A look behind the scenes of the investigation that won the 2012 Brazilian Esso Grand Prize for Journalism

Resigning from the presidency of the highest soccer authority in Brazil two years before the country was set to host the World Cup was not part of Ricardo Teixeira's plans. The official, who until now was the most powerful leader of a sport that is a national passion in Brazil, was not set to give up his post until 2015. His departure, however, was hastened by the work of a team of reporters who won the 2012 Esso Grand Prize for Journalism, announced last week.

Published in the sports section of the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the series "The shady game and the fall of Ricardo Teixeira" set off a scandal that ended with Teixeira's resignation as president of the Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF in Portuguese), a position he held for 23 years. The exposé linked the ex-CBF president and the president of Barcelona, Alianto, who received R$ 9 million from the government of the Federal District to organize a friendly match with the Brazilian team. A sports section has not won a major Brazilian journalism prize since 1968.

Reporters Filipe Coutinho, Julio Wiziack, Leandro Colon, Rodrigo Mattos and Sérgio Rangel put in four months of investigation into the series, supplemented by reports from the police and the public prosecutor's office, interviews and other documents.

"This was not the first time Teixeira was involved in an alleged case of embezzlement. But, this was the first time he was shown to have received shares--R$ 705,000--in his account related to a team match. The amazing thing about these reports is that we were able to uncover the trail of money," explained Filipe Coutinho. He and the reporter Leandro Colon spoke about their award-winning investigation with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

According to them, patience and persistence were their greatest resources during the investigation. "It was a hard job to get sources to speak with us because Teixeira was a powerful guy, so there was a certain resistance. We got a lot of "nos" during the investigation. More than once, we spent a day searching for a document only to have the source pull out at the last second. It wasn't necessary to use a lot of technology, Excel tables or other things like that. It was just long nights without much sleep and research, a basic tenant of reporting," said Colon.

Going beyond the official police and public prosecutor investigations was essential to the reporting. "During the civil action trial, the prosecutor handling the case died. So, our progress was slower. That's why a journalistic investigation was fundamental. We combined official information with what we collected ourselves from registry offices, trade boards, etc. We were searching for our own path," Coutinho said.

There was no lack of talent for reporting on the team. From simply listening to gossip from individuals connected to the soccer scene, the reporters were able to get a scoop. After hearing that Teixeira was packed and ready to move to Miami, they checked out the city's board of trade website and discovered that he had registered a business at the address of a mansion where he had been living since March 2012.

One of the challenges of the investigation was to get the other side of the story, a basic principle of journalism. All those involved, sought repeatedly for comment, opted for complete silence from the beginning of the case. "What we did, since they did not want to explain themselves, was to use the same arguments Alianto gave during the trial. Even when they didn't want to, we were intent on getting their version," Colon said.

In all, 20 articles made up the series that beat out 1,300 other pieces of journalism for the Esso prize. "We did not plan to win this prize. So, the secret is to do your job as a reporter. In the day-to-day routine of journalism, it is not easy to find three, four months to chase down a single story. It only worked out because it was a team project and the five reporters involved believed in the story to the end. The Esso was a recognition of that," Colon concluded.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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