The challenge of Brazilian media and how it affects our society

I’m a Brazilian journalist with nearly 10 years of experience working for some of the most important newsrooms and the past few months have been quite troubling for both my career and, simultaneously, my country. Brazil is facing a time of political change. Unsatisfied with their political representations and the economy, Brazilians have been taking the streets to protest against public mismanagement and corruption. Since June 2013 the streets send important messages to our legislators and our society — and it seems to me they are far from being understood. Politicians don’t understand (or don’t care about) the source of unsatisfaction and protesters don’t know exactly the origins of problems. They just feel everything is wrong. Education and analytical thinking would have crucial roles to help clarifying the environment. The problem is: the educational system is poor and outdated and, despite the public efforts from the last 20 years, it’s insufficient to catch up a delay of almost 500 years. The lack of education affects people, but also many legislators, that are intellectually unprepared to serve society on Congress.

Analytical thinking could be a weapon to help society to reach the roots of what’s happening — and that’s where Journalism can act. But media companies are in too much struggle with its own financial debacle and trying to figure out how to survive until the next year that there’s not much time to discuss its own role on the last events. Instead, what we saw on the past two months was mass lay-offs on the biggest newsrooms in São Paulo, Brasília and Rio de Janeiro, with companies trying to adjust their operations to the new economic environment, that includes a relevant fall in revenue from print advertising. Nearly 200 journalists were dismissed, which is huge considering the actual size of newsrooms and the few national publications that still exists. Friends of mine, prize winners and great minds were sent home in a time we need intelligent people to produce intelligent content. Analytical thinking was sacrificed.

At the same time, angry and empty opinions gain strength on social media, lighting fire and exasperation on people, instead of solid information. Journalism loses. Society loses.

In any industry, when things change, we need to look ahead. If advertising is falling year over year on print, how can we diversify the source of revenue and be less dependent on advertisers? How to make more people pay for journalism? How can we improve our coverage? How to bring more dense stories to enrich the discussions? How to bring solid, not empty and angry opinion? How to make your brand stronger so the next generations would think of you as a source of truth? These are questions that need to be addressed by journalists and marketing professionals, entitled to build strategies to attract money.

Instead, what we see in Brazil is a frustrated attempt to discuss issues from the last decade: the future of print, how to increase advertising, how to merge online and print, how to increase the online audience by posting cats and other cute puppies pictures on Facebook. This business model is just wrong for Journalism.

As the Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in an interview to Folha de S. Paulo today, the newspaper doesn’t need to produce content like Buzzfeed simply because Buzzfeed already exists — and its expertise is to do this kind of content. It’s true The Washington Post is receiving a large investment and someday will have to present results. But what Baron points out is that they are trying to find a way to make profitable digital Journalism, while many news companies think they are digital just because they have websites.

Today’s editorial of one of the biggest newspapers in Brazil was very enlightening about how traditional media sees Journalism. The article celebrated an improvement on print numbers published on the last edition of the State of the Media, an annual report on media companies’ numbers made by Pew Research Institute. It’s good news for journalism for it shows the paper is still important. But unfortunately traditional subscriptions don’t cover newspapers paywalls. They need other sources of revenue. So to celebrate this particular growth today is useless. Why? Because advertising on print tends to fall. Why? Because companies found smarter ways to invest their advertising budget so they can track down the results in a more effective way than just paying for ad pages. Their budget tends to oscillate between the powerful audience of TV and the intelligent marketing tools of the internet and social media. They won’t forget print, but their budget tends to get smarter and possibly smaller for this kind of media.

So the only way of celebrating the shy rise of 1p.p on print would be if readers could finance newspapers through regular subscription, which we know that can’t happen. A few weeks ago, many experienced Brazilian journalists were sharing on Facebook an interview with Sir Martin Sorrell, from WPP, saying that print was still important for advertisers, as if he were an endorser of paper, a last leap of hope coming from an advertising mogul, the priest telling the terminal patient he will recover.

I grew up in a house where 3 newspapers arrived in the morning every day. They still do, because my father loves print. But they are being piled up more frequently than they are being read. There’s no time for breakfast with newspapers, my father says.

If my father doesn’t mind paying for subscriptions of things he doesn’t read, most people do.

To make young people pay for Journalism is difficult because most of them don’t know the difference between Journalism and News. They don’t want to pay for what they can have for free online. That’s why digital media struggles to get funding from subscribers. But there’s hope. Blendle cofounder shared an amazing article on Medium last week. Blendle is a startup from The Netherlands that sells articles in one click. They were designed to be the iTunes of the media, the Netflix of Journalism, and if their numbers are real, it seems they are succeeding. See the numbers here. They show that young people are paying for journalism on Blendle in the same way they are paying for Netflix. But they are paying for journalism, not for news. They are paying for a vision, not for commodity.

The future of Journalism depends on society, depends on if the future generations will think it will be worth paying for it. And it may be hard to convince a chap that pays 16 dollars a month for thousands of movies and series on Netflix, or music on Spotify, to accept to pay for a regular annual subscription of one single newspaper or magazine, or to pay 2 dollars a day on Ipad for a newspaper that has many articles he’s not interested in. It has to be easier, inexpensive and aggregated. They don’t want anything static. It has to be fluid. They’ll want to choose what they want to read and if it’s good, they’ll share it and they’ll keep paying for it.

Media companies should embody the role of analytical thinking paladins and work to make it broader, richer and more accessible to people. The discussion of print is over. They should use the intellectual force they hold to find ways to make their brand indispensable in every way, in every device, truly, not only on theory. They should worry about delivering good content everywhere. At the end of the day, readers won’t be able to realize who said it first: the on-line, print or TV. Because the thing about Journalism is not who said it first, but where to look for when things are being said. 24/7.

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