Journalist Julia Michaels on shake ups at one of Brazil’s most important newspapers. Reblogged courtesy of Real Rio
Should a newspaper reflect its readers’ world, or help them to expand it?
In the context of constant negotiation between these two poles, a duty undertaken by any form of media, RioRealblog recently spoke with Gilberto Scofield, former editor of the Rio section of O Globo. He was fired early this month, after a staff disagreement.
It should be noted that the constant negotiation between these two poles takes place against a tough background. After the 2002 death of journalist Tim Lopes, at the hands of a Complexo do Alemão drug trafficker, the Brazilian media abandoned Rio’s favelas.
The favelas are home to a fifth of the population. For at least six years, journalists and most of the rest of the other four fifths avoided informal areas. The resulting lack of information about them, together with rising rates of violence, led to many assumptions and the creation of a mythology about favelas and their residents, which — despite pacification as of 2008 — to this day remains in the minds of many cariocas (including journalists), particularly those of the South Zone.
“Rocinha is ours”, O Globo headlined the favela’s 2011 police occupation. Ours? many people asked. Who is the we?
Thus, a year and a half ago, Gilberto Scofield arrived from São Paulo to head up the Rio section of a newspaper that doesn’t use the names of organized crime groups, preferring to call them “factions”; a paper whose support of pacification prevents it from criticizing the state government; a paper that provides superficial coverage of the controversial removal of favela residents; a paper whose South Zone focus leads to the neglect not only of the North and West Zones, but also that of neighboring towns in the metropolitan area, where daily life is ever more connected with Rio de Janeiro proper.
Little of this changed under his direction.
But Rio coverage improved a great deal. Washington Fajardo, municipal Secretary of Cultural Heritage, Urban Intervention, Architecture and Design — an outspoken man, despite his job, on a variety of topics regarding Rio — was one of the first to praise him after the firing, on Facebook.
He said that Scofield helped the city. “Your attention to the areas of planning, projects and design also helped to inform readers and the population at large,” he wrote. “Particularly at this special moment of urban transformation, to speak of cities as you did creates a level of quality of information from which there can be no return. It’s your legacy. Congratulations on your innovations, fruit of your ability and advanced vision.”
Globo’s Rio coverage did expand and become more varied. We have fewer superficial and timid pieces, more articles about favelas and other parts of the city and state that were previously neglected. We have two new columns, one on design (of all sorts), and a weekly column about daily life, Panorama Carioca, that Scofield shared with others (see an example here).
Last year the paper created a contest for UFRJ students, on the revitalization of some Rio train stations. Given much attention during the new Design Week, partially sponsored by Globo, the contest is to be enlarged and continued this year, the former editor says. “You have to use this great ocean of minds,” he comments, noting that the academic world tends to keep to itself.
Contests, however, even when sponsored by O Globo, do not always lead to concrete results. Three years ago, the Morar Carioca contest — presented with fanfare by the paper – chose 40 projects for the favela upgrades, by architecture firms. Most never left the drawing board.
The experience of living in cities such as Washington D.C. and Beijing, as a Globocorrespondent, was helpful to Scofield in his job as Rio editor. In D.C., he observed a level of community participation that is quite rare here.
Given a lack of vision and urban planning in Rio, he says, it’s crucial to encourage debate. “Democracy is a very young concept in Brazil,” he explains. “We need to learn how to live in communities.” He brings up the praça São Salvador controversy, where residents are losing sleep because of the noise made by bohemian partiers.
“We have to decentralize the South Zone debate”, adds Scofield, who grew up in Méier, in the North Zone. “Why not have a traveling Christmas tree? Why not have it one year in the Lagoa [Rodrigo de Freitas], and one year at Ramos Beach?”
If he’d stayed on in the job, says Scofield, he would have done more investigative journalism in the political arena, researching links among interest groups and the state legislature, for example. He would also have given more coverage to the West Zone. Tourism in Rio would have been another topic to explore.
From this blogger’s point of view, the newspaper could do much for the city’s move towards integration between its formal and informal parts, reporting more on daily life in favelas, to challenge the myths in the heads of those who live on the “asphalt” — and to provoke dialogue. What was it like for people in Rocinha last April, for example, to do without water every other day?
The paper could also help the reader to understand to what extent he or she is part of a metropolitan area of 12 million inhabitants — a region that will only be able to clean up Guanabara Bay, for example, by way of coordination that goes far beyond the capital.
Rolland Gianotti, Scofield’s assistant editor, is his temporary replacement. O Globo hasn’t yet announced a definitive name. Meanwhile, readers will sometimes find themselves reflected in the newspaper, and sometimes, encouraged to consider themselves within the metropolis. As time goes on, we’ll see how O Globo works the ratio, in the tense environment of transition from print to digital newspapering.
Scofield, who’s now thinking about his new life, vows to keep up with the debate. He plans to attend the upcoming OsteRio meetings, for example. “The city is in me,” he says.
Julia Michaels is an American journalist, writer, and editor who’s lived in Rio de Janeiro almost 20 years. Check out her blog Rio Real