Testing the Reader's Patience

Recent events have irritated readers and question the work of newspaper reporters

Nothing has mobilized the Folha reader more than free access to the newspaper's reporting about coronavirus.

In the name of legitimate public interest, they range from suggestions for releasing content for a specified period to requests for unrestricted access.

The requests intensified after Folha decided to allow non-subscriber access to coronavirus articles — which happened a day after the WHO (World Health Organization) declared a pandemic.

According to Folha, the articles released clarify doubts about the virus and bring essential information for the reader to deal with the disease — which also happens in other Brazilian and foreign newspapers.

The measure is especially relevant at a time when people must manage disinformation not only from messaging applications and social media but also from the President of the Republic.

Having access to newspaper content is an instrument against ignorance, irresponsibility, and bad faith—as well as self-defense.

However, the decision to release access is atypical. And, as impolite as it seems to remember this at a time like the present, the newspaper still needs subscribers to maintain its business.

The column found that on Sunday (22), subscription sales through digital channels broke the daily record, an auspicious sign that the reader recognizes the value of the news and is willing to pay for it.

That said, the line that separates the attempt to attract the reader with content and the attitude of testing your patience with what seems to be a minor case is thin.

Folha put together a list of articles related to the pandemic with free access. But the list of those that were released is very limited compared to the multitude of coronavirus articles.

On Friday (27), more than 15 texts with news content (therefore not counting columns and analyzes) whose theme was the coronavirus were published in the printed newspaper in the Health section. On the same day, there were two articles on the list of released texts.
In addition, there are readers desperate to access articles that are not part of the list.

Vinicius Mota, Folha's executive editor, says that the reports on the coronavirus epidemic considered of public utility by the editorial staff are released from the paywall. "We would like readers to inform us of any problems with accessing this free content so that we can fix the defect soon," he said.

The reader has been doing this, and I am a witness.

Given the need for information, the list of subjects with free access needs to be expanded. Also, Folha should at least make clear what are the criteria used to select the reports, as they seem arbitrary.

Also, blogs and columns are only available to subscribers.
One Wednesday, non-subscribers were spared a text received with displeasure by many readers. In it, engineer Helio Beltrão asked for the release of the use of hydroxychloroquine in symptomatic cases of COVID-19.

The column, written by a person who is not a specialist, speaks of "excellent results" of the substance and suggests the release of use for all symptomatic cases, not just serious ones.

The drug, used to treat lupus, for example, has been preliminarily tested in patients infected with coronavirus, but it is without, for the moment, conclusive results.

The President is another person who talks about the drug, in an apparent attempt to divert attention. The subject has been treated with extreme care to avoid self-medication.

Mota said that "it is a text of opinion, whose freedom has ample freedom in Folha. Questions about the columnist's position have also been published".

By definition, the columnist has independence. But the text misinforms and, at the limit, can expose readers to risks.

Practicing diversity does not mean giving up factual verification. This is stated in the Editorial Handbook, which, among other things, recommends to columnists that "new and high-impact facts should be treated with caution."

There are countless ways to alienate the reader. Examples of this are Folha's arbitrary list of articles released on the coronavirus and the irresponsibility of a columnist.

These are events that, even more so in a tender moment, more than irritating the reader, as in the first case, can also put the work of the newspaper reporters in check. "It is not a plurality, it is temerity," said a reader.

Flavia Lima

A Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon