The crisis of the traditional journalism business model has intensified with the coronavirus pandemic. In Brazil, newspapers are laying off workers, cutting wages and slashing journalists' work hours on the grounds that they are already feeling the effects of the economic crisis. According to the National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj, for its acronym in Portuguese), workers have seen cuts of up to 70 percent to compensation.
“We view this situation with great concern. The pandemic aggravates a crisis that has been affecting the media in Brazil since 2013, when a wave of layoffs began. As always, the easiest way out is to penalize the worker,” Maria José Braga, president of Fenaj, told the Knight Center.
The cuts do not spare even the largest and most traditional newspapers in the country. In recent weeks, O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo proposed a 25 percent reduction in the hours and salaries of their journalists. The crisis of the two has been going on for years, with a series of massive layoffs to try to balance accounts. To justify cuts in wages and hours, both Estadão and O Globo claim a reduction in advertising revenue in print media in the face of reduced circulation with the restriction of sales at newsstands.
“With the exception of digital subscriptions (...), all other channels are experiencing sharp drops. Especially advertising, which is still the most representative part of total revenue and the cornerstone of our [total] results,” Editora Globo CEO Frederic Kachar said in an internal statement, as reported by Brasil 247.
A little less than a month ago, the newspaper celebrated a historic record of visits to its website, achieved thanks to relevant coverage of the pandemic.
Fenaj monitors cases in partnership with regional unions. There are also proposals to reduce wages and layoffs in Ceará, Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The cases of cut wages are supported by a provisional measure issued by the federal government that authorizes changes in the employment contract for companies to adapt to the crisis.
“Contrary to what society thinks, journalists are not well paid. In general, they are poorly paid, with some exceptions. For those who are already underpaid, losing a salary, even with reduced work hours, is very serious,” Braga said.
Remote work: who pays the bill?
Another ongoing discussion concerns remote work. With practically 100 percent of professionals working from home, operating costs have become a point of friction between journalists and companies.
“Complaints have come to our attention (...) of increased journalists' personal expenses with internet, electricity and telephone. Thus, once again, we are seeking to dialogue with the heads of companies to prevent problems of this nature from increasing,” said the president of the Union of Journalists of Ceará, Rafael Mesquita.
In Rio de Janeiro, in a proposal sent to its workers on April 24, Editora Globo, which is responsible for the newspapers O Globo, Extra and Valor, among other publications, shrugged off responsibility for the costs of working at home, as reported by journalist Leo Dias for UOL.
"The proposal regulates that the company would have no obligation to pay for equipment and facilities of employees (including electricity, telephone and internet bills, services necessary to keep the newsroom routine working even at home)," Dias wrote.
“Teleworking is beneficial for the company because it eliminates some costs. There is a drastic reduction in this operating cost. Not paying these costs is unfair,” Márcio Leal, president of the Union of Professional Journalists in the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro, told the Knight Center.
“Demand has increased and wear is even greater. At home you do not have adequate working conditions. Ergonomic conditions, for example. I don't have an appropriate chair to spend hours at the computer. I jump from the living room sofa, to the hammock, to the bed. The (vertebral) column will last as long as possible,” Gésio Passos, who is a reporter for Rádio Nacional and director of the Union of Journalists in the Federal District, told the Knight Center.
Journalists Save Lives Campaign
Faced with the difficult scenario both in coverage of the pandemic and in labor relations, Fenaj launched a “Jornalistas Salvam Vidas” (Journalists Save Lives) campaign to enhance the professional activity of reporters and editors. “The consequences of this precariousness at such a critical moment can be fatal for public health, for the economy and for democracy itself. The work of journalists is an essential service,” reads the text published on the Fenaj website.
Despite the crisis, the president of Fenaj, Maria José Braga, identified positive aspects in the coverage of the pandemic. According to her, public demand for reliable information produced by journalists has increased.
“If there were any positives caused by the pandemic, it was the resumption of confidence in journalism,” Braga said. “There was a movement of discredit in professional journalism, and there was a resumption of communication outlets, large and small, as a reliable source of information. This is extremely important and makes us question even more the position of companies to cut wages. It is time to value journalism and the journalist.”
*The Knight Center attempted to contact representatives from Editora Globo and Grupo Estado, but did not receive a response as of publication time.