Journalist volunteers profile COVID-19 victims in Brazil; project inspires newspaper cover and tribute on TV

The collaborative project Inumeráveis (Innumerable) can be summarized in a sentence: "There is no one who likes to be a number, people deserve to exist in prose.” The virtual memorial aims to tell the stories behind the COVID-19 numbers in Brazil, with profiles of the victims written by volunteers.

"We wake up every day with a new number, today 120 died, another day 300, 400. After a while you disconnect from the meaning of that number, you disconnect from the life that each number represents. Inumeráveis was born to connect society with the value of these lives,” one of the creators of the project, the artist Edson Pavoni, explained in an audio recording sent to the Knight Center. According to the latest balance sheet from the Ministry of Health, released on May 12, 881 new deaths from coronavirus were recorded in one day, bringing the total to 12,400 deaths in the country.

 Screenshot of "Inumeráveis", made by artists y journalists in Brazil.

Screenshot of "Inumeráveis", made by artists y journalists in Brazil.

More than a tribute to those who died, the project is a way of comforting the victims' relatives and friends, who have the chance to tell stories of ordinary people not commonly portrayed in newspaper texts. In addition, this exercise in humanization is important for everyone, said social entrepreneur Rogério Oliveira, in a recording sent to the  Knight Center.

"The second [reason for the project] is for us, who are not yet victims. To guarantee our humanity, to ensure that we are still able to be sensitized with each life lost, not turning all of this into a mass, repeated and told daily in a cold way," he said. The creators plan, in the future, to transform the memorial into an artistic installation, in an open space for public visitation.

Inumeráveis was created by Pavoni and Oliveira, with the help of journalist Alana Rizzo, and launched on April 30th. In principle and in keeping with its editorial line, the group does not disclose any kind of number: not how many profiles have already been made, nor how many people are on the team. A quick review of the site, however, shows that there are at least 500 profiles of victims published and just over 30 volunteers, over the course of about two weeks, which gives a dimension of the group's effort and the rapid growth of the initiative.

"I haven't slept in several days," said Rizzo, the project's journalism coordinator, in good humor. "Among the volunteers who are telling and writing the stories, there are people from various fields, but most are journalists, journalism students or writers," she said, in an interview with the Knight Center.

Since it was launched, the project has had a big impact, with several articles published in the Brazilian press. And it became the inspiration for the Sunday cover of one of the biggest newspapers in the country, as well as a tribute on Fantástico, TV Globo's journalism program.

The Sunday cover of newspaper O Globo on May 10 was a partnership with Inumeráveis. The entire front page was covered with the names of the people covered by the project, followed by a striking phrase about each person. The headline read: "10,000 stories. Most lethal event in Brazil in 102 years, the COVID-19 pandemic officially reached 10,627 deaths yesterday. So that the human dimension of the tragedy is not lost in the coldness of statistics, O Globo honors lives gathered in a virtual memorial."

Editor-in-chief, Alan Gripp, said he was already feeling the need to show more human stories when he got to know the project. "We realize that the numbers are getting so dramatic that the deaths become trivial. And I was wondering what we could do with that [Inumeráveis] and it occurred to me, in the middle of a meeting, in my mind, that this could be a front page, to function as a graphic editorial," he said in an interview with the Knight Center. 

According to Gripp, the newspaper had already published stories of victims in long reports, but he was looking for something that would have an editorial impact, "a powerful message." "I think there was something missing that was more moving, with a face of homage, that could really draw attention, because sometimes it's not just telling stories [in reports], but causing a stir that the cover led to," he said.

When Gripp came up with the idea for the front page, he contacted Rizzo, who he already knew, to arrange the collaboration. Then, the graphic team of Globo began to work on some possibilities. First, they did a test with only the names lined up, but they understood that it was necessary to have a short summary of the stories.

"And that was what moved a lot of people. People reported that they spent hours there reading everyone's stories. Much because of the project's merit, but the graphic output we found helped. When we did the first test, we looked and thought: my God, this is it," Gripp said.

The feedback from readers was also very positive, Gripp said. Many sent letters to the newspaper and commented on social networks. Relatives of the victims portrayed also sent messages of thanks. "The repercussion was very moving."

Gripp was surprised at the words people used to characterize the front page. He expected readers to say that the tribute had been "beautiful," "touching," but many wrote that it had been "necessary." "I saw that it actually reached the goal," he said.

Also on Sunday, Fantástico aired a tribute in partnership with Inumeráveis. Famous TV Globo actors read and interpreted some of the profiles portrayed by the project.

Journalist Alana Rizzo. (Courtesy)

Journalist Alana Rizzo. (Courtesy)

After the cover and story on Fantástico, the project became better known, and the demand for people who want to tell victims' stories increased. For this reason, Rizzo said that they are looking for more volunteers across the country, mainly in communities, peripheries and in the interior. They still need reporters willing to investigate and find new stories. To participate, simply enter the website and follow the instructions. Journalists who wrote profiles for their outlets can also submit texts to the project, with credit from the media outlet where they were originally published.

Rizzo said that there are currently three journalism teams in the project, with various roles. "There is a journalist who is just uploading the texts, there is an investigation and checking team, there is a journalist who looks for new stories. There is one that is only for copy editors, and another for writers, which takes audio recordings and forms that come from family members and transforms them into text," she explained.

Most of the time, interested parties do not complete the complete form and leave important information out. Therefore, journalists need to call the victim's family and friends to find out what was missing.

At the same time, Rizzo has been in contact with universities to mobilize journalism students who want to participate. "I did a webinar on Saturday with journalism students at PUC-SP, it was super cool,” she said. “It was a kind of training on how to find stories, the investigation process, the sensitivity to deal with people and how you protect yourself, because it is a difficult subject.”

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