Online independent journalism dependent on collaborative investigation

By Isabela Fraga

“Newspapers die or are under military heels or commit suicide because they do not face their real problems." These were the words of Brazilian journalist Jânio de Freitas, one of the journalists honored by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism during the 7th International Congress on Investigative Journalism, that took place in São Paulo between July 12 and 14. Freitas was talking about the so-called journalism crisis that came about with the Internet evolution, and concluded: "Use creativity. Do not fear it."

One such route of creativity explored by new media initiatives is collaborative journalism, often developed by people with no training in the area. For Antônio Martins, from the news site Outras Palavras, the future of news could be precisely the "work of common citizens that do research."

A highlighted case is that of Andy Carvin, digital strategist for the public radio network NPR in the U.S. With no background in journalism, Carvin was known for his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring. "The main token exchanged on the Internet is generosity," he said. “In times of urgent news, people volunteer to share." In collaborative journalism, defended by Carvin and Martins, the Internet is a fundamental tool -- and not an imminent threat. "The Internet is where today resides the hope to reclaim the journalism that we learned, with values that we learned to honor," said Martins.

Examples of collaborative journalism can provide an information service to the population at low costs. But great investigative reports undertaken by independent media, that demand time, equipment and travel, need more funding. In these cases, how does one find investments for the project's survival?

The most common support comes from institutions and foundations that believe in the project, such as the case of the investigative journalism agency Pública, funded by the Ford Foundation, Carlos Chagas Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations. "However, it is hard to fund investigative journalism in large news media as well as in independent projects," said Marina Amaral, publisher for Pública. For her, the future of independent journalism could be in crowdfunding, a collective support system in which each person contributes an amount to reach the required investment. "We want to try this financing avenue in the future," she said.

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.