End of our Conversation

News coverage needs be open to broadening of the notion of public interest

I am now ending my two-year term as ombudsman at Folha, and I didn't want to do it without looking at the top news of the week.

On Thursday morning (6), when all attention was on Covid's CPI, the commission installed by the Senate to clarify how the Bolsonaro government managed the pandemic, a police operation resulted in the massacre of at least 28 people in the Jacarezinho community, in Rio de Janeiro.

Folha took a long time to activate coverage of the case but ended up dedicating comprehensive coverage to it.

Up until Saturday morning (8), there were two frontpage articles in a row in the print edition, in addition to images, reports, analyzes, and an editorial dedicated to the biggest slaughter caused by an official operation in the history of Rio de Janeiro, presenting the circumstances of the event and placing it in the broader context, of state absence in poorer communities and of a historically ruinous and bankrupt "security" policy.

The consequences of the coverage must prove that several factors dictate the relevance of a news story, including the weight that newspapers give to the facts and how they are counted and ranked in their pages.

In a way, that was the question that, in different formats, I proposed in the more than 90 columns that I have written in this space since May 12, 2019.

There was no shortage of issues, from the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro to power and his strategy of attacking the press, the beginning of the pandemic and its growing politicization, until the assassination of the American George Floyd, a landmark in the recognition not only that we are a racist society but that this reflects in the news coverage in general.

In the first months, the leaks in the conversations between Car Wash attorneys and the ex-judge Sergio Moro obtained by The Intercept dominated the emails received and the columns I wrote. The rest of the mandate was marked by more diverse themes—the reaction of the readers to Hélio Schwartsman's column in which he supports the death of the president, Folha's editorial that tried to bring together the irreconcilable ("Jair Rousseff") to name a few.

On the newspaper's website, the column that dealt with Folha's approach to Bolsonaro's lying speech at the UN in 2020 was the most commented, followed by texts such as the one that Folha (and the press in general) condescended to presenter Luciano Huck .

Some relevant episodes were left out. In 2019, the year in which censorship flirtations became more visible, the illustration of a gay kiss in the form of comics taking the entire front page of the newspaper deserved more accurate analysis, as well as the great discomfort shown by some readers in relation to the verve of the illustrators (women) of the newspaper. There was no time.

In total, 7,867 comments were received by email, an average of 328 messages per month.

Men were responsible for most of the comments (82%), but the interaction with women grew during the period.

At the end of 2019, they represented 13.5% of the total comments, a slice that reached 18% in the final balance of the mandate (May 2019 to May 2021).

As for editorials, Power was the main subject of 11.9% of messages received, followed by columnists (9.7%) and ombudsman (8.7%). Of the total, 99.5% of contacts were made by email, with 29 phone calls and 12 letters.

I had never thought of the profession as I did in recent years, and I am very grateful to readers for that.

In the interaction with this being so abstract for those who are in a newsroom, I learned that the reader, when he or she resorts to his or her representative in the newspaper, is not necessarily looking for agreement, but for explanations about the reasons why a certain fact was or was not published and why you received a particular approach.

I am also grateful for the excitement of friends and family and everyone willing to have long conversations on Fridays, often late at night. It would not have been possible to have done what I did without your knowledge and goodwill.

I thank the trio Fernanda Nagatomi, Thaís Nicoleti and Fernando Carvall for the partnership, the Newsroom for the dialogue via the internal blog, and the newspaper for the complete freedom of writing, in addition to wishing my successor, José Henrique Mariante good luck.

Criticisms of journalism were numerous and are all registered in this space. They were made under the understanding that, if the public interest justifies the performance of the press, certain problems that afflict a large part of the population - and that for a long time were only tangential - should be seen as a priority of the profession.

In a period in which the notion of public interest is constantly expanded, journalistic coverage has been put to the test and needs to respond to the challenge. As the newspaper's Diversity editor, I will be aware of these issues. Work will not be lacking.


Translated by Kiratiana Freelon