The Challenge of Rewriting the News

Christ the Redeemer, Rio's protector and main symbol

It all started at a birthday party, when a longtime friend struck me with the following question:

“What do you do at the newspaper?”

“I’m a reporter,” I answered, a little astonished that she didn’t know what I had been doing for the last four years in one of Brazil’s largest newspapers.

“Ok, but what exactly do you do?” she insisted.

“I write stories.”

Nevermind the uncountable links I shared on social media and the constant requests for leads. She had never read one of my stories, not on the paper, not on the web, not on the mobile app. And she wasn’t alone. I realized most of my non-journalist friends didn’t read what my colleagues and I produced. Our legacy media organization was failing to connect with them, despite our efforts to make good, trustworthy and engaging journalism.

I came to the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism with one idea in mind: creating a news startup for younger Brazilians — starting with those in Rio de Janeiro, where I built my career as a local reporter. It bothered me that our media landscape was still monopolized by a few traditional newspapers and one main broadcast channel, with very little innovation on the web.

Most of the startups in our field are based in São Paulo. The citizens of Rio, the country’s second largest city and host of the 2016 Olympic Games, were left behind in the news game. Our local coverage — including where I used to work — is mostly limited to crime, corruption and the state’s bankruptcy. I was not surprised when my friends told me that they didn’t read the news from Rio. Why? Because it’s depressing, they said. I agreed.

What can I offer to an audience who is sick of what they see on the news? This has been my challenge for the past four weeks. I’ve interviewed several people, conducted online research, and talked to friends, mentors and professors. I realized that I can’t simply give a new package to the news that is out there.

“Journalism is to help a community organize its knowledge so it can better organize itself,” says Jeff Jarvis. I wake up every morning with a new idea, draw a business model, and then tear it apart. Coming up with a news startup is not that simple.

I am sure of one thing, though. If you don’t like what you see on the news, you should change it. People from Rio are known for their resilience. Despite all the problems we face, we are proud of our city, and we never give up dreaming of a better future. My goal is to bring this resilience together, and use it to build the changes we want to see in Rio. Instead of writing stories that no one reads, I’m going to help cariocas write their own stories.

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