Journalism as Boring as VAR

Automated game reporting in Folha foretells a dull future for the press

"05' 2nd half. Goal Japan. To Tanaka." This is how Folha described one of the most controversial moments of the World Cup so far, Japan's comeback goal against Spain on Thursday (1st). As put by Luís Curro, a colleague on many good and bad football days, a move that made us sad to see that our eyes "no longer have value".

The referee, as well as the planet watching the match, saw the ball go out at the time of Mitoma's cross, a desperate action, but which found Tanaka in the small area in a position to kick it to the goal. The video assistant referee, known as VAR, saw something else: the ball did not completely cross the goal line and, therefore, did not leave the field according to the rule. Valid goal, joy of the Japanese, amazement of the Spaniards and work for the press, for the real specialists and for those on duty, and even for FIFA, which came out in defense of its system with videos and explanations. Summing up this entire soap opera into the two words "Goal Japan" is the height of synthesis.

This was not the only way that Folha described the bizarre moment of a World Cup made of unlikely results and injuries, but the telegraphic report appeared in the Live ( Ao Vivo) section on the newspaper's website, which is done in an automated way. Not all duels are tracked like this. Those with a greater appeal, such as those of the Brazilian team, have a more complete description of the moves, contributions from commentators, and observations from those present in the stadium. Automated reporting is bureaucratic, it translates events accounted for via statistics into standardized phrases, such as cards, corners, and substitutions, among others.

In the same match, this sequence in the second half is especially pathetic: "25' Unai Simón takes the goal kick for Spain; 25' Suichi Gonda takes the goal kick for Japan; 30' Suichi Gonda takes the goal kick for Japan; 36' Suichi Gonda takes the goal kick for Japan". As described, more than ten minutes of mediocre goal-to-goal.

To the useless report is added the non-report. On Wednesday (30), France with reserve players was beaten by Tunisia. Mbappé and Griezmann entered the field to try to sort things out and, in fact, reached the goal in injury time. VAR disallowed the goal due to an offside offense, but only after the transmission had already ended in France, causing confusion among viewers of the world champion country. There is no record of the goal or its annulment or any other detail in the Live view feed of the game on Folha.

It would be just one small anecdote among many others from a large coverage like the one in Qatar if it weren't for the fact that it points to an uncomfortable future. Sports journalism, like economics, is one of those that most experiences automation. They are news with standard events, allowing robots to be able to organize and write notes in various formats. Raw information in general, the kind which would also be handled mechanically by a human being, such as stock market rises and falls or the results of a championship. The workforce could then be used for nobler and more complex activities, such as discussing whether or not a ball crossed the goal line.
The time will come, however, when VAR will no longer allow any further discussion.


A news item appeared in Folha and most other publications on Wednesday (30): "Deforestation in the Amazon drops 11%, but remains above 10,000 km2". Deforestation has not decreased, it has grown by exactly 11,568 km2, according to INPE ( National Institute for Space Research) monitoring. It grew, incidentally, for the fourth consecutive time in the Bolsonaro administration. So how did it drop 11%? Did the gods of the forest recover any parts?

Deforestation in the Amazon slowed down by 11% compared to the previous period. Even though the verbs provide close readings, slowing down is not the same as falling. Things didn't get better. At most, it got a little less bad, as Vinicius Torres Freire would say. Conciseness is important in journalism, it makes information fit in sizes that make it more understandable, more palatable. One of the risks of the process, however, is an oversimplification, taking the weight off the news or even distorting its meaning. Obviously, nobody imagines that the deforested area has reduced, even more so in a deleterious era like the current one. This is what the newspaper's option is based on.

At the same time, using the verb 'drop' subliminally transforms the news into something positive, even with the adversative as something to ponder. As most readers do not go beyond reading the title, the choice should have been different.

The observation is philosophical, perhaps too precious, but it somehow reflects the distance that the media, not just Folha, keeps from the climate crisis. The most important thing is not the small drop in the pace of deforestation, but the Amazon being closer and closer to the point of no return, as the opening of the report well recalls. It's a matter of inertia.

Translated by Cassy Dias