Brazilian initiatives seek to increase gender and racial diversity of journalistic sources

A series of initiatives that have emerged in Brazil in recent years have sought to increase the presence of women and experts of color as journalistic sources. The intention is to bring more diversity into the public debate and to transform the representation of these social groups in media, which mostly choose white men to be specialists and voices of authority in their stories.

The majority of men as sources in journalism is a global phenomenon, according to the latest Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP). The GMMP's 2015 report indicated that, in the 114 monitored countries, women accounted for only 19 percent of the total number of experts consulted in journalism. In the Caribbean and Latin America, this index is slightly higher: 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively. That means there is about one woman for every three men who appear as experts on television, print, radio and online news in the region.

To change this picture in Brazil, since 2014, initiatives such as Entreviste uma Mulher (Interview a woman), Entreviste um Negro (Interview a black person), Mulheres Também Sabem (Women also know) and Intelectuais Negras (Black women intellectuals) have created databases with names, biographies and contact information for experts on various subjects who journalists can consult when searching for sources other than white men.

Entreviste uma Mulher (Interview a woman) was one of the first to point out the problem of the lack of women as journalistic sources in Brazil. According to the feminist organization Think Olga, the creator of the project, the absence of the women's point of view "brings many problems for society and for democracy" and "impoverishes or skews" the public debate, including those of special interest to Brazilian women, such as the right to abortion.

The initiative maintains a spreadsheet that currently has about 170 names of women who are open to receiving requests from journalists. Among the many areas of expertise are international law, museology, finance and martial arts.

Inspired by Entreviste uma Mulher, journalist Helaine Martins created Entreviste um Negro (Interview a black person) at the end of 2015. Martins told the Knight Center that the project came out of her annoyance as a reporter and black woman at seeing white men as experts in reporting on issues that particularly affect the Afro-Brazilian population, such as racial quotas in universities.

"Usually when a black person is called to give an interview, she usually talks about being black," she said. "It is one of the main reasons for Entreviste um Negro to exist: so that the presence of people of color is normalized. We are able to talk about anything, not just about racial issues."

In the spreadsheet maintained by the journalist, there are currently 47 specialists in topics such as biotechnology, renewable energy, public policies and Afro-entrepreneurship, among others.

Martins also said that she is dedicated to finding people to sign up for the spreadsheet, since, according to her, experts who are black tend not to see themselves as possible journalistic sources, a reflection of the almost omnipresence of white people in that position.

"I started to get in touch with collectives, institutions, universities, explaining what the project was and saying that everyone could register, they do not necessarily have to be a doctor or a teacher," she said. "She may be a trancista [braids specialist] who is very good at what she does, for example. We journalists need to interview all kinds of people."

"This question of seeing oneself as a specialist, as an intellectual, is something very recent among us experts who are black, because the number of people of color in the universities is still very small, much smaller than the number of white university students, and even smaller when speaking of post-graduate," Martins said.

The Black Women Intellectuals Studies and Research Group of UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) promotes a broader interpretation of the concept of intellectual in the Visible Black Women Intellectuals catalog. The publication was launched during the last edition of FLIP (International Literary Festival in Paraty) in July and brings the professional profiles and contacts of 181 Afro-Brazilian women working in 12 areas, such as human rights, literature and health, among others.

The idea is to "expand the concept of black women intellectuals beyond the academic modality," Giovana Xavier, creator of the study group and coordinator of the catalog, told the Knight Center.

Xavier, who is also a historian and professor at UFRJ, explained that the initiative was designed to make black women's work visible and to boost their professional performance, but that this visibility also comes from their greater presence in communication and journalism, as sources and as content producers.

"To use the name of the catalog: how to make visible stories written and narrated by groups that are invisible, as is the case of black women? The expectation is to do this in all fields," Xavier said, noting that the visibility also involves the hiring of black communicators by Brazilian media.

For Helaine Martins, "it is very difficult for the final product, the news, to be diverse, if in the newsroom itself there is no diversity." She cited research on the profile of the Brazilian journalist carried out by Fenaj (National Federation of Journalists) and UFSC (Federal University of Santa Catarina) in 2012, which indicated that black journalists are 23 percent of the total number of professionals working in the area in Brazil, while 72 percent are white.

"The news is a reflection of who is in the newsrooms. If there are more women, more people from the periphery, it will be natural for this to be reflected in the news. Journalism has to change both inside and out," Martins said.

On the other hand, the Mulheres Também Sabem (Women Also Know) project focuses on specialists in the fields of Social and Human Sciences. Launched two months ago, its database already has 350 political scientists, anthropologists, archaeologists, economists and researchers from related areas.

The creators of the project told the Knight Center that they were inspired by “Women Also Know Stuff,” created by a group of academics from the United States, and that the initial goal was to remedy the underrepresentation of women experts in lectures, events, syllabi and similar areas.

"The search for women experts can not be more difficult than the search for expert men, whatever the purpose of the contact, and this is the function we see the site being able to meet," creators of Mulheres Também Sabem said.

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.