Ajor reaches 100 members with focus on sustainability of Brazilian digital journalism

*As of 9/28/2022, Aner informed LJR that it now has 43 members. The story has been updated to reflect this information.

Just over a year after being founded by a group of 30 Brazilian news organizations, the Digital Journalism Association (Ajor) recently surpassed the 100-member mark, an achievement for the entity dedicated to strengthening digital journalism in Brazil. The growth of the association highlights the diversity of the sector in the country, which Ajor intends to help be recognized also for its economic importance.

"This milestone is very important for us," Natalia Viana, Ajor's president, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). Ajor now has 101 member organizations, she said, surpassing other such entities in the country such as the National Association of Newspapers (ANJ), which has 99 members, and the National Association of Magazine Editors (Aner), which has 43.

"Ajor is already one of the largest news outlets associations in Brazil in number of members, and we will continue to grow, because the market is evolving," Viana said. She pointed out that the growth of the association is also representative of the diversity of online journalism in Brazil.

The organizations gathered under Ajor are dedicated to both general coverage, such as Portal Terra, and specialized coverage, such as the site A Economia B. There are also podcast producers, such as Trovão Mídia, and the YouTube channel MyNews. "Ajor is managing to bring together these very different organizations, but with a common goal, which is to grow and solidify diverse quality journalism throughout the country," the president of the entity said.

The process for becoming an Ajor member is "very thoughtful and thorough," Viana said. The applicants must adhere to the entity's Code of Conduct, which includes criteria related to the institutional organization of the news outlet, and also guidelines for good editorial and organizational practices.

"These issues are evaluated individually for each of the applicants and discussed carefully following certain criteria in meetings of the Executive and Deliberative Council, formed at this time by 10 organizations that were elected by all members," she said. The intention is to "ensure that Ajor members are carrying out and promoting good journalism and with the aim of solidifying themselves in the market as viable businesses.

Ajor's main mission, according to Viana, is to strengthen its members "institutionally and in terms of a business plan. In a little over a year, the entity has established itself as "one of the voices defending journalism and journalists'' in the current context of attacks on journalism in Brazil. But it has also become "a very active organization in the institutional strengthening of new journalism initiatives, with the aim of making them sustainable and making the digital journalism sector one of the sectors recognized in society not only for its importance for democracy, which is fundamental, but also for its economic importance," she said.

According to Viana, Ajor's 101 member organizations "already employ thousands of journalists." "This sector of journalism startups has already become a viable space or opportunity for journalism students and for journalists who want to become entrepreneurs. So Ajor is also becoming a reference point in entrepreneurial journalism in Brazil and will continue on this path, getting stronger and stronger," she said.

Safe space and partnerships

Ajor was officially launched on June 7, 2021, after months of coordination among the journalistic organizations that carry out the 3i Festival - Innovative, Inspiring and Independent Journalism and other invited organizations. The association had the support of Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in its creation and structuring, based on Knight Center's experience in helping the formation of organizations such as the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) and the Foro de Periodismo Argentino (Fopea), among others.

Ajor holds biweekly Off-The-Record Conversations, online meetings for exchange among members in a safe space. In these conversations, strategic themes are discussed in a confidential way, with an exchange of experiences and mutual help among the members. This space allows organizations to learn from each other and to promote good editorial and institutional practices.

Maia Gonçalves Fortes, Ajor's executive secretary, told LJR that the organizations that participate in the Off-The-Record Conversations commit to respecting this confidential space and not to take what is shared there outside of that environment. Organizations are invited to talk about topics proposed by the members themselves.

"We have already held meetings on how it was to adapt your website to the LGPD [General Law on Personal Data Protection, which came into effect in Brazil in 2018], how to create a good newsletter, how to prepare a project budget, what is product strategy, and how to ‘celetizar’ your team [hire them under Brazil’s labor laws]" Fortes said.

She also mentioned that Ajor has forged partnerships with companies and other organizations that have contributed to the institutional strengthening and business plan of its members. Among them are the Accelerating Digital Transformation program, a partnership between Ajor and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and support from Meta (formerly known as Facebook), through the Meta Journalism Project. Also, the second edition of the GNI Startups Lab, undertaken by Google News Initiative and developed in partnership with Ajor.

According to Fortes, the training sessions of Accelerating Digital Transformation, held in the first half of 2022, were designed based on an interest survey conducted with Ajor members. They expressed the desire to learn more about management and business models. The second phase of the program consisted of mentoring and grants for project development, and all 15 organizations selected were Ajor members, she said.

In the second edition of the GNI Startups Lab, which began in August and runs until December, 12 of the 16 selected media are associated with Ajor, Fortes said. They will receive $20,000 in funding and will participate in "workshops and training, with individual mentoring, on topics fundamental to the financial viability of a news outlet, such as business strategy, product identity, sales, marketing, community building, and fundraising," according to the announcement about the program on Google Brazil's Blog.

Jornal Plural is one of the Ajor affiliates that was selected for both programs. The site, founded in January 2019, does local journalism in the city of Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná in the southern region of Brazil. The team of 12 people - three of them co-founding partners - produces and distributes content via a website, social media, podcasts, newsletter, and YouTube.

Rogério Galindo, one of Plural's co-founders, told LJR that participating in Accelerating Digital Transformation was "sensational.” After participating in the training sessions, the news outlet was selected in two application rounds of the program, which funded the realization of two Plural projects. The first, Periferias Plurais, offered free journalism workshops to young people from the outskirts of Curitiba. From that group, six young people were selected and are now "fringe correspondents" for the site. They collaborate with two news contents per month about their neighborhoods of origin and receive a scholarship of R$ 500 (around US $100).

""They study, they work, so in fact this cannot be their main activity," Galindo said. “So with two contents per month from each of them, 12 in total each month, we have good coverage of the outskirts that was only possible thanks to the project, to the funding. Both for us to set up the workshops and to offer scholarships to them (...) For Plural, it is essential for us to have material that is unprecedented and important for the city, and for them it is also an interesting opportunity," he said.

Plural's second project selected for the program is related to fact-checking during the election period in Brazil, with the creation of a course via WhatsApp on how to identify "fake news" in elections. "It is also a project that we consider very important for us and for society. We’re very happy that the project funding allowed for this, and also for the intermediation of Ajor, which was fundamental," Galindo said.

The GNI Startups Lab, currently underway, has also had an impact on Plural's organization and work, he said. "Besides the financial subsidy, which is super important for us, there's this mentoring part, helping us understand Google's processes, SEO processes, and how to organize a startup, which is ultimately what we are. We are in the fifth week of the program and we have already learned a lot. We are even reformulating some things in the newspaper because of this," he said.