Brazilian citizen journalism project brings news from the outskirts of São Paulo to mainstream media (Interview)

  • By
  • November 8, 2010

By Maira Magro

The city outskirts, or peripheries, comprise a third of the Brazilian population. Because these communities traditionally are ignored by mainstream media – except in matters where stereotypes dominate – a citizen journalism project created by the Brazilian journalist Bruno Garcez, 38 years old, is aimed at covering these neighborhoods in a more complete and accurate way. With a fellowship from the Knight Foundation, offered by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Bruno took a year off from his position as a Washington correspondent for BBC Brasil to be able to train citizen journalists in the poor communities of São Paulo. The result is the Wall, a blog about news from the peripheral communities that is put together by 30 citizen journalists who cover their communities from the perspective of the residents who live there.

As the project completes six months in operation, it is about to enter into a partnership with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, wherein the blog will be hosted on the newspaper's website -- a positive signal that mainstream media is beginning to open up to include other realities in the country. For Garcez, who also was a reporter for Folha and BBC Brasil in London, the media is gradually incorporating changes initiated online. "With citizen journalism, new narratives are emerging that reflect more diversity," he said.

Learn more about the Wall in the following Knight Center interview with Garcez. This interview is part of an on-going series of original projects from the Knight Center. Previous projects include a Twitter feed of incidents related to social media and freedom of expression, a map of violence against journalism in Mexico, and a map of electoral censorship in Brazil.

Knight Center: What was the idea behind the Wall?
Bruno Garcez: It is a multimedia project that brings together texts and videos produced by citizen journalists coming from the outskirts of São Paulo, from communities such as Capão Redondo, Jardim Ângela, Itaim Paulista, Jardim Brasília ... The intention is to offer a new look, a view from inside an area that is not being covered by mainstream media. Students went through a basic training on journalism to become correspondents for the Wall, which can also be seen as an embryo of a news agency for news from the periphery.

KC: Who are the community correspondents?
Garcez: Today we have 30 participants, divided into two classes. They are people from 18 to more than 50 years old, with the average in their 20s. Most of them are journalism students who entered the university though Prouni (the federal University Program for All that offers scholarships to students from needy families). Others are amateur journalists who write blogs, like Vander Ramos, a gentleman who is more than 50 years old who since 1997 has been writing on the Internet about Itaim Paulista (a neighborhood in the east of São Paulo). Some are simply interested in the affairs of their community, such as 18-year-old Telma Amorim who works as a phone operator and never was a journalist. Everyone participating in the project is a volunteer.

KC: What was the training like for these citizen journalists?
Garcez: I created a class in June, with 14 students, and another in August, with 21 participants. First, they had classes on the basics of journalism, in addition to story and video workshops. The classes were on weekends and lasted eight hours, all day, at the headquarters of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. We began the day reading and analyzing the papers. I asked: how was their community portrayed? They assessed, for example, coverage of the occupation of a slum in Paraisópolis, and concluded that some newspapers and magazines provided only the perspective of police. We then moved to the production of assignments and stories and vídeos, always with the goal of giving the neirghborhood’s view, following the idea attributed to Tolstoy (Russian writer Leo Tolstoy): " to be universal, paint your own village."

KC: What was it like for them to be at the headquarters of a large newspaper like Folha de São Paulo?
Garcez: This is a very enticing part. We work in a separate room, with computers. But we did a walk through the newsroom and they mentioned the desire to work in the newspaper. The idea now is to strengthen the relationship with reporters.

KC: How do news budget meetings and the production of stories work?
Garcez: Now the two classes have integrated. Meeting with students in person at least once a month, we brainstorm assignments, discuss the production process, interviews ... Besides this, we stay in touch online all day, several times a day, through social networks. We also meet when there is some important event. The elections, for example, were 
days of hard work. They made for some very interesting story assignments. One group showed how the candidates dirtied the streets, another made a video about what led people to vote in Tiririca. The stories also have talked about the reality of the neighborhoods, like a story about a place in Vila Rubi, where children play in the same place where there are rats, in the open sewer. Another showed Jardim Romano flooded by the rains... We also wrote obituaries using rap music, showing, for example, the story of the death of a person who was involved with crack.

KC: What kinds of difficulties did you face?
Garcez: In the beginning, we were doing traditional news stories. But the investigation was complicated...So I proposed the idea of doing good stories of observation, not necessarily classical stories. The boundaries of journalism are expanding a lot, flirting with essay stories, with the feature. These types of stories are valid and sometimes they have even more impact than traditional reporting.

KC: What is the level of interest and participation of the participants?
Garcez: They have an impressive eagerness to participate, because they feel neglected by the mainstream media. They have no space for talking about what happens in their communities, and when they are portrayed, it is usually prejudiced, or following some stereotype. They not only want to talk about violence and social projects, but also other things that concern them and that never reach the big media outlets. If they talk about Capão Redondo, for example, they want to show the reggae and dub parties, artwork, a designer brand... At the beginning of training, I feared a low turnout because we were in the middle of the World Cup. Of course, the classes did not coincide with Brazil’s games, but beyond that, despite that period of time, the students have been completely involved.

KC: Is there a growing demand in these communities for more involvement with journalism?
Garcez: Yes, there is a large and growing demand. I see a lot of people coming from these neighborhoods on the outskirts talking about the books of Gay Talese (U.S. journalist known as one of the pioneers of New Journalism).

KC: How will the partnership with Folha de São Paulo work?
Garcez: The Wall is hosted by Folha.com, in the blog section, along with other correspondents' blogs, like Folhateen… I conclude my participation in the project in November (this month), and then the person heading the Wall will be the journalist Izabela Moi, deputy editor of Ilustríssima. The project does not rely on sponsorships, and Folha is not bringing any money, just hosting the blog on its site.

KC: Why were you interested in starting this project?
Garcez: When I was a reporter in São Paulo, it bothered me to see that the (neighborhoods on the) periphery were not covered. The press has had an elitist attitude for a long time, and it is starting to change. I think that journalism is undergoing a jolt. With citizen journalism, new narratives are emerging that reflect more diversity, people who have no specific training are also beginning to participate ... The experimental space is online, but I think little by little the press will swallow these changes.

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.