Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism celebrates 15 years with record-setting congress

The 977 participants of the 12th International Congress of Investigative Journalism, held between June 28 and July 2, set a record for the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) as it celebrated its 15-year anniversary.

Created for the professional improvement of journalists and the spread of investigative reporting concepts and techniques, the association celebrated its largest congress so far with more than 70 panels and 150 speakers in São Paulo.

"We began with the desire to be journalists, to make good stories and to do better. I experienced this for the first time ten years ago at a congress like this, and I was sure that I wanted to be a journalist myself," said Thiago Herdy, president of Abraji, according to the association.

Topics of debate included data journalism, investigations of commerce, business models, education coverage, entrepreneurship, gender in journalism, among others. The main attraction was a talk with the editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, which was moderated by Knight Center founder and director Rosental Calmon Alves.

In addition to "just a newspaper," Baron said the Post is becoming a technology and information company  the American announced the hiring of 30 professionals for video production. The editor also said that the American press has faced the greatest pressure since the time of Richard Nixon, and yet current President Donald Trump uses even harsher language against journalists.

The event also served as a platform for announcing the Tim Lopes project, a tribute to the kidnapped reporter who was killed and murdered in 2002. The case, which turned 15 in June, had a severe impact on the Brazilian press and motivated the creation of Abraji. This year, the organization intends to establish a rapid-reaction protocol to the future deaths of other colleagues.

The goal is that whenever a journalist is murdered or prevented from practicing his profession in Brazil, a pool of experienced reporters from different outlets will be compiled to accomplish two missions: investigate and report on the death of the colleague and continue the interrupted work.

"We want to show that you can not kill journalists in Brazil. It is important that the city that receives these journalists knows that 'Tim has arrived,' that the press is there and that it is a strong institution. This can serve as an inspiration for tackling violence against the press in other countries," Herdy told the Knight Center.

An initial phase of the project, still in production, is a series of documentaries on four other emblematic cases of deaths of Brazilian journalists. The reports by Bob Fernandes and the team of documentary filmmaker João Wainer are expected to be released in the second half of this year.

The association wants to be present mainly in regions far from the main centers of the country, where most of the murders of press workers take place. Brazil is the tenth deadliest country for journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The project is an idea from journalist Marcelo Beraba, Abraji's first president, inspired by the Arizona Project of the U.S. organization Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). The original initiative was a reaction to the murder of reporter Don Bolles in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1976.

For Beraba, the feasibility of a project like this denotes the growth of Abraji and, consequently, the improvement of the training of Brazilian journalists and the culture of collaboration among newsrooms in the country.

"At the beginning of Abraji, we were not in a position to do such a project. We had the problem of funding, of not having a collaborative culture in newsrooms. And repeating the Arizona Project at the Complexo do Alemão [favela in Rio de Janeiro where Tim Lopes was killed] would have been an irresponsible risk. The association then sought to improve the quality of our training, to defend freedom of expression and freedom of access to information," Beraba told the Knight Center.

The 12th International Congress of Investigative Journalism was supported by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

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.