Crowdfunding campaign seeks to help a one-person newspaper in Brazilian Amazon stay alive

For almost thirty years, Lúcio Flávio Pinto has been the sole writer and editor of a unique and independent newspaper, which investigators and closely monitors in the powerful in Pará and the rest of Brazil’s Amazon region. His reporting made him a renowned and award-winning journalist around the globe, but also attracted threats and attacks.

To help confront the financial problems of the biweekly publication, a fellow journalist launched a crowdfunding campaign to try to secure the future of Pinto’s Jornal Pessoal (Personal Newspaper).

"When I started Jornal Pessoal, I had 21 years in the profession, 18 of them in O Estado de S. Paulo, had been through some of the main Brazilian publications, formed an immense list of sources, traveled throughout the country and around the world. It was my capital, I spent it to this day. (...) But I still want to do more. I've never ceased to be the cub reporter. I'm going to die like this," Lúcio Flávio Pinto told the Knight Center.

Swimming in the countercurrent of the Pará press, Jornal Pessoal today struggles to keep the doors open. Production costs totaling R $5,840 (about US $1,800) per month, are not covered by newsstand sales, the paper’s only source of income besides donations. Each newspaper costs R $5 and sales fluctuate just below 1,100, with a circulation of 2,000 copies.

Circulation is the only source of income because Pinto has never accepted advertising and remains convinced that this guarantees the independence of his newspaper.

“I intend to take the newspaper to its end with this editorial directive: do not accept advertising. At the beginning of Jornal Pessoal, it was a protest against the ideological, political and commercial linkage or advertising money. I promised myself I would defy the rule that the newspaper does not thrive without advertising revenue. And I have responded to the challenge, after all,” Pinto said.

In order to keep Jornal Pessoal afloat, fellow journalist Lucas Figueiredo recently organized a crowdfunding campaign on the site Kickante to “Save Jornal Pessoal, voice and inspector of the Amazon.” The goal is to reach R $160,000 (about US $50,500) to fund two years of production for the publication, which is written and edited by Pinto, one of the most prestigious journalists in the country.

The contributions for the crowdfunding campaign vary between R $10 and R $8,000 and guarantee rewards in the form of newspaper copies and books written by Pinto. Five days until the end of the campaign, at least 220 supporters raised more than R $28,000 (about US $8,870), or 17 percent of the target.

This is not the first time that a group of people have come together to help Jornal Pessoal. In October, a virtual “vaquinha” (roughly meaning “piggy bank”) collected almost R $15,000 with contributions from 68 people. According to Pinto, it is a small relief for the “weekly newspaper printed on paper, without advertising, without attractive graphics” to reach 30 years. He is the publication’s only publisher, reporter and editor.

For the journalist, the goal of raising R $160,000 and the peace of mind gained by financing two years of production is too ambitious. But Figueiredo, a former reported for Folha de. S. Paulo and collaborator of BBC radio, bets on the collective financing model. With an eye on increasing donations to project like ProPublica in the U.S. after the election of Donald Trump, the journalist believes the public needs even more independent information in “difficult” times.

“Imagine Brazil, with the political, economic and institutional crisis we are experiencing. Imagine the Amazon, the largest frontier of natural resources on the planet, which receives negligible coverage from the traditional press. How much does it cost the country and the planet to have an independent outlet that practices in-depth journalism, which is not afraid to denounce the region’s predators? R $5,800 per month is nothing compared to the value of the information that Jornal Pessoal provides us,” he told the Knight Center.

Figueiredo explained that the financing campaign was intended as an emergency measure to ensure the survival of the beetle, “which should not fly, but it flies.”

“Lúcio Flávio does not withdraw money from the newspaper, on the contrary, he spends. In recent years, he has accumulated significant debt on his personal credit card in order not to let Jornal Pessoal die. And he still has to pay out-of-pocket costs of his numerous lawsuits, as a result of Jornal Pessoal’s reports against members of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, and against large corporations,” he said.

The lawsuits are another chapter in the history of Pinto and Jornal Pessoal. Currently, the journalist has 34 suits to his name - four are still in progress. He was sentenced to pay R $400,000 to Romulo Maiorana Júnior for moral and material damages for the 2005 report “The King of Quitanda.” Maiorana is executive of Organizações Romulo Maiorana, arm of the giant Rede Globo in Pará and holder of the Jornal and of TV Liberal, the largest media in the region.

In addition to legal threats, Pinto has received death threats and has been verbally and physically assaulted.

“I closed and reopened the newspaper twice,” Pinto said. “I was tired, I wanted an alternative life and a less sacrificial work, besides having passed through a certain discouragement about the importance of the newspaper. But I shied away from that desire. I felt the informational void, even as a consumer of journalism.”

Pinto has already made peace with the possible closure of the newspaper. However, he still does not know what future awaits. “Truly, the day after scares me. But it does not intimidate me. I am already an outsider and can not get rid of this condition. In this position, what can I still do? I do not know.”

It was because of one of his lawsuits that Pinto was unable to go to New York in 2005 to receive the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The same reason made it impossible for him to be recognized with Colombe d.Oro for Peace in Italy in 1997. In addition to these, the journalist has won four Esso prizes, the Vladmir Herzog prize, and recognition from journalism associations Abraji and Fenaj. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French) named him one of 100 Information Heroes around the world, the only Brazilian to be selected.

With a 51-year career, Pinto’s coverage remains open to all topics, mainly information that does not appear in the mainstream press and systematic criticism of elites. For more than two years, he has been writing a blog of text on the facts, no images, no videos, and responding to comments from readers.

After a trajectory of daily struggle to stay alive and out of jail, Pinto points out to young journalists: it’s worth it. Especially for the one who, as he describes, “has a journalistic vocation, has inexhaustible curiosity, cares about the collective, follows manifestations of public interest, likes to read everything, feels an atavistic need to write and share information, always wanting to know more and better.”

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.