.
The citizen journalists are not paid for their work. They volunteer to participate in training with Folha and then cover stories of interest in their communities. Some of the bloggers are student journalists. All are passionate about highlighting the concerns unique to their neighborhoods.
“What’s most important is that Mural’s one-year anniversary is not the only milestone the blog has to celebrate,” says Garcez, who created the blog during his Knight fellowship and then asked Folha to host it. “Now, a year after my work with Mural has ended, it has an independent life that isn’t reliant on me, the creator, or on Izabela, Folha’s coordinator. The participants have fully embraced the idea of being community correspondents. I feel great joy with what we’ve accomplished and look forward to seeing what’s next.”