Brazilian journalist Daniela Arbex wins the Knight International Journalism Award (Interview)

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  • November 18, 2010

By Maira Magro

Since she began her career as a journalist in the medium-sized city of Juiz de Fora at the age of 22, Daniela Arbex was always told she needed to move to Rio de Janiero, São Paulo, or Brasília to have an impact. But she decided to stay and work for Tribuna de Minas, a paper with a circulation of 15,000, distributed in a city of around 600,000 people. It was here that she became a renowned Brazilian investigative journalist.

Earlier this month, Arbex won the prestigious Knight International Journalism Award, organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). She and Indonesian journalist Tosca Santos were the two honorees among 120 finalists worldwide.

The prize committee highlighted seven articles by Arbex that cover topics like lack of access to AIDS prevention care for rape victims, the mistreatment of mental hospital patients, the discovery of a body of an individual who disappeared during the dictatorship, a case of drug trafficking in a school, and evidence towards the innocence of a father who was wrongly convicted of raping his baby daughter. This award is in addition to 16 other domestic and international awards she has received over her 15-year career at Tribuna de Minas. The following is an excerpt of her interview with the Knight Center, for the full text read the original post in Portuguese.

Knight Center: How were you able to gain international renown without working for a major newspaper?
Daniela Arbex: I had always heard that there wasn’t any quality journalism that could have an impact on society outside of the major cities. But I have been at Tribuna de Minas for 15 years, and I think that I haven been able to write stories with nationwide repercussions and impact. Many of them were able to change the reality, gain attention from the federal government. I believe that these things happened due to great personal effort. My biggest concern was always changing the reality.

KC: Do you also chose topics that have nationwide appeal?
Arbex: I work a lot with topics that involve human rights violations, corruption, violence, and children, and these are relevant everywhere. Beyond this, there is a power to the stories that I am telling, the power of discovery.

KC: Is there space nowadays to do in-depth investigative journalism?
Arbex:It’s complicated. Clearly there is pressure to get results, to produce stories. There are 40 reporters at Tribuna de Minas. While I work on special features the majority of the time, often I need to cover day-to-day issues. But I have to recognize that I gained this space entirely because I have a lot of support from the newspaper. They will often fund my suggestions. And when I’m not getting results, they pressure me to stop. It’s awful when an investigation doesn’t work out, but we have always been very careful with information, because we are dealing with people’s lives, like doctors.

For the rest of the interview, read the original post in Portuguese.

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.