Brazilian news outlet publishes style guide for those who want to put anti-racist journalism into practice

After more than three years of work, Alma Preta, a Brazilian journalism agency specializing in racial issues, launched last Wednesday, Aug. 10 the first edition of its writing manual. The publication summarizes the agency's conception of journalism, with comprehensive information ranging from newsworthiness criteria, to methods for approaching issues from anti-racist angles, to purely stylistic issues such as paragraph length recommendations, to entries with terms to be used or avoided during coverage.

Entitled "Manual de Redação: O jornalismo antirracista a partir da experiência da Alma Preta [Writing manual: Anti-racist journalism based on the Alma Preta experience]," the book, which for now exists in a physical version and should add a digital version in the future, is the result of collaborative work among six students, two university professors and one of Alma Preta’s co-founders. The preparation of the work began in the early days of the pandemic, in 2020, and included weekly virtual meetings among the researchers, the study of historical documents and more than 40 interviews with journalists who are reference points in the Brazilian Black press.

In a panel discussion during the launch, Pedro Borges, editorial director and co-founder of Alma Preta, said that the greatest satisfaction the manual brings him is the fact that it includes a broad view of journalism, ranging from looking back at the history of the Black press in Brazil, outlining the tradition of which Alma Negra is a part, to technical aspects about what should be considered relevant for publication.

"This is not a writing manual with tips on how not to be racist when writing stories. It is obvious that, if you go into this manual, there are a number of statements related to words that Alma Preta does not use, and an explanation of why we do not use them. But that’s just a small part of our manual," Borges said. "It’s a manual that has managed to marry, in addition to the political and ethical dimension, the technical issue, understanding the technique also as politics and ethics." 

Six author of the Alma Preta Styleguide look into the camera posing for a family photo

From left to right: Marcelo Vinicius de Oliveira Santos, Victor Oliveira Moura, Fernanda Rosário, Natália Maria Faria Santos, Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto and Pedro Borges, six of the eight authors of the styleguide (Photo: Youtube Sceenshot)

One example cited was that of public safety. In a country where police officers notoriously often violate fundamental rights in their approach, where mass incarceration disproportionately affects the Black population, and where, in 2021, eight out of every 10 people killed by the police were Black, what care should a journalist take when addressing the issue of violence, so as not to repeat and perpetuate injustices? 

"The largest section of the manual brings strategies for not reproducing violence within various topics that journalism can address. Not only when talking about discrimination, prejudice and racism itself, but all the themes that cover the lives of the Black population, such as health, culture, the environment," said Fernanda Rosário, one of the authors of the manual. She began with the initiative when she was still a student at Paulista State University (Unesp, by its Portuguese acronym) and is now a professional journalist.

Another of the authors who participated in the project as a student, Natália Maria Faria Santos noted that the manual offers ethical reflections applied to practice. 

"We talk a lot at the university about impartiality, neutrality and objectivity. But how does Alma Preta see these ethical issues within journalism?" Faria Santos asked during the panel. "So, we open space and make an invitation in the manual to reflect a little on these topics. How to report on the environment in a way that relates to Black and Indigenous peoples? How to talk about traditions of African origin? How to talk to children about the struggle, about the movement, about everything we experience?"

At the beginning of the manual, there is a compilation of publications of the Brazilian Black press during the 19th and 20th centuries, making clear both the diversity of publications made by Black journalists in the country, as well as the longevity and vigor of the tradition to which Alma Preta belongs. Next Sept. 14, it’ll be 190 years since the first of the five editions of "O Homem de Côr [Colored man]," considered the first newspaper of the Black press in Brazil.

In this section of the book, the influence of the co-author of the manual and historian Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto, professor at the University of Brasília (UNB) and a specialist in the History of the Black press in Brazil, can be seen. During the panel, Magalhães Pinto said her first degree was in Journalism. However, the professional market’s limitations led her to change her profession, without ever completely moving away from the press.

The researcher praised the "boldness" of Alma Preta, for producing "Black and free journalism." According to her, such boldness "is an integral part of the Black press itself," which "emerged in the imperial period [1822-1889] as an expression of the voices of free Black people who had their talents and virtues curtailed by color prejudice."

The other authors of the manual, in addition to the four mentioned above, are Unesp Journalism professor Juarez Tadeu de Paula Xavier, and students Giovanne Ramos, Jéssica Cristina Rosa, Marcelo Vinicius de Oliveira Santos, and Victor Oliveira Moura.

The manual adds to other current productions and initiatives that seek to simultaneously combat racism in journalism and train professionals to act in an anti-racist way. In 2022, the Collective of Black journalists Lena Santos — in honor of one of the first black women to occupy space in a Brazilian television news program — also launched a manual, entitled "Herdeiros e herdeiras de Luiz Gama - Guia por jornalismos antirracista [Heirs of Luiz Gama: A guide for anti-racist journalism]."

The problem of racism affects the Brazilian press not only in its content, but also in the choice of sources and in the very composition of newsrooms. According to research published in May by scholars from the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), despite the fact that the majority of the Brazilian population is Black, Black people only had a byline in 9.5% of the texts published in the print editions of the three main newspapers in the country from 2016 to 2020.

Founded in 2015, Alma Preta is part of a series of news outlets working today to change this scenario. As with other style and writing manuals, the outlet hopes to update the work and publish new editions in the future. In addition to serving the day-to-day of a newsroom, the team also wants the publication to circulate among students, journalists and even the general public.

"It’s obvious that we really want the material to fall into the hands of Black students, Black journalists. But this is material that can serve as a guide for the production of journalism in the hands of anyone," said Pedro Borges, editorial director of Alma Preta. "Especially in the hands of people who are committed to building a journalism that breaks free from those principles imposed on the press that say journalism should only mirror reality. Those who are committed to journalism as a tool for social transformation."