Brazil gains its first non-profit center for investigative journalism (Interview)

The United States has Propublica, the U.K. has the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Chile has the Center for Investigative Journalism (Ciper). Brazil will soon join the ranks of countries with these independent centers, as Natália Viana, a journalist and collaborator with WikiLeaks, announced the creation of “Pública” (Public), the first investigative journalism agency in the country.

The goals of the initiative, co-founded by Viana and journalists Marina Amaral and Tatiana Merlino, are to engage in “pure” journalism and elevate the level of public information. Inspired by successful projects abroad, Pública is preparing to start operations next month.

The three journalists, career-long advocates and practitioners of long-form journalism, have been collaborating since their time together in the newsroom of Caros Amigos magazine.

Viana started her career at the magazine and has worked with various domestic and international media outlets including: Pacifica, the CBC, the BBC, the Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Times, Folha de São Paulo, O Globo, and Carta Capital. In an interview with Journalism in the Americas, Viana explained the origins, challenges, and goals for the project.

Knight Center:How did the idea for Pública come up?

Natalia Viana:The inspiration came during a trip to London in 2006, when I first got to know several centers of investigative journalism. Marina and I had been thinking about doing a project together, ever since we left Caros Amigos. And from that the idea came to form an organization that is similar to these international centers, which are able to bring journalism back to its essence: public service. Their journalism is done in the least partisan way possible and with an awareness of its importance in the functioning of democracy. The role is to investigate the powerful, be they in business or government, to work for public interest.

In Brazil, there still isn’t anything like this. There are several NGOs that do investigative work, but with a more activist bent. Greenpeace and Repórter Brasil are good examples. Transparency Brazil is also in this vein. Investigative centers are more focused on journalistic products, with both short and long projects. Our idea is to bring this to Brazil, and we think this is the right time to launch it, with the debates surrounding WikiLeaks. Putting investigative journalism back on the agenda leads people to begin to better understand what it means to do investigative journalism.

KC:What is the difference between the center's investigative projects and those that the traditional media is already doing?

NV: Investigations done by traditional outlets are very good, we have fantastic investigative journalists. But newspapers are experiencing a financial crisis. They lack the resources, and journalists are being laid off en masse, both in Brazil and abroad. So, there are less professionals available for this type of work in newsrooms. Beyond this, as you can see in congresses like those held by Abraji [the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism], there is a lot of interest in doing in-depth journalistic investigations. But it is expensive, it requires dedication and time. So now it is not part of the routine of those who work to produce stories for the following day.

Newspapers are products, and they need speed to be on the newsstands every day. Some journalists even become frustrated when there is a leak of information from WikiLeaks, because they don’t have enough time to deeply engage with the documents. In reporting, time is crucial, even more important than resources with the technological tools we have nowadays to do low-budget reporting.

KC:Does the center already have a model of financing?

NV:We are in contact with a center for investigative journalism in Chile, the Center for Investigative Journalism (Ciper), which has an interesting model that we plan to follow. It is financing that involves different sources. We can be both financed by non-governmental organizations and international bodies that are active in the fields we are investigating, as well as by newspaper companies interested in in-depth investigation into a specific topic. This model has not only been adopted in Chile, but also in England, at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. It is a way to make independent reporting possible. And this is what we have been doing, even before starting Pública.

KC: How do you see Pública’s relationship with print outlets?

NV:We want to be partners with print outlets. We don’t see ourselves replacing the work that they are already doing, we see ourselves as adding to it. We are still setting up an office, finalizing our website, and writing our stories, but we are already looking for partners and soon we will present projects to print outlets. We are part of what is called entrepreneurial journalism, a global trend towards journalism that gets out of the newsroom and goes looking for stories. We already have several in progress, and now we are looking for partners to go beyond them.

KC: Do you believe that the center can stimulate a new way of doing journalism in Brazil?

NV: I have always believed in journalism that is independent, non-partisan, and in the public interest. I think that in Brazil, as in Latin America, there is a serious problem with the politicization of media outlets. Coverage is already closely tied to various interests, both in the traditional media and the alternative press. What Pública intends to do is stimulate journalism that is purely in the public interest, no matter whose toes it steps on.

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.