InfoAmazonia, a trilingual platform devoted to covering the Amazon Rainforest, has launched a Citizen Network of news outlets based in the Brazilian Amazon that cover socio-environmental issues. The idea is to strengthen local journalism in the region and expand media audiences, improving the content and bringing it in and around the Amazon to local populations and a global audience.
The Network was launched in October 2022 with the publication of a media map of the Amazonian territory, which also included an analysis of the challenges journalism faces in the region around socio-environmental issues, such as deforestation and climate change. The Living Map of Amazonian Media found 282 news outlets in the nine states of the Brazilian Amazon with socio-environmental coverage in 2021. Amazonas, Brazil's largest state, was the Amazonian state with the most media mapped (58). However, only 20% of the Amazonian news outlets that published social and environmental news in 2021 had editorials, sections, or categories grouping these news items.
The mapping allowed us to understand what socio-environmental coverage exists in the Amazon in order to build the network, Stefano Wrobleski, director of technology at InfoAmazonia, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). "It's not as if we don't know about various news outlets out there, but having this overview helps to start the work more effectively," he said.
The InfoAmazonia team then identified news outlets in five states whose coverage of socio-environmental issues stood out among the others and invited them to inaugurate the network. "They are completely different news outlets," Débora Menezes, coordinator of the Citizen's Network, told LJR, "What they have in common, and what I think is the most interesting and most challenging thing about the start of this network, is that these are not traditional news outlets, these are not conventional news outlets, these are not big local media. These are more independent news outlets. Most of them don't receive advertising funds, they work on projects. For example, the news outlet Vocativo, from the Amazon, has received a lot of its funding from the journalist who founded the site."
Besides Vocativo, the network also includes Tapajós de Fato, from Pará; Agência Tambor, from Maranhão; Comitê Chico Mendes, from Acre; and AgCom/Unifap, Experimental Communication Agency from the Federal University of Amapá.
"We formalized the network with a meeting to talk about the difficulties these news outlets have in creating feature stories," Menezes said. "This meeting also served as a kind of editorial meeting to understand what are the stories they would like to work on next year in which eventually InfoAmazonia could partner with, both to help them edit and with sources, information, maps, etc."
It’s "fundamental that there be an integration among journalists in this region," Fred Santana, founder and editor of Vocativo, told LJR. "If on the one hand we are interconnected in several regards, the distances between us are considerable and the logistical challenges for field work are even greater and more complex. Working as an integrated network, however, we can cover diverse issues by collaborating with each other, exchanging information, or even going where the news is," he said.
For him, socio-environmental issues pertinent to the Amazon region, which are the focus of the Citizen Network, are still "not very accessible to either the national and international public opinion and to our own public." This is because "they are narrated in a way that is very distant from the general public, or even from the point of view of news outlets that are not in the Amazon region.”
"It's necessary that journalists who are from here debate issues from a local perspective and understanding. I feel that today our biggest challenge - both as journalists and citizens - is to assert and take our place at the debate table," Santana said.
Lylian Rodrigues, professor of the journalism course at Unifap and coordinator of AgCom/Unifap, told LJR that the invitation to participate in the Citizen Network was "very gratifying" due to the recognition of the work developed by professors and students of this public university. AgCom is a university extension project in which journalism students learn by doing, writing stories of interest to the university community and to the population of Amapá.
"The journalism course [at Unifap] turned 11 years old in 2022. It’s a new course, in a very young professional market [in Amapá]. So we have an eagerness to make it grow and take care of these students that are graduating. When InfoAmazonia came to us, it was one more way of motivating us and encouraging us to continue with the work of this experimental agency [a news outlet where the reporters are journalism students, overseen by a professor. In this case, Rodrigues]. This will help these students also motivate themselves to stay producing journalism and it will create in them this spirit of collective and independent work," Rodrigues said.
According to Wrobleski, the proposal of the Citizen Network starts from a "dual premise."
"We understand that the content quality of InfoAmazonia and of several other news outlets that came up in this wave of digital native journalism is very high, but it does not reach many people precisely because of their of lack of access to high quality or financially accessible internet, even though this content is about these populations. On the other hand, there is also hyperlocal or local content being produced that doesn't get the attention it deserves at the regional, national or global level," he said.
With the Citizen Network, the content of InfoAmazonia will be able to reach these populations that have greater contact with local media. Not only because they are local, and therefore part of the communities they inform, but also because "they are being developed in more accessible technologies, such as radio, which is much more accessible in places where either the Internet has not arrived or it arrives in a very expensive or precarious way," he said.
"So our content can reach [these populations] in that way. At the same time that we, as media that covers the Pan-Amazon looking at the nine countries and publishing in Spanish and English in addition to Portuguese, and also having contact with large and established media not only in Brazil, but in other countries, can also support the dissemination of topics found locally," Wrobleski said.
According to Menezes, the content produced in collaboration between InfoAmazonia and the partners of the Citizen Network will be published starting this month. While the collaborative work is being developed, the platform already has an editor and a reporter on its team dedicated to producing content following the logic of the Network, with a local perspective for themes such as COP27, for example.
Collaborative work is not new for InfoAmazonia, which has republication agreements and develops stories in partnership with other media since its foundation in 2012, the director said. Among them are the investigations "Venezuela, smugglers' paradise" and "Exploring the Mining Arch," carried out together with media from other countries and winners of the Online Journalism Awards in 2020 and 2018, respectively.
The Citizen Network, however, was also created with the goal of making networking "something more systematic," Menezes said. "That networking that InfoAmazonia was already doing naturally, with this project we intend to create a method, a principle to work in network and develop agendas and strategies to distribute material together," she said.
Wrobleski said that this is one of the three areas to which InfoAmazonia decided to dedicate itself after a reformulation in 2020. In addition to working with the formation of a media network, InfoAmazonia kept the focus on content production and started investing in education in geojournalism, a strand of data journalism in which the medium specializes. "We started a course in which we connect journalists to academics who work in areas of geospatial technology, with geographic data. From this connection we built this course and we are building methodologies from the learnings in this course for new editions that will start in 2023," he said.