Casa Pública in Rio de Janeiro wants to be "a meeting place for journalists from around the world"

It consists of three floors and 300 square meters on a tree-lined street in Botafogo, in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro. A noble space, inside and out, dedicated to journalism. The facade is old, well-maintained, with pink-painted walls and white details. On the inside, there are high ceilings adorned by a sumptuous glass chandelier. The dark wood floors and windows, as well as the staircase, give off a warm air.

The owner of the space is Agência Pública for Investigative Journalism, which, since March 2016, has organized events, press conferences and even parties and happy hours at the spot for journalists. The project, called Casa Pública (Public House), also includes a residency program, which serves journalists from various countries with reporting grants.

"We wanted a multi-faceted, multicultural space that could be a meeting place for journalists from around the world," Mariana Simões, manager of Casa Pública, told the Knight Center. The house was an old dream, the reporter said. A Pública was going to be five years old in 2016, and its directors, Marina Amaral and Natalia Viana, were thinking about the agency's next steps.

"They wanted to open a space that was innovative. We had several ideas, but we still did not know exactly what it would be like. When we found the place, the house itself opened new doors, because it is so big and beautiful, it turned the project into something bigger than we had imagined,” Simões explained.

The project has three lines of work. The first is cultural: organizing events, exhibitions and film exhibitions. The idea is for the Casa to be a place for the dissemination of journalistic work and debate on press issues. Since the inauguration, there have been 23 events in 8 months.

"At the same time, we wanted it to be a place for press conferences. Reporters Without Borders presented here the world ranking of freedom of the press, for example. We set up a stage and a small auditorium. It is a versatile space. A Lupa (a Brazilian fact-checking site], for example, rented the space and had a party to celebrate a year of existence," Simões said.

In the case of NGOs or companies that can pay, A Pública charges about R $ 600 (about US $175) for the rent, but the Casa has also hosted several events for free. "A French NGO, Terre des Hommes, did a movie session and a chat. They had no money, so we partnered. It was interesting because it was a campaign about children and mega events such as the Olympics, a topic with which we were already working," the journalist explained.

One of the main activities of the Casa is Public Conversations, free and participatory events. According to Simões, the agency invites a journalist, who is interviewed live by another colleague. The goal is for it to be a chat, more informal, with the participation of the public. "We did not want a rigid debate or lecture table. And it worked out really well. The events have been a success," she said.

The journalist said that the Public Conversations attract an average of 60 people. However, the audience can be hundreds of people depending on the guest. This was the case for the meeting held on Oct. 24 with Angolan journalist Rafael Marques who filled the Casa.

On his website, Maka Angola, Marques covers topics related to corruption, politics and human rights. "Marques stayed here in the Casa, so it was also an opportunity for an exchange," the journalist said.

The Public Conversations with journalists Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept) and Jonathan Watts (Latin America correspondent for The Guardian) also attracted hundreds of people to the Casa. "We let 150 people in and there was still a line of 300 outside," Simões recalled.


Another purpose of the house is the residency program, which invites international journalists to stay in the Casa. The property sleeps up to 8 people, in two spacious bedrooms on the second floor. In 2016, A Pública opened a selection process for reporting grants as part of its residency program.

Independent foreign journalists, with some familiarity with Brazilian topics, earned R $ 7,000 (about US $2,045) to make reports on human rights and the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The reporters spent at least 15 days in the Casa and had the support of the agency staff to produce their stories.

"We gave four grants, two of which went to duos of photographers and journalists, who divided the value. So there were 6 journalists in the Casa," Simões said.

In total, 177 people from 42 different countries applied. Those selected were from Ecuador, Chile, France, Italy and Kenya.

"The Kenyan journalist did a report on removals. It was cool because, according to this journalist, there was no critical coverage of mega-events in Kenya. And one of the selection criteria was also the impact that the story could have on the country where it would be published. He worked for an independent newspaper, called Content House, but managed to publish in the largest newspaper in the country. While the French and the Italian managed to publish a story about Porto Maravilha in the American magazine Time," she said.

According to Simões, the objective is to offer not only the stay, but a place with resources for journalistic work. For this reason, the manager set up a schedule for scholarship recipients, of meetings with sources that could help reporters with their stories.

"They were not required to participate, but it was a way to create opportunities for journalists to know a little about the Brazilian reality and to have this proximity to the sources," she said. According to Simões, the objective is to carry out more residential programs like those done for the Olympics.

The first experience of residing in the Casa was with the Colombian journalist Olga Lucia Lozano, founder of the site La Silla Vacia. She was invited to participate in a project from A Pública for two months, called 100, about removals at the Olympics. This residence was also linked to the third goal of the Casa, that of innovation journalism.

Innovation Labs are work groups formed to develop special and interactive reporting within the Casa. "We could work with Olga in Colombia. But the idea was to have everyone together here to brainstorm. It was a multicultural environment, of exchange and coexistence among journalists, where we could produce content and learn from people from other countries," Simões said.

In the same sense, the Casa also works with incubation, giving space for new journalistic projects. "The personnel of Gênero e Número [an initiative of data journalism specializing in gender issues] have an office in the Casa. They also organized a residence here, with women from Latin America," Simões said.

Correspondent Happy Hour

The main editorial staff of Pública, 16 journalists, is in São Paulo. There are only three employees in Rio: the manager of the Casa, a trainee and a translator. When there are events, the A Pública team travels to Rio to help with the organization. For the agency, however, it was important to have the Casa in Rio de Janeiro as a way to be closer to international journalists.

"We have done this with the residencies, but also offering the Casa for foreign students, who do exchanges in Rio and work as trainees in A Pública. Rio is a place with more international traffic. Even the main correspondents are in the city,” she said.

Therefore, the Casa also hosted the happy hour for international correspondents, which was held in early November. The meeting was already organized by the journalists themselves, who asked to use A Pública’s space. "We think it's great!" Simões affirmed.

Another reason to choose Rio as the Casa’s headquarters was the Olympic Games. At the outset, the project was very focused on the residency program for journalists during the Games.

"Then we decided to continue and today we have funding to last two years," Simões celebrated. The Casa receives support from the Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, Open Society Foundations and Porticus. The investment in the project is high: just to maintain the rental of the Casa, it is necessary to pay R $ 14,000 (about US $4,090) monthly. "I hope the project has a long life," Simões said. "Because I feel like I’m living a dream."

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.