Journalists in Brazil and Colombia find an ally in podcasts to take a deeper look at the profession

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  • February 20, 2019

By Carolina de Assis and Silvia Higuera

A chance encounter in 2012 led Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Alves to create a project that, six years later, would become one of his passions. That year, Alves went to London to cover the Olympic Games and met Dorrit Harazim, a journalist with 53 years in the profession and who in 2017 was awarded the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Award from Columbia University.

"She is a reference for me, whose text I consider the best in Brazil," Alves told the Knight Center. "There I was introduced to her and we worked in the same environment, and I had an idea that it would be cool to know what her method is, how she writes, how she builds paragraphs, does she write all at once or little by little? There I had this idea of interviewing journalists," he said of the kindling of an idea that, six years later, was fulfilled with the podcast Vida de Jornalista (Journalist’s Life).

Alves is one of several professionals in the region who have bet on podcasts to tell the stories of journalism itself, as well as the people in the profession. In the last two years, podcasts have been embraced by journalistic media in Latin America, primarily for reports, interviews and debates on current events and issues. Yet, these journalists are turning the microphone toward the people behind the news and are examining the press in this current moment.

Launched in August 2018, Vida de Jornalista is produced and presented by Alves, who received his journalism degree 20 years ago and has passed through the newsrooms of Jornal do Brasil and the site Globoesporte.com and today is a basketball commentator for the SporTV channel.

Rodrigo Alves, presenter of the podcast Vida de Jornalista, with Malu Gaspar, reporter from piauí who was interviewed for the program (Courtesy photo).

Rodrigo Alves, presenter of the podcast Vida de Jornalista, with Malu Gaspar, reporter from piauí who was interviewed for the program (Courtesy photo).

For each episode, there is an interview with a professional telling about his or her career and reflecting on the challenges of being a journalist in Brazil at the end of the decade. Although it came to fruition as a podcast, Alves' initial idea was to do video interviews, but this came with restrictions such as the high cost of production and geographical limitations, since he could only record in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives.

The idea of interviewing journalists left to the side for six years and finally was picked back up after his experience with the podcast 2 Pontos, which was released in June 2018, focused on basketball and was presented by him and Rafael Roque. "It's a format I liked a lot and I think it works well. It's easier to produce, the investment in equipment does not compare with what it would be to make videos and I can record with people from other places via Skype," he said.

Less than six months after its debut, Vida de Jornalista has already surpassed 12,000 downloads, according to Alves, and has reached its 24th episode, which features an interview with journalist Ariel Palacios, correspondent for GloboNews in Buenos Aires and for SporTV. Among other important names in Brazilian journalism that have already been interviewed by Alves in the podcast are Malu Gaspar, a reporter of piauí magazine and host of the podcast Foro de Teresina; Bruno Paes Manso, a journalist who specializes in coverage of urban violence and public security; Renata Lo Prete, anchor of Jornal da Globo and presenter of GloboNews; and Rodrigo Vizeu, responsible for the podcasts Presidente da Seman and Café da Manhã from Folha de S. Paulo.

As part of the podcasts, they always discuss the behind the scenes of each professional’s most significant works and their experiences and diverse impressions of journalism. The audience that interacts with the podcast’s  profiles on Twitter and Facebook is mostly made up of journalism students, Alves said, but established professionals are also among the listeners.

One of the most remarkable feedbacks so far, Alves said, was from a university student who said that before enrolling in the law program, he had considered studying journalism. "He said that after hearing the episode with Renata Lo Prete, he left law school and went to the journalism program because he understood that it was what he wanted to do. I do not know if that was very good for him, but sometimes we can inspire someone to follow the profession. I think the profession is in need of inspiration, because it is not very easy," he joked.

Journalism students in charge

After almost ten years on CBN radio of Grupo Globo, journalist and university professor Julio Lubianco also bet on the format and founded the Fábrica de Podcasts (Podcasts Factory). The one-man production has Lubianco playing all positions: he records, edits and distributes the programs, including Jornalismo em Ação (Journalism in Action).

