Knight Center founder honored at international investigative journalism conference in Brazil

"Passionate" and "visionary" are the words Brant Houston used to describe Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas founder and director Rosental Calmon Alves, who was honored during an homage at the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism's 6th International Congress for Investigative Journalism, on July 1.

On the second day of the International Congress for Investigative Journalism, more than 500 attendees listened as stories about Alves' long career as a journalist and educator were related by friends and colleagues, such as columnists Clóvis Rossi and Miriam Leitão.

“Rosental's biggest defect, at least from my point of view, is that I can't decide whether to praise the man or the professional, because this guy is ace in both categories," Rossi joked.

Each year, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) honors one Brazilian journalist for her or his outstanding career and contributions to journalism. Last year, Alves, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was invited to participate in an homage for journalist Dorrit Harazim, of the magazine Piauí.

A native of Rio de Janeiro, the Knight Center founder began working as a journalist in 1968, when he was just 16, first producing a school newspaper and then working for the newspaper O Jornal. Alves went on to work at radio stations Tupi and Nacional, in Rio, and then for the magazines Isto É and Veja. Most of Alves' career as a journalist, however, was spent at the newspaper Jornal do Brasil, where he worked as a foreign correspondent in Madrid, Buenos Aires, Washington and Mexico City. He went on to become the executive editor and director of that newspaper.

ABRAJI president Fernando Rodrigues said that Alves has been a pioneer in journalism. In 1987, Alves was the first Brazilian journalist to be chosen as a prestigious Nieman fellow at Harvard University. In 1991, he created the first computer news service, and in 1995, the first online edition of a Brazilian newspaper. And, in 1997, he started the first online journalism class at the University of Texas at Austin.

Alves also supported Brazilian journalists interested in creating ABRAJI, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas' first project. Both organizations were started in 2002. “With ABRAJI, a model for helping journalists was born, and since then we have applied this model in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, where local, independent, and self-sustaining organizations have emerged to work to better journalism," Alves said.

Among the remembrances and jokes, Alves said he was "almost crying. It is with humility and emotion that I receive this honor, and I honestly don't know if I am worthy," he said as he received a plaque. "This plaque encourages me to continue with the mission that I set more than a decade ago: To help my fellow journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean who are interested in furthering their own projects with the goal of improving the quality of journalism in their countries," he said.

ABRAJI, one of the top investigative journalism organizations in the world, is the result of Alves' mission. Alves recalled that he helped start ABRAJI after the killing of journalist Tim Lopes in 2002.

Alves dedicated the honor to his family, and thanked the ABRAJI board and also acknowledged the support of the University of Texas, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

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.