By Jade Magalhaes*
Three days before the end of their crowdfunding campaign, Brazilian journalism nonprofit Pública, an investigative organization led by women, met its goal. The campaign “Ocupe A Pública”, launched on Jan. 21, aimed to collect $50,000 Brazilian reals (around US $18,000) to fund 10 stories with themes chosen by reader-collaborators who will also be involved with their production.
Upon meeting their goal, the organization decided to give an extra push by announcing on its Facebook page that for ever 5,000 reals raised, the project will be extended an extra month, allowing for the production of more investigative stories.
And it worked. The campaign generated almost 70,000 reals which alows the project to be extended to April 2016 (not until December 2015 like its original plan) and to produce 14 stories.
“We will gain agility, we will cover hot topics, and we will increase public participation by bringing them inside our journalistic production every month,” Natália Viana, director of Pública, said in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas days before the end of the campaign.
To ensure that its readers have a voice, Pública's reporters will invite donors to vote and determine which investigative story the newsroom pursues on a monthly basis. In that sense, on March 16, the organization will publish its first three story ideas so that the 958 contributors (people who participated on the campaign) can vote and decide which one Pública will work on.
After the selected story is published, other news-oriented outlets such as blogs, newspapers, and magazines will be invited to freely reproduce its contents through Pública's creative commons license.
In the past, Pública's reporters have covered highly contended topics, such as government abuse, human rights violations, and fraud. This year, with water shortages dominating Brazil, Viana can already guess what at least one hot topic will be.
The water utility in Sao Paulo, Sabesp, was ordered by the state comptroller's office to disclose its “contratos de demanda firme,”or fixed demand contracts, which offer a 40 percent price advantage to large corporations. “The decision by the comptroller's office [to give the press access to these contracts] is beautiful, and a tremendous victory for our information rights,” Viana said. Once they had accessed these documents, Pública analyzed Sabesp's conduct to determine if water was being fairly distributed in the crisis. Among other topics, it was found that the volume of water granted to corporations that had signed “demanda firme” contracts increased 92 times in 10 years.
A statement defending the release of these documents, found in a technical report authored by the comptroller's office, said that the public's right to information has been thoroughly defended, adding that“there is no way to deny the collective interest involving the information in this request for access, because it involves the performance of a society in a mixed economy that wants to use water, a public commodity, as an object.”
The access that Pública's was given to Sabesp's contracts may symbolize a big step forward and a changing approach to press freedom is the country of Brazil.
“In my opinion, what we are missing [in Brazil] is a greater plurality of voices and vehicles, whether it is because of the lack of incentives, because of the censorship generated by the commercial model of traditional vehicles, or because of the brutal concentration of media in the hands of very few groups,” Viana said.“It is in the hands of journalists to build a new post-industrial scenario with quality and plurality. It is our responsibility.”
*Jade Magalhes is a student in the class "Journalism and Press Freedom in Latin America" at the University of Texas at Austin.
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.