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Journalist Fellows' Papers

Local media in Brazil: Draining the newsrooms in the country’s poorest region

Paper by RISJ Journalist Fellow

This research broaches some aspects of the deterioration of local journalism in Brazil, more specifically in the State of Pernambuco. Located in the Northeast region, the poorest in the country, Pernambuco has a population of around 9.5 million (IBGE, 2018) and is 17th of 26 national states in GDP per capita (IBGE, 2016). Services account for 73.2 percent of the local economy; industry for 22 percent, and agriculture for 4.8 percent (IBGE, 2016).

Unlike most of the regional states in Brazil, which have no more than two relevant local newspapers in circulation, Pernambuco has three main broadsheets covering its territory. One of them is the "Diário de Pernambuco", which is the oldest newspaper still in circulation in Latin America, established in 1825.

"Diário de Pernambuco" competes in the local market with “Jornal do Commercio” (established in 1919) and Folha de Pernambuco (established in 1998). All three newspapers are owned by local businessmen, who have other business in the region. In the Brazilian Northeast, most of the publications are traditionally owned by local politicians or business people and not by the leading national media groups.

Since 2007 the same political group has continuously governed Pernambuco. This research shows how this group has managed to become politically stronger during the last decade and, somehow, reverse an unfavourable relationship with the local newspapers.

In spite of being one of the poorest places in Brazil, Pernambuco has historically had a combative and awarded local media. Until recently, local reporters had been winning the most important national journalism prizes with inspiring local stories and initiatives. This context has been changing dramatically, influenced both by the digital disruption in the media industry and by a “draining” process of the newsrooms.

Based on exclusive data collected from media outlets and on interviews, this research shows that the local reporters have been abandoning journalism (a lot of them prematurely) in one of the most impoverished areas of Brazil, where the public surveillance is paramount. These shifts have resulted in serious failings of local newspapers in addressing Community Information Needs (CINs).

Throughout five chapters, this research describes why, how and under what circumstances many journalists have been swapping newsrooms desks for political cabinets in Pernambuco. The direct effects of this movement are also shown through a comparison of the local media coverage of two remarkable episodes in the Pernambuco political life.

Inspired by some initiatives taking place in Europe, this research also includes suggestions aimed to interrupt the sharp decline in the production of local content and to reengage the population about the importance of a healthy local journalism.