A Headline Is A Headline, A Coup Is A Coup

Narrating the authoritarian trajectory of Jair Bolsonaro is a challenge for the generation

We only read headlines, polls say. According to one of them, from Columbia University, almost 60% of people send news on Twitter without having read anything but the headline.

This requires greater sophistication in the art of making statements, something that many copywriters took years to develop and that social networks have turned into a banal activity by allowing the same weight for jokes, lies and reporting. Yes, it is an art to be able, in a few words, to give the dimension of a fact, to be serious when necessary or to get a joke without hiding what the information is.

Audience search complicates the task. As mentioned in a previous column, newspapers need to follow strategies to position their headlines well in search engines. Certain words and formulations are more searched than others, they need to appear in the headlines to be found. In other words, the ancient art of copywriting became science. Rather, an algorithm, like almost everything these days.

Parallel phenomenon, the headlines "understand how...", "look at this...", "know where..." also abound. Paulo, a reader from Recife, complains about the practice, by which, according to him, the newspaper treats everyone as naive. "Understand how Sérgio Reis became radicalized under Bolsonaro and joined the riot police" was the headline that gave rise to his complaint.

In it, the promise to tell a story still creates a certain curiosity. Others are nondescript, like this one from last week: "Look at the GDP performance of several countries in Q2 2021." The news only came with the reading of the text. The delayed vaccination threw Brazil to the end of the line. The headline of the print version, in a new edition of the text, was straightforward: "Delayed vaccination limited economic activity, according to economists."

If the form weren't enough, there's the subtlety, that kind of thing that points out supposed inclinations, even if it wasn't the intention. Carlos, a professor in São Paulo, shared questions made by his students during a class on the journalistic genre. "Doria will pay R$1,000 a year to high school students to keep them in school" was the analyzed text. Will the governor pay out of his own pocket? Would this be the best formulation for a news article that deals with a pre-candidate? In negative news, about cases and deaths by Covid-19 in schools, ten days later, the subject of the prayer became "Doria management."

The subtle bothers more than the literal. Recently, this ombudsman discussed the following statement in internal criticism with the Newsroom: "Bolsonarists invert narrative and try to give democratic veneer to a demonstration with coup roots on the 7th." An analysis by the newspaper showed a change in tone in the calls for the holiday, compared to previous demonstrations, suggesting coordinated action.

My point was that there didn't seem to be any reversal, just a modulation of speech on the part of President Jair Bolsonaro and allies to avoid direct accountability for his grins, as Folha's editorialists like to write.

Among the examples of behavior change listed in the report, there was a movement's guidelines to its members to prevent "personal conduct" from causing the group to be accused of being undemocratic. The old appeal for the closure of the Federal Supreme Court was then expressed as "dismissal of justices."

The difference between closing the court and dismissing its members is that, in the second case, there is a legal provision. I considered that, with or without legal possibility, any of the maneuvers would be a coup. A blow is a blow, it doesn't matter if it's shot or with condensed milk.

A few days and as many grins later, an analysis on the same subject offered the headline he thought was more accurate: "Bolsonaro feigns moderation and inflates coup acts on September 7th."

In the first paragraph of the text, a sort of summary of what is happening, an act in favor of freedom of expression and democracy that he preaches against institutions and dreams of a coup d'état.

The newspaper, the press, has a tough test ahead, with professionals at potential risk, in coverage that is posing as the challenge of a generation. Let's just keep dealing with subtleties.


"Helicopter with a Brazilian flag flies over the Cuiabá school after a teacher is removed for criticizing Bolsonaro." I just read the headline and remembered a recess in the 1970s, when the football game in the courtyard was interrupted by the low-flying of a helicopter with open doors and armed soldiers. My school was two blocks from the Igreja Matriz de São Bernardo, a refuge for the ABC strike leaders who imposed an unprecedented challenge on the military dictatorship.

These days bring "bad" memories, for those who need literal headline.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon