We Created a Facebook Group. And That is Generating News

Why are you reading this post? It's because you believe that connecting people using social media platforms can be a powerful engine for social impact journalism

The greatest challenge Ambiental, the media outlet we are creating in Brazil, is facing right now is this: To develop a community mindset for media professionals and scientists. We want to bring these people together, so that they can work closely and develop mutual benefits — media tools and audience for researchers and reliable sources of content for journalists, photojournalists, developers, designers and video-makers. With that in mind, we created a Facebook Private Group (called Ambiental Media) in an attempt to unite this community in Brazil.

The group was created in February 23 and I added 169 members on that day — now (May 8) it has 679 participants. If you work with media and/or science, please, ask for permission and the moderators (me or Gustavo Faleiros, from InfoAmazonia) will approve it, so that you can have a clear sense of what we are doing.

The Facebook Group

The creation of this Facebook group has brought a lot of attention to our project and many great things are happening. However, the group has no owner: It is a democratic space that is being used by the community in its own way to speak about members’ own initiatives (and we love that). Actually, we hope that new partnerships may arise from the group, regardless of Ambiental’s participation. Why are we doing this? Because journalism in Brazil desperately needs more diversity, and connecting people seems to be one way to achieve that.

So let’s speak about a concrete example. A post, published by a Brazilian researcher in the group’s timeline, has been transformed into news. One story about violence against a young indigenous student in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul inspired the researcher Natalie Unterstell, who is now at Harvard, to initiate a campaign and collect signatures in the USA. Some journalists — also members of our group — decided to report on Natalie’s efforts. An article was published by the Brazilian website Conexão Planeta. The TV Station SBT, Brazil’s third largest, interviewed Natalie and the young victim on Sunday, April 10.

This article published by Conexão Planeta was the result of a post in our Facebook group
The story on the Facebook page of SBT, a mainstream Brazilian TV station.

CUNY and an Interview for Storybench
But let’s leave the Facebook group set aside for a moment. My presence at The Tow-Knight Center at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where I am a fellow in the Entrepreneurial Program, has also brought a lot of attention to Ambiental, which actually started in 2015, when I received a grant from the International Center For Journalists (ICFJ) to develop the project in the United States. Because of those experiences and some work I did for InfoAmazonia and National Geographic Brazil, I was interviewed by the American Journalist Aleszu Bajak for Storybench.

Storybench’s piece raised awareness about Ambietal

The interview had a great impact and some relevant personalities spoke about it on social media, including Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair at the University of Miami, with whom I spoke over Skype, thanks to his tweet.

Alberto Cairo responded to the Storybench piece about Ambietal

This also opened up an opportunity for our Facebook group. Alberto Cairo, an international reference for Infographics, agreed to speak with some of the members from our community over a Google HangOut or Skype conference. The idea motivating me is that, by adding value for our group members, we can consolidate this sense of community and with this new mind-set many other episodes— such as the story carried by Natalie Unterstell— will come to life.

At this point, I have to ask you to understand one thing: Violation of human rights of indigenous groups are, unfortunately, something common in Brazil — what’s not common is coverage of those stories in mainstream media. For that, we have to thank not only Natalie and our community, but also Danilo Teixeira, a brilliant journalist from SBT TV Station, for caring enough. The same goes for journalists Monica Nunes and Suzana Camargo, as well as for Delcio Rodrigues, a consultant who specializes in sustainability issues who is an active member of our group and spontaneously decided to help by translating Natalie’s letter from English to Portuguese.

Well, once again, let’s get back to the connections that the Story Bench interview and the Facebook Group brought to Ambiental. It’s because of those two episodes that we are having the chance to speak with key people about our plans and to exchange ideas with incredible journalists and scientists. Here are just three amazing examples:

– Professor Emilio M. Bruna, from the University of Florida, has offered support (content) to help Ambiental's website take off, among other forms of partnerships that we are discussing;

Ana Carol Amaral, from the Brazilian Network for Environmental Journalism, who is responsible for the biannual Brazilian Congress of Environmental Journalism, with whom we are discussing partnerships for events and community management;

Faine Greenwood, a research assistant on UAVs/remote sensing at the Harvard Humanitarian Intitative, who has done some amazing journalism pieces with those devices, as you can see here. Faine and I are exchanging ideas. One of them is to create a journalistic drone project in the Brazilian Amazon Forest soon.

Where Are We? Where Are We Going To?
We’ve launched the website (as a BETA version of our work) and the Twitter account. We also launched our Facebook Public page (named simply Ambiental), which will be our most important public channel for now. We are discussing our first business with a potential client, and we hosted a happy hour (the first real-world event of our group) in São Paulo on May 5. By the way, the idea of a happy hour in Sao Paulo came from me, but moved forward with the group’s energy. Other local happy hours are being independently organized in Floarianópolis, the beautiful capital of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina; Rio de Janeiro (RJ); Mariana (MG); and Santarém (PA), in the Amazon region.

Our Beta Home Page

Finally, Ambiental’s second challenge is to create an editing tool for our platform that would allow scientists to post scientific articles to be edited by journalists (something similar to this inspirational work done by The Conversation).

Such a tool doesn’t exist in Brazil, and Ambiental could innovate and provide original relevant content to society with it. We want to find sources of revenue in order to provide that service initially for free, and later charge universities, organizations and institutions, though never the public. This is a collective project and we invite people to jump in and help us solve problems such as establishing standards for approving scientific articles (or not) and connecting the proper editors with the right scientists. Let’s keep in mind that scientific content, once transformed into a news product, need not only be accessible and concise, but also attractive.

With that in mind, let me finish this long post by sharing with you Ambiental’s next challenge (which will be further explored in another post): As Jeff Jarvis, from Tow-Knight Center, recommends, let’s speak with the audience and discover their needs. We did that, and I'll share the results with you soon.