Brazilian journalists host pioneering congress to strengthen education journalism in country

One year after the launch of Brazil’s Association of Education Journalists, also known as Jeduca, the organization is hosting its inaugural Congress on Education Journalism to address the challenges facing the reporting specialization in the current news environment.

The congress, which will be at Anhemi Morumbi University in São Paulo from June 28 to 29, will feature discussion tables, debates and workshops education journalism at a time when the topic gets less attention and space in the newsroom.

One of the goals for the congress is to improve coverage in an area where journalism training is still poor – 99 percent of journalists covering education say they have not received any training on the issue, according to a 2015 survey.

According to the president of Jeduca, O Globo columnist Antonio Gois, one of the reasons behind this scenario is the fact that writing about education is a lonely task in newsrooms, where turnover of professionals covering the subject is high.

"The education journalist's dilemma today also resembles that of health or environment. They are all essential subjects, and with more and more need for reporters who treat these issues with the same rigor of scientific journalism and with the same sensitivity of a reporter who deals with extremely relevant social issues," he told the Knight Center.

With regard to training, the congress will have four workshops to help reporters understand education databases, public budgets, funding of educational policies and quality indicators and rankings of Higher Education.

"In the last 20 years in education, Brazil has created a wealth of indicators on teaching quality, without the press being prepared to reflect on their uses and limits. So we want to not only have workshops on how to access these data, but also discussion tables with reflections on how we should use them," Gois said.

According to Fábio Takahashi, vice president of Jeduca and a journalist at Folha de S. Paulo, rankings are a good way for education reports to compete for increasingly scarce space in newspapers that are occupied by the political and economic crisis in Brazil.

"Rankings are one of the few things in education that catch the editors' eyes. But these materials fall on the journalist's lap the day before the disclosure, and, without prior knowledge, it is difficult to produce a good report. Very few journalists today know how to work well with data," Takahashi told the Knight Center.

The journalist is currently a Spencer Fellow in Education Research at Columbia University in the United States. He said that American colleagues who cover education say that without having Donald Trump in the title, the editors do not even consider the story idea. For Takahashi, the phenomenon is similar in Brazil, but substitute the name of Michel Temer – the instability of the Brazilian president monopolizes the attention of the press and society.

Regarding the subject, Gois will mediate a table at the congress called "Education in times of uncertainty." For him, the education journalist has an important mission in this troubled political landscape. "It is a sometimes inglorious but necessary task of convincing the editors that these stories, which are so essential for the future of the country, can not be abandoned," he said.

A Community for Discussion

Jeduca was launched at the Abraji congress in June 2016 after a group of five Brazilian education journalists began to think of ideas to help fellow professionals who “parachute in” to cover education issues, as well as veteran reporters and newcomers. Today, the group has 500 associates from all regions of the country.

"Lacking a space in the area, we thought of making a community for discussions. Many journalists covering education did not even know each other. Today, we have an email discussion list that has been very rich in suggesting sources and stories. In the day-to-day writing, we tend to get stuck on the same sources, the guy who answers the phone," Takahashi said.

Resources are available on the Jeduca website to improve the preparation of educational reports, such as guides with explanations about technical issues and services from the organization’s public editor Marta Avancini. It meets the demands of journalists who are working stories on education, without them having to be officially associated with the group.

"The inspiration came from the public editor of the Education Writers Association, the American association of education journalists, which inspired Jeduca. When we came up with this idea, we had no idea what the demand would be in Brazil, since many journalists are not specialized, unlike in the US. But to our surprise, we had significant demand, around three calls a week," Gois commented.

One year later, the organization is getting ready to continue that conversation at its first congress. Space is limited, but registration is still open. Information can be found here.

The event will be held in partnership with the Congress of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), which will be in the same location between June 29 and July 1.

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.