Mass layoffs in Brazilian media generate uncertainty for future of journalism

In the last months, the term "passaralho" has been echoed throughout newsrooms in Brazil. This term for those fired from their jobs in the media has gained ground due to numerous cuts that the country's major dailies and magazines -- including O Estado de S. Paulo, Valor Econônomico, Folha de S. Paulo, and the Abril publishing house --  have announced since March.


The situation caught the attention of Pública, the non-profit investigative journalism agency and site, which produced a series of reports which looked at issues such as precariousness of the profession, the influence of company boards have when deciding reports, the future of journalism, and the changes the internet has provoked on print journalism.

According to the site, taking into account only those journalists working in the city of São Paulo, there were 280 firings between Janurary and April of this year, a 37.9% increase from the same time in 2012, when there were 203 firings. In general, reasons give for these firings were "restructuring."

The daily Valor Econômico let go close to 50 employees from its newsroom in May, the same number of firings that occurred at O Estado last month. There was also 14 hirings from publishing house Trip, rreponsibile for magazines Trip and Tpm, adding to the nine firings at Folha de Pernambuco, close to 20 at Diário Catarinense and 15 at the newspaper A Crítica, from the state of Amazonas. According to the publication Meio & Mensagem, "close to 70 positions, the majority of them executives, were cut” at Grupo Abril.

At Folha, the largest Brazilian dialy in terms of circulation and readership, with a daily average of 300,000 copies, about 40 positions were eliminated, on top of 5% of the editorial staff, including one journalist who received the prestigious Esso award in 2011. The daily also announced editorial changes such as the elimination of certain supplements, according to the website Propmark.

For ombudsman Suzana Singer, the decision for a smaller newspaper could be insufficient to confront the growing competition that the internet represents for traditional Brazilian media outlets. "Around here, the newspapers don't stop to divulge optimistic data about themselves. Folha stated, in March, that ad sales rose 0.7% from the previous sales. According to Estado, general circulation increased by 1.8% during that time period. So, if everything is going well, then why sacrifice the product?" she asked.

The beginning of the end

Although not following the rate of market loss seen in the United States or Europe and posting good financial results, due mainly to the growth of the media class during the last several years, Brazilian media companies continue with layoffs, as if preparing for an upcoming crisis.

Data related by the National Newspaper Associaiton (or ANJ) indicate there is no reason for such pessimism. Even with competition from online media outlets, which surpassed print media outlets in public investments, the advertising investments in newspapers in Brazil should increase 5%, according to predictions made by Warc, a research center focusing on worldwide marketing trends.

Reducing investments in a product can signal the beginning of the end, according to a report released on May 14 by the Pew Research Center. The report found that the decrease in quality of informative content makes one in three Americans give up reading a particular news outlet.

The transition towards a new business model and the future of media is uncertain. Just as Columbia University researchers C.W. Anderson and Emily Bell and Clay Shirky state in their report “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present", there no longer exists a news industry. "There used to be one, held together by the usual things that hold an industry together: similarity of methods among a relatively small and coherent group of businesses, and an inability for anyone outside that group to produce a competitive product. Those conditions no longer hold true."

New paths

As the industry fails to find the magic formula to adapt to the new media ecosystem, the precariousness of the work of a journalist and the reduction of staff in newsrooms looms on the horizon. The decline of the profession was revealed in a report released by the American website  CareerCast.com, which evaluates 200 professions and classifies them by five criteria: work environment, salary, stress level, physical demands and conditions of employment. In 2013, the job of news reporter took last place, behind lumberjack, soldier, and dairy farmer.

After the announcements of the layoffs, many journalists expressed in blogs and social media their wish to keep working in other formats, outside of the traditional outlets.

“Last week I saw the happiness of friends who lost their job. And I saw the depression and tears of those who remained in the newsroom, now doing several jobs, doing the work of three, repeating a routine which doesn't appear to have any purpose if not for a precarious salary. Those fired are, in truth, "Ficarlhos". Those who stay are screwed," blogged Bruno Torturra, a participant of a communication initative called Ninja (Narrativas Independientes de Periodismo y Acción).

"My hope is that the Internet itself, which has caused the drop in readership as a consequence to cost cutting in newspapers, provides a new media business model, some individual experiment, perhaps joint or even cooperative, in which we can be our own bosses," wrote Cynara Menezes, a blogger and columnist for Carta Capital.

Some of those experiments are already taking off in Brazil. A Pública, which grew out of that same dissatisfation for the well-worn paths of traditional media outlets, is an example.  Found in 2011 by reporters  Marina Amaral and Natália Viana, the agency supports itself through foundations and has demonstrated a successful alternative for sustaining long-form reporting. The founders are contemplating the use of crowdfunding from their readership.

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.