Echos from the Master's House

The future of Brazil's press will depend on how much it values the 56% of the population that is not white

In honor of Children's Day, on Saturday, October 12, the Correio Braziliense newspaper published photos of 27 children under the title "They are the future of Brazil."

They were all white.

After protests from readers, the newspaper apologized. Given that Brazil is a mixed country, the newspaper recognized the error as "very serious."

Brasilia's leading newspaper likely chose the portrait unconsciously. But in the late 19th century, Brazil's intellectuals believed this image to be the future of the country: the idea that miscegenation would whiten the country and therefore civilize it.

More than a century later, Brazil has a very different face. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), blacks - the sum of those who declare themselves black and brown - represent 56% of the population.

Despite this, the press continues to portray the country as mostly white. Why?

A long October Piauí magazine ("Letra Preta") article showed that the near absence of blacks producing content and leading newsrooms is a good explanation. The lower the diversity, the lower the plurality of views and representation.

This is why Correio Braziliense failed to perceive how absurd it is to exclude black children from this type of coverage, especially at a time when they face so much violence.

An informal survey shows that Folha and Agora, newspapers of the same group, together have about 300 professionals in their newsrooms. Six are black. Blacks and brown people make up 2% of the total number of journalists in the largest newspaper in Brazil.

In a survey of the Folha website, there are five blacks among the 130 columnists.

This is not to say that there are no advances. Diversity has gradually been incorporated as a value by the mainstream media, as well.

Vinicius Mota, the secretary of the newsroom, acknowledges that the newspaper's share of blacks is small and says that an effective way to increase it will be to reform the selection process of journalists and trainees.

The reader or viewer has also been changing. New generations are more sensitive to the issue and more responsive to discrimination and racism.

Social media helps to verbalize outrage quickly and efficiently.

Recently, readers reacted on Twitter to Folha's reporting about the place of black women in Brazil's society.

Titled "Invisible Majority," the fantastic series reported how black women make up the largest group in the population but still face several obstacles.

One reader took advantage of the topic to point out another invisibility. "How many black professionals work there?" Kauê asked on Twitter.

In another episode, a prominent television critic received disapproving comments for eagerly pointing out mistakes made by the anchor of "Jornal Hoje," Maria Júlia Coutinho—a black woman.

Daniel Castro said that he exposed the errors because he had received information that the presenter's nervousness was main a topic at a Globo journalism meeting.

The feature, he said, had never been used before because this was the first time he had come across such behind-the-scenes information.

If we are going to start counting errors now, then it should be applied to everyone—not just the black anchor of Journal Hoje. We should start from a broader set of individuals to see whether or not the error pattern is within the expected curve.

If Castro had done so, he might have helped the show understand whether the criticisms were indeed justified. Not having done so, his actions feel discriminatory — in the sense of giving differential treatment to a specific social or ethnic group.

In order to promote multiple points of view and confront racism, the presence of blacks in journalistic production is fundamental.

Someone who writes a title like "Rochelle uses 'sex with a black man' to get revenge on a drugged sister" (also on Daniel Castro's blog, in reference to a soap opera) is an embarrassment and appeals to one of the most overused stereotypes of black men.

The process can also bring dividends. Folha's social media team has monitored the presence of black men and women on the newspaper's Instagram for the past three months.

Black people appeared in only 10% of the posts. But if we look at the sum of likes, comments, and shares, which is valuable on social media, black people appear in 3 of the ten most engaged posts.

If blacks were a minority, we would still deserve to be well-represented in the media. But since we are a majority, it is a question of democracy.

The fate of the press is linked to the attention and importance that it gives (or not) to more than 55% of the Brazilian population. 

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon