Financed by crowdfunding, readers’ contributions and donations by foundations, a news agency created by young Brazilian journalists is renewing the country’s news scene.
Last March, reporter Andrea Dip was awarded the Troféu Mulher Imprensa (Women’s Press Trophy) for the body of work she developed for Agência Pública, winning a competition that involved a number of conventional media. The award commemorates a series of in-depth reports primarily on women’s rights that had a great impact. Andrea Dip dedicated her award “to all the women who transformed their pain into struggle, to independent journalism, and to the Agência Pública,” where she has been working since 2011.
Founded exactly five years ago by Marina Amaral, Natalia Viana and Tatiana Merlino, Agência Pública is pioneering in its reliance upon a non-profit journalism model. Financed by funding from foundations, crowdfunding initiatives, and additional donations from readers, the Agência defends in-depth well-founded reporting, which requires months of work. “Agência Pública was founded with the aim of doing big stories. The structure has expanded, but the goal remains the same,” says Marina Dias, communications coordinator.
With a newsroom in São Paulo and a cultural center in Rio de Janeiro, 14 professionals—including directors, reporters, correspondents, and editors—run Agência Pública. “Our organizational structure is geared towards exactly the type of journalism that we do. We wouldn’t even be able to produce journalistic coverage on a daily basis.”
Mega-events on the agenda
Dias emphasizes the autonomous journalism carried out by Agência Pública and the freedom of its reporters. “Our journalism is not bound by advertisements or big companies; it is committed to serving the public interest and to the promotion of quality journalism,” she says.
Paula Melani Rocha, professor in the graduate program in Journalism at the Universidade de Ponta Grossa, summarizes Agência Pública’s importance in four categories: “They play an important role in the management model, in the issues taken up, in investigative principles and, most importantly, in the style of news reporting, with a variety of sources, contextualization, and without ties to official sponsors. Those ties are still very present in traditional press outlets,” the professor contends.
Since its founding, in addition to addressing issues around urban problems, violence against women, and public safety, the Agência has been denouncing a series of human rights violations and the negative impact on Brazilian society with regard to the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. “Another issue that the Agência has investigated since it was founded is the Amazon rain forest. We are developing innumerable news stories about conflicts that occur daily in the region. In general, we are interested in Brazil’s mega-events and the impact they are having on the lives of Brazilians,” says Marina Dias.
Grants for foreign journalists
With a view to expanding this coverage, the Agência launched a residency program for foreign journalists who are interested in reporting on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro: four reporters will be hosted at the Agência’s Casa Pública between July and August 2016 for at least 15 days each.
In addition to hosting them, the Agência is offering a 7,000 Reais grant (approximately 1,800 Euros) with team support. “Our coverage has brought so many important stories – albeit getting little attention – about removals, authoritarianism, violence, and corruption. Now we want to help journalists from other countries tell this sad side of the story about mega-events. It’s a reality that cannot be ignored,” says Natalia Viana, co-founder and one of the directors of the agency.
Residencies and debates
In order for independent journalists to be able to work on specific themes, Agência Pública has developed collaborative finance campaigns. In the first, in 2013, the Agência raised nearly 60,000 Reais, which they distributed through ten grants of 6,000 Reais each for journalists working on their “dream topics.” We received “over 100 proposals, we selected 40 of them and the public was responsible for choosing ten. The stories were developed and published on the site,” Dias says.
Professor Paula Melani reminds us that Agência Pública, just like other alternative media, like Mídia Ninja and Jornalistas Livres (Free Journalists), came into being in the context of the “great potential” of the internet and social media. “That gives the public the opportunity to inform themselves through different ‘editorial lines.’ The reader can disagree or agree with a certain media outlet, but the great thing is that he has access. And that is a new thing.”
Agência Pública, as Marina Dias points out, also aims to reflect on journalistic practice: “We don’t just want to do big stories, we also want to reflect upon and discuss the status of journalism in Brazil,” the professional says, citing two recent projects the Agência has developed. One of them is the map of independent journalism that has catalogued 70 initiatives throughout Brazil, bringing to life a “colorful, innovative and hopeful” panorama, which is available online. Another project is the Casa Pública (Public House), a cultural center in Rio de Janeiro, which has promoted debates about journalism and current issues in the country. For the future, the Agência envisions the establishment of a journalism laboratory for students.