The podcast produced by Lubianco has a similar proposal to Vida de Jornalista, by Rodrigo Alves, but with a twist: radio journalism students at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) interview the journalists about the making of their most memorable reports.

Microfone e computador"The idea is to get them to recognize what a good report is, a good journalistic job, and pursue a journalist who is in the field. It's almost like asking for a private lesson," Lubianco joked in conversation with the Knight Center. "We discuss very little about how to do journalism, how to get information, where the story idea comes from, how to get access to that source or character ... The students are studying for that and then they get to practice a conversation with someone.”

Lubianco emphasizes that this is not a professional podcast: the students are responsible for the production, recording and editing of the programs, in what is often their first contact with the format and possibly the first time they’ve conducted an interview. But this is also a valuable opportunity for students.

"In addition to podcasting, they are training in a variety of other journalistic skills, such as story production and interviewing. With the possibility of bringing together, within the classroom, theory, practice and the viability of a product, they can think of it as a career possibility,” he observed.

The debate about journalism as a career was the centerpiece of the BRIO podcast Primeiros Passos (First Steps), which Lubianco produced and presented between May and November 2018. The program involved interviews with journalists who work on the initiative's mentoring program, exploring the beginning and the trajectory of each professional.

"A great demand from students is to know how to start a career. I joined this interest with BRIO’s audience’s interest, formed in large part by young journalists, and interviewed some journalists who took their first steps in the field some time ago to remember what the beginning was like, what the difficulties were and how they overcame them,” he said.

Lubianco believes that in Brazil, the market and practice of journalism is little discussed by professionals, who are willing to debate more general issues and less inclined to speak of their own situation.

"There is a lot of talk about freedom of expression, but the labor market, the pay, the journey are discussed little ... This is sometimes due to a more unionized discourse, with which some people have a certain prejudice, but is fundamental to our lives and our physical and financial health," he said.

Turning to look at Colombian media

Similar to Lubianco’s considerations in Brazil, the desire to create a space for media criticism in Colombia led a team in that country to create the Presunto Podcast.

The difference is that for this podcast team, it is not only a discussion about the job market, but about how journalism is taking place in the country. Something necessary, according to them, at a time when false news abounds and when the importance of the role of journalism in society seems to be increasingly in doubt.Microfone e computador

"Little is spoken in Colombia about the work that the media do and their role in constructing imaginaries. Journalists do not self-critique and that is why this is a space to look at the work we are doing to cover the reality of the country," reads a Twitter post from this podcast, which released its first episode in June 2018.

A clear case of this lack of self-criticism was identified by the team in 2017 when serious allegations of work harassment were made by journalists from the newspaper La República, which generated little news.

"A first reflection that we saw [is that the media] were very 'let's talk about power or about people, but not about us'. As if it were an alliance of silence support that we detected at that moment,” Sara Trejos, a journalist, sociologist and cultural manager who led the creation of this podcast and who moderates it, told the Knight Center.

Trejos, who also is an ambassador for non-profit organization SembraMedia in Colombia, had already detected that lack of self-critique among media when things are done badly and that's why she wanted to do something about it. She had noticed that Carlos Cortés, lawyer and creator of opinion videoblog La Mesa de Centro, had space on the site of La Silla Vacía where he occasionally made criticism of the media.

However, this space was not regular, it appeared "when he saw something that caught his attention,” according to Trejos.

For that reason, she took advantage of the Gabo Journalism Festival, held annually by the Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism (FNPI) in Medellín, to propose to Cortés that they do something more routine. After a trip as a fellow of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Trejos returned to Colombia with all the tools and ideas to develop a podcast on this topic, because she saw unique potential in this audio platform.

The objective was clear: to monitor the Colombian media to analyze how they cover a certain news item or topic, and thus be able to critique what takes place.

"Always thinking about it from the stance of a pleasant talk and from humor to make it easier to digest the topic," Trejos explained. "We want people to also have a lot of fun with the podcast like us. It is a moment in which we find ourselves with friends, to check the local press."

To achieve this connection between friends, she and Cortés made a call among their closest circle, with people they knew working on the theme of media, but who did not necessarily work full-time at a media organization.

They contacted people from the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) because they give a conceptual touch to the subject they are dealing with, for example, censorship in the media.

"Specifically, we did not want there to be so many journalists but rather people who were in the environment and somehow we could make critiques a little more removed from the work of the newsroom," Trejos said.

And that's how they formed the main podcasting team. In addition to Trejos y Cortés, the team is composed of Pedro Vaca, executive director of FLIP; Jonathan Bock, coordinator of FLIP’s Center for Studies of Freedom of Expression; María Paula Martínez, political scientist who was in charge of the Center for Journalism Studies at the Universidad de Los Andes until 2018 and is currently director of communications of the Ministry of Culture; Santiago Rivas, plastic artist and television presenter dedicated to art and culture; and Sebastián Payán, literary writer, journalist of the magazine 070, and editor of 070 Podcasts.

In their seven months of existence, they have published 22 episodes. They try to follow the same pattern for each episode: Trejos proposes a topic and monitors some media, they make up a team of four people for each episode where they follow social networks, regional media and increasingly seek to emphasize the concepts that surround the media: censorship, stigmatization, freedom of expression, objectivity, ownership of the media, among others. Finally, between Payán and Trejos, they take care of the entire post-production process.

Trejos however, believes that they can improve in news monitoring. In fact, one of the objectives of Presunto Podcast is to create a media observatory in the near future. For this, she says, the first thing is to position the project and thus apply for grants. For the time being, the team has just opened a Patreon crowdfunding page to get some financing that until now has consisted of resources from team members.

However, it has not been easy for the team to measure their impact because there is no technology that allows them to get precise metrics. They know that with the episodes to date, they have achieved almost 27 thousand listens, but they do not know if the entire episodes are being listened to.

Presunto Podcast team: Sebastián Payán, Sara Trejos, Carlos Cortés, Pedro Vaca, María Paula Martínez, Santiago Rivas, and Jonathan Bock. (Courtesy photo).

Presunto Podcast team: Sebastián Payán, Sara Trejos, Carlos Cortés, Pedro Vaca, María Paula Martínez, Santiago Rivas, and Jonathan Bock. (Courtesy photo).

"We think it's an interesting number especially in this culture, here there is no podcast culture. People do not understand you when you tell them you're on a podcast, you have to show people how to download the app, how to subscribe, tell them ‘this can be done on your cell phone,’ we are in a process of evangelization with that," Trejos said.

Indeed, although new podcasts have been created in the country, a study from "State of digital audio in Colombia 2018" from Audio.ad showed that out of a sample of 1,047 people, 19 percent of the respondents listen to podcasts. However, according to platforms such as Spotify and Apple Podcast, in 2018 Presunto Podcast was one of the independent podcasts that stood out in the country, El Tiempo reported.

Although they are still looking for new ways to get precise metrics, the team has seen an impact of their work on their Twitter accounts. Although their followers, according to Trejos, continue to be among their closest circle – friends of friends – they have seen active participation of the audience through what they called "titulastre." It’s a play on the words “titular” and “lastre,” to highlight those headlines that are "hilarious" or that are poorly formulated and therefore misinform.

According to Trejos, since they started with this project, they receive between 10 to 30 examples of bad headlines in the inbox of each of the panelists or on the timeline of the Presunto account, which for them shows that their audience is paying attention.

"When they realized that there was feedback from us and that some of those headlines appeared on the program, people began to view the media with more critical eyes, and I feel that this is an interesting contribution," Trejos said. "I do not know how many people we are reaching with this, but those who are doing it are an incredible gain because it is not just ignoring the news, but telling the media, 'hey, it seems to me that this is not news, you are wasting time looking for clicks.' And if people are asking those questions, we are winning."