Untying Folha's Gordian Knots

Newspaper clashes with its professionals in discussion about racism

Folha is celebrating its centenary anniversary, but the newspaper we know, that of Projeto Folha and its decisive role in the Diretas Já process, began much later, in the 1980s, when this newspaper became the most important in the country. I belong to a generation that witnessed this transformation as a teenager and perceived Folha as a kind of beacon in the darkness of an irrelevant, uneducated and incomplete country.

Its editorial principles, fundamental at that moment of profound social and political changes, took shape, but had to be renewed over time, even if some precepts were only reiterated, such as the uncompromising defense of freedom of expression.

In the last update, in 2019, a diversity policy was added. The newspaper recognized "the importance of developing a plural environment not only in its newsroom but in the company as a whole". "By making its own team more heterogeneous, Folha hopes to broaden its horizons and also diversify its readership," the document said. This was done with the creation of a diversity editor, the hiring of columnists and the implementation of initiatives such as the trainee program for black professionals, now in its second edition.

The historical preamble is necessary in view of the events that took place in the last week. The publication of a text by Antonio Risério, on Saturday (15), provoked chain reactions and an unprecedented crisis in the newspaper. In the space of a few days, a letter signed by almost 200 journalists from the company against the publication of the article by Folha was leaked and was made public by a competitor. The editorial director's harsh reaction, reported in an article by the newspaper itself, was taken as a threat to the house's professionals and was criticized without mincing words by one of its columnists.

A journalist's protest against the newspaper itself is not uncommon in Europe and the US. In Brazil, in general, it occurs with labor disputes. It is difficult, however, to find something similar in Folha's recent history. Many disputes between reporters and editors and the newspaper's management took place, but never in such an explicit and noisy way. The newspaper loves to harbor controversy, it is said. The truth is that he himself became one.

It didn't have to be that way, starting with the selection of the article. If the newspaper considers it important to discuss the identity issue, to the point of returning to the subject repeatedly, it would be healthy to vary the analysts. Risério does not seem to be the only critical voice or the most important. On the contrary, he has become notable as a mere polemicist, not only in Folha, but also in other vehicles, such as Estadão, where he also obtains frequent space.

Even if the author was inevitable, you don't need to be an expert to know when a title will cause problems or, in this case, a lot of problems: "Racism of blacks against whites gains strength with identity." Such content demands editing antidotes. The simplest of them is to simultaneously publish an opposition article or didactic text on the subject — the Bolsonaro era and the denialism applied to the pandemic made this practice even more routine.

Returning to the newspaper's editorial principles, as described in the item on plurality, it is necessary to "register with compatible visibility the different points of view involved in any controversial or unfinished issue".

The newspaper did so in the following days, but this other side to the performance generated accusations of having set up an audience strategy. When an article causes the publication of many contrary texts out of a need for balance, and there were several this time, what happened is evident.

In October, when another episode involving the anthropologist also provoked a strong reaction from columnists and readers, this column warned that the question was no longer whether Folha had racist columnists and collaborators, but whether racism was not in the newspaper itself. "Is Folha racist?," the title of the article, was one of the most frequently asked questions in the ombudsman's inbox this past week.

It was also asked if the newspaper expected something different from a newsroom that the company itself is striving to make more diverse. Some of its journalists are clearly saying that the expansion of horizons advocated by its editorial project in 2019 is already a reality. Another insight into racism seems to be the most obvious effect of this process.

To simply oppose freedom of expression is to fall into a trap, the kind that figures like Bolsonaro love to install on social networks.

Gordian knots, as we know, demand reflection and hide simple solutions after appearing insurmountable.

Folha has a few to untie. Calm is needed.

José Henrique Mariante

Trained as an engineer and journalist, Mariante has been a reporter, correspondent, editor and editorial secretary at Folha, where he has worked since 1991. He is the ombudsman.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon