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Ethics and journalism in Brazil: A study of local journalism through the Brazilian News Atlas

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This paper addresses the relation between news deserts and ethics in the ecosystem of Brazilian news. For that, we first analyse specific historical factors of Brazilian journalism in terms of ethics, employing ideas from Bucci (2000), Seligman (2009) and Christofoletti (2018). The research is done empirically by a description and analysis of the Brazilian News Atlas, a crowdsourcing, non-profit initiative designed to map local journalism initiatives and news deserts in Brazil. The paper describes the latest data from the Atlas about news deserts, as well as complementary research from the project, to better understand the limitations and challenges to local outlets. We conclude that news deserts are endemic in Brazil and while a recent increase in digital outlets may change this scenario, the over-reliance on advertising as a source of revenue poses challenges to a journalism ecosystem already historically damaged by ethical issues.
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Copyright 2021-3/4. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 18, No 3/4 2021 71
Marcelo Fontoura and Sérgio Lüdtke
Ethics and journalism in Brazil:
A study of local journalism
through the Brazilian News Atlas
This paper addresses the relation between news deserts and
ethics in the ecosystem of Brazilian news. For that, we first
analyse specific historical factors of Brazilian journalism in
terms of ethics, employing ideas from Bucci (2000), Seligman
(2009) and Christofoletti (2018). The research is done
empirically by a description and analysis of the Brazilian News
Atlas, a crowdsourcing, non-profit initiative designed to map
local journalism initiatives and news deserts in Brazil. The
paper describes the latest data from the Atlas about news
deserts, as well as complementary research from the project,
to better understand the limitations and challenges to local
outlets. We conclude that news deserts are endemic in Brazil
and while a recent increase in digital outlets may change
this scenario, the over-reliance on advertising as a source of
revenue poses challenges to a journalism ecosystem already
historically damaged by ethical issues.
Key words: local journalism, News Atlas (Atlas da Notícia),
Brazilian journalism, ethics
Introduction: The Brazilian News Atlas and its context
An annual census carried out in Brazil by Instituto para o
Desenvolvimento do Jornalismo Projor (Institute for the
Development of Journalism) has shown over the past four years the
precariousness of journalistic activity in the country. Atlas da Notícia,
or the Brazilian News Atlas (https://www.atlas.jor.br/english/), has
demonstrated in its first four editions a picture of the difficulty
in financing organisations that produce local journalism, which
culminated in the closing of activities of hundreds of traditional
newsrooms in the country. For the purposes of this paper, the
project will henceforth be referred to simply as Atlas.
The Atlas showed that six out of every 10 Brazilian municipalities were
news deserts, that is, places where people do not have journalistic
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information about where they live. The weak presence of journalism
– or its absence – could do little to prevent the sudden deterioration
of the informational environment taken over by misinformation
during the 2018 presidential elections and beyond. That was the
environment when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in the country.
But the most recent census, published nearly a year after the first
Covid-19 cases appeared in Brazil, unveiled a surprising picture.
Although traditional newsrooms continued to close their doors,
many others emerged in the digital environment, taking advantage
of the lack of entry barriers to the online business and the growing
demand for reliable information about the health crisis. The interest
in quality information, at a time when the pandemic was captured
by politics and the informational environment was contaminated
by misinformation, gave a new breath to journalism.
Although the pandemic has worsened the situation for local media
companies, the health crisis has shown that connecting with
audiences is a path to find economic sustainability. This commitment
to audiences, which is now being strengthened, can guarantee
journalistic performance based on ethical and transparent editorial
guidelines designed to oversee the government and bring quality
information for citizens everywhere in the country.
This paper analyses the scenario of local journalism in Brazil through
the lenses of the Brazilian News Atlas. For that, it encompasses a
discussion on recurring ethical issues in Brazilian journalism, with
ideas from Bucci (2000), Seligman (2009), and Christofoletti (2018),
among others. Then, it describes the history and methodology of
the Atlas, as well as its latest results, in order to understand the
current ecosystem of local journalism in Brazil and its challenges.
Mainly, we have identified that news deserts are endemic in the
country, and that an over-reliance on classical revenue models
poses ethical challenges.
Ethics in Brazilian journalism: A brief overview
As a country with a large area of countryside but developed
cities closer to the coast, Brazil has a difficult geography for local
journalism. Beyond the usual challenges for news production in
the 21st century, such as monetisation, new platforms and active
audience behaviours, local Brazilian news production suffers with
the control of local authorities and has not been able to make
other financial avenues, beyond advertising, viable. Connected
to this, ethical issues have become a major point of concern.
Christofoletti (2019: 92) argues that a new ethics of journalism
may not save the profession from its crisis, but could ‘remove the
edges of the commitments it intends to maintain with society’. That
is, working towards a more ethical exercise of journalism would
make clearer its purpose for society, which is especially important
amid a convergence of crises for the profession. However, one
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should not understand ethics as either a monolithic institution, or a
specific local trait. Rather, it combines global references with local
adaptations. Wasserman (2011: 801) refers to the African context:
Furthermore, the negotiation of ethical frameworks takes
place not only internally in African countries but is also linked
to cultural flows and contraflows between Africa and the rest
of the world in a globalized media landscape. Influences from
Northern media ethics are adopted, adapted and resisted in
local contexts, and take on new social and political meanings.
Similarly, Wasserman and Rao (2008) discuss a trend of ‘glocalization’
of the journalistic ethos, or the adaptation of global trends with
local emphasis.
At the turn of the century, journalism in Brazil had to navigate
a context of freedom and new challenges. After a violent and
repressive military dictatorship that lasted 20 years and finished
in 1985, journalists and outlets had to deal with the long-
sought freedom to report. This freedom was accompanied by
developments in professionalisation and improvements in technical
infrastructure. In the next 10 years, the rise of the web would
pose another challenge to this fast-developing journalism. Overall,
Brazilian society had to adapt quickly to a context of democracy
and representation (Christofoletti 2008). However, this period was
also marked by major ethical faults by Globo, the country’s leading
broadcaster (Bucci 2000). These included ignoring pro-democracy
demonstrations, as well as openly supporting candidate Fernando
Collor for presidency, since he would promote policies favoured
by Globo, thereby going against the principle of broadcaster
impartiality. Thus, the industry was facing a period that combined
both freedom and ethical challenges. In fact, the very discourse of
freedom of the press may act as a concealment to ethical faults
(Seligman 2009), when it shields journalists from critiques, by
casting its critics as pro-censorship.
Another specific issue regarding professionalisation of newspeople
in Brazil is the fact that, for several decades, being a journalist
required a specific licence, through an undergraduate degree in
journalism. Such restriction was removed by a decision from the
Supreme Court in 2009, but has provided an enduring self-image
of professionalism among journalists in the country, although this
requirement has not always been enforced, especially in distant
cities (Nascimento 2011).
It was 1988, when the country was in the midst of approving a
new constitution, after the totalitarian period, when the journalist
and academic Perseu Abramo (2016) wrote a typology of
manipulations of the Brazilian press. It was developed specifically
with the Brazilian context in mind, and can still be observed today,
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representing a valuable summary of the ethical issues that affect
Brazilian journalism to this day (Christofoletti 2018). They are:
1) concealment pattern – when outlets choose not to cover a given
topic, effectively silencing it from the public sphere;
2) fragmentation pattern – when outlets disconnect a fact from its
consequence;
3) inversion pattern – when aspects of a news report are inverted,
thus changing their interpretation. May also mean to invert
opinion and fact;
4) induction pattern – when the media, reporting on an issue,
creates and insists on a certain social context, where it is difficult
for the audience to escape this interpretation. The media, thus,
induces an interpretative framework on the audience;
5) global pattern – specific to broadcasters. Refers to the structure
of news reports and their tendency of searching for answers to
social problems by listening to an authority.
For the scope of this paper, the first four are the most important
ones, since they evoke steps of both planning and producing
journalism, and are more widely observable. Christofoletti (2018),
noting their enduring usefulness, adds three other types of
manipulation: softening – strategies to soften the impact of facts
and declaration, with flexible, moderate language; blanketing
when outlets conceal specific details on a report; and shuffling –
narrative or aesthetical strategies that confound the understanding
of the issues at play.
This typology demonstrates that ethical issues are frequent
and diverse in Brazilian journalism, notwithstanding the
professionalisation process the industry experienced in the last
decades. At the same time, those issues are diverse and can
happen at different stages of the journalistic process, both from
economic and political biases. ‘Structural aspects, such as market
concentration, cross-ownership and electronic coronelismo,1 are
decisive not only in the production of informative content, but also
in distribution, balance, plurality and diversity’ (ibid: 78). Indeed, a
strong market concentration and a lack of professional regulatory
boards are major historical factors in the ethical issues affecting
Brazilian journalism (Lelo 2020), which limit the ability of individual
journalists to resist unethical demands by bosses and companies. In
the countryside, where overall conditions are worse and economic
interference in journalism is greater, this context is intensified.
Another frequent mark of the ethical faults of local journalism is the
constant use of sensationalism as a strategy for gathering readership
(Seligman 2009). This happens with the use of suggestive pictures,
double entendres and the exploration of tragedy – usually city
crime and traffic accidents. One major example was the popular
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newspaper Notícias Populares, from São Paulo, which in the 1970s
and 1980s reached a circulation of 180,000 copies daily, and
became infamous for inventing stories (ibid). However, Seligman
(ibid) points to a trend of local papers to divert from crime and
violence to provide service to the audience regarding local issues.
Although journalistic companies emphasise ethics as being
a challenge that can be surpassed by hiring ethical, upright
professionals, Bucci (2000) captures the importance of scaling this
discussion to the company level as well. Journalistic ethics should be
tied not only to the individuals and their mistakes, but to the actions
of the news organisations involved. At least, the audience seems
to have followed this interpretation. As Mick (2019) demonstrated,
there are two parallel trends occurring in terms of trust and media
in the country: on the one hand, a decrease in overall trust in media
outlets and, on the other hand, an increase in trust in individual
journalists. The author suggests that an explanation can be found
in a distrust of the owners of media outlets, as well as of the
advertisers and the relation between the two groups. Journalists,
however, are seen as ‘experts’ who are ‘fundamental for the social,
contemporary experience’ (ibid: 257), acting under the constraints
of power structures and everyday work. This reading will be further
complicated in a media ecosystem where journalists launch their
own initiatives, being both owner and news professionals, a trend
identified by the Atlas.
Thus, media ethics, especially in small towns in Brazil, tends to
be touted by companies as a strong value, being bound to the
traditional notions of journalism. However, practice tends to be
influenced by resources and professional and audience restrictions.
In order to better understand the distribution and characteristics
of local media in Brazil, we must now turn to the aspects of the
Brazilian News Atlas.
The Brazilian News Atlas and its methodology
This section highlights the inception of the Brazilian News Atlas,
as well as the methodology employed to execute the mapping.
The main inspiration for the Atlas was the project on America’s
growing news deserts, in the Columbia Journalism Review.2 The
American project, done in 2017, proved a useful way to highlight a
widespread problem that was easily forgotten in big metropolitan
areas: most cities do not have local, journalistic coverage of what
happens there. This trend seemed even bigger in a developing
country such as Brazil, with higher poverty and a potentially
tougher scenario for local newsrooms. Then, Projor decided to
create a similar project, adapting it to the local context of Brazil.
Since its inception, the Atlas has been supported by a fellowship
from Facebook, also receiving institutional support from Abraji,
the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism. So far, the
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Atlas3 has had four editions, being updated annually since the
initial edition in 2017. Usually this involves adding more data for
outlets that are in the mapping, marking the ones that have closed,
and adding more outlets. During the writing of this paper, the
fifth edition was in the making. The technical development of the
platform is done by the consultancy Volt Data Lab, and is licensed
under a Creative Commons licence. The Atlas has been used as
source by several academic studies, including Serpa et al. (2019),
which uses the Atlas to describe and analyse new business models,
Da Silva Deolindo (2018), which studies news deserts and how
people in them access information, and Reis (2018), which maps
and analyses news production in medium-sized towns in Northern
Brazil.
Given that Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, a mapping
that intends to cover all its territory involves difficulties and choices.
As such, the methodology was adapted to fit a context of a large
country, with a rural, developing countryside, and where ethical
perspectives in journalism are blurred.
Brazil is divided administratively into five regions – North, Northeast,
Central-West, Southeast and South – made up of 26 states, plus the
Federal District. The number of states per region varies from three
to nine. Every region has a research coordinator on Atlas, who has
experience as a journalist, and frequently a graduate degree in the
area. Those professionals are responsible for gathering volunteers,
guiding them and overseeing the submission process.
The first edition of the project was based on lists of outlets from
industry organisations, government press offices and similar
departments. This allowed for the construction of a beta mapping
that could be updated later on. Currently, the Atlas works mainly
via crowdsourcing. Local teams of volunteers are organised to do
the basic aspects of identifying outlets and submitting them to the
platform. Usually, teams of volunteers are created through contact
with local schools of journalism, where undergraduate students
have an incentive to learn more about the ecosystem of local
news that surrounds them, in their cities and nearby regions. If
students are in low numbers other volunteers may be sought, for
instance among journalists. Overall, the local teams are responsible
for a given region or set of towns and are tasked with three main
activities:
• identifying new outlets that are still not on Atlas, whether
because they were created recently or because they were not
mapped before;
• identifying outlets that have closed (especially common with
print papers);
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• addingmoredetailstooutletsalreadyonAtlas;
• reviewingregionsofnews deserts,tocheckifthey areindeed
still deserts.
This division of tasks ensures that the mapping remains relevant
and is the reason why the project is updated annually.
The very nature of the Atlas brings about the question of what
counts as a news outlet. Indeed, during the course of the project,
this issue proved to be a point of debate, although a stable idea
was agreed upon. The working definition of a news outlet, for
the Atlas, is a publication of socially relevant, recent, original and
journalistic content. Thus, the outlet needs to have been updated
in the last month, and needs to publish original content (even if
just partially), so outlets that just republish information are not
counted. In addition, the Atlas does not count initiatives that are
part of an institution, such as a paper from a church, a union, or an
organisation, since those are not considered as independent. Those
initiatives may be added via the submission form, but are checked
as ‘non-journalistic’. All Atlas’s calculations regarding news deserts
and the distribution of outlets are done based on the number of
journalistic initiatives. Radio and TV stations are added via a general
list, from a freedom of information request, since every broadcaster
in the country needs to have an authorisation from the government.
One important point regarding the methodology is the division of
outlets by media. An outlet may be marked as print, online, TV or
radio (exclusive choice). However, in the case of a print newspaper
with a webpage, it is counted as two separate outlets: a print one,
and an online one. In this fashion, if a print newspaper closes, but
continues its online counterpart a common scenario the print
entry in Atlas is checked as closed, but the online entry stays the
same. The same goes for radio and TV stations. Podcasts, online
radio stations and YouTube channels are interpreted as online. All
the definitions were discussed and agreed upon among the team
at the beginning of the project.
All submissions to the Atlas database are made through an online
form,4 which has fields involving general aspects of the outlet, their
business model, journalistic aspects used (such as opinion pieces,
blogs, newsletter, data journalism etc), frequency of publication,
ownership, staff size and social network links. Most of the fields,
however, are non-mandatory, since this information can be hard to
come by, especially in deep corners of the country. All submissions
from each region are reviewed and approved/complemented by
the researcher responsible, in order to ensure standardisation and
quality. The next section reviews the distribution of news deserts in
the country according to the Atlas’s data.
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News deserts across Brazil
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with a territorial extent
of more than 8.5 million square kilometers, an area equivalent to
86 per cent of the territory of the United States. This vast territory
is divided into 5,570 municipalities distributed in the five major
regions mentioned above. Brazil is also the sixth most populous
country in the world, with an estimated population of 213 million
inhabitants (IBGE 2021). Almost 70 per cent of this population is
concentrated in the south-east and north-east regions.
Brazilian geography is fundamental to understanding the presence
of local journalism in the country. The news deserts, mapped
annually by the Atlas da Notícia, are six in every ten Brazilian
municipalities, but affect around 16 per cent of the total population.
According to the survey, around 34 million Brazilians do not have
journalistic information about where they live. Currently, 3,280
Brazilian municipalities have no record of any journalistic means
of communication to produce and disseminate local information.
These municipalities have an average of 10,200 inhabitants and are
distributed throughout the territory, especially in areas farther away
from large centers, such as the Amazon region and the semi-arid
region of the north east. Deserts are also found in the interior of
the richest states and in municipalities located on the outskirts of
large cities, as shown in the map below.
Figure 1: A map of Brazilian news deserts. Atlas 4.0 (2021), reproduction
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In addition to news deserts and areas irrigated by local information,
the Atlas also distinguishes what it has come to call ‘almost
deserts’, places that have only one or two media organisations
with local coverage and risk becoming deserts. These semi-deserts
are inhabited by another 28.9 million Brazilians. According to the
survey, 1,187 municipalities are currently in this condition, which
represents two in every ten municipalities in the country.
Geography also partly explains the means used to distribute
journalistic content. The Atlas mapped 13,092 active journalistic
outlets in 2020. Of these, 4,403, or one-third of the total, are radio
stations. Another 4,221 are online newsrooms. Radio stands out in
more remote regions, but the preponderance of online initiatives
is understandable in the contemporary media ecosystem. The
emergence of digital native journalistic initiatives has given new
impetus to local journalism. The 2020 census identified a growth
in online journalism and incorporated 1,170 new digital native
vehicles to the base, most of them in the north-east region of
the country. In terms of context, according to the TIC Domicílios5
survey, 134 million people regularly access the internet in Brazil,
which is equivalent to three in every four inhabitants over 10 years
old. Brazilians are also heavy users of social networks. According
to the Global Web Index 2020 Q2-Q3 study,6 each person in Brazil
spends an average of 3 hours and 42 minutes a day connected to
social networks.
The flourishing of digital journalism caused a reduction in 2020
of 5.9 per cent in the number of municipalities considered local
news deserts in Brazil, largely offsetting the closure of 272 media
outlets, mainly print, also registered by the census. The results of
the fourth edition of the Atlas contradicted expectations. Although
2020 was an atypical year, with a series of restrictions imposed
by the Covid-19 pandemic, drastic routine changes, the adoption
of remote work and a deepening of the economic crisis with an
immediate impact on the revenue of the media dependent on
advertising, the interest of the population for information prevailed.
The 2020 census showed a 10.6 per cent growth in the number of
journalistic organisations in the country compared to the previous
survey.
The growing participation of digital media in the local information
ecosystem and the occupation of old news deserts should, however,
be viewed with some caution. If, on the one hand, it is possible
to perceive a vitality and renewal of the information environment,
with media more diverse and connected to the populations, the
Atlas also points to a precarious situation in journalism, with the
closure of traditional, larger operations, and the emergence of
many individual initiatives, mainly in the form of blogs.
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With few barriers for entry, digital entrepreneurship presents itself
as a natural path for journalists who leave traditional newsrooms
behind. These professionals, who usually bring with them
journalistic experience, specialisation in one or more topics, and
knowledge of sources and audiences, among other things, are not
always qualified for running a business. When they take the path of
pursuing the initiative individually without associating with experts
or organisations of wider business competencies, this becomes
an even greater risk for the initiative’s survival. Individual ventures
are also in danger when these entrepreneurs’ ability to influence
is co-opted by politics or even used to serve as a springboard to
their owners’ own political careers, recalling the ethical constraints
mentioned by Christofoletti (2018) and Abramo (2016).
Two lines of action need to be explored by the digital native outlets
willing to irrigate news deserts with information. One of them is to
espouse and follow the editorial principles and ethical commitments
that serve to light the path for the evolution and maturity of
the news outlet. The other is to train its actors or seek external
competences to strengthen the business aspect of the enterprise
and give it the economic independence that will guarantee editorial
independence. These two lines must go together. Business model
and editorial model must be seen as inseparably linked to each
other. The consistency of these two interdependent models lies on
the capacity that the new digital vehicles will have to flourish in
deserts or to revitalise the ecosystem of already ‘forested’ areas. The
next subsection deals with this debate, addressing the challenges
that local media, especially digital native outlets, faced in Brazil
during the pandemic.
Challenges for the ecosystem: Revenue sources and audience
The Atlas involves a quantitative, broad look at local Brazilian
journalistic production. In order to complement this perspective,
the team carried out a survey of 179 native digital communication
media or those with an online presence. Held in March and April
2021, the objective was to take a closer look at the daily reality
of these vehicles and their relationship with the reality of the
pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused significant changes in the ecosystem
of local Brazilian journalism. The study’s conclusion is that, while
the health crisis took journalists off the streets, imposed new
routines, reduced advertising revenues and weakened businesses,
on the other hand it expanded the reach of the work produced by
journalists and their audience, and as such strengthened journalism.
During the pandemic, audience and revenue took opposite paths.
As local media saw their audience and interest in their content grow,
revenue plummeted. With no means to address both fronts, these
organisations run the risk of losing the audience and the relevance
they have achieved. Instead of investing in maintaining this new
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audience, they feel the need to pay full attention to the recovery
of revenues and find new sources of financing, a fundamental
condition for them to continue operating. Figure 2 shows, in the
media organisations’ view, their priorities for the next 12 months.
Figure 2: Priorities for media organisations in the next 12 months.
Source: survey by Atlas (2021). N = 179.
Changes and achievements during the pandemic period
The pandemic encouraged both journalistic activity, with expansion
of coverage, and the launch of new outlets. Of the 1,170 new
ventures identified by Atlas da Notícia in Brazil in 2020, four
responded to the complementary survey. A fifth reopened as print,
four years after the print edition stopped. Of the 179 organisations
that participated in the survey, 26 per cent expanded editorial
coverage during the pandemic. These outlets rushed digital
transformation processes that were already underway, reorganised
newsrooms, and their teams had to learn to cover science and work
remotely. More than half of the initiatives (55.1 per cent) adopted
remote work throughout the pandemic period and another 27 per
cent only in some periods.
The change in routine forced the learning of new techniques and
tools that can continue to be used in the post-pandemic period to
improve journalistic work and gain productivity. Remote working
is likely to be more common in these organisations in the future.
Almost half of the newsrooms that adopted the remote working
model admit the possibility of keeping the entire team or part of it
remote in the post-pandemic age. A quarter of the outlets intend
to return completely to face-to-face activities in the newsroom and
another 27 per cent had not yet defined how they would work
again after the health crisis. One in five of the newsrooms surveyed
reduced the size of teams in 2020, while 8.9 per cent expanded the
team of employees and 6.1 per cent of the respondents kept the
staff at the same size, but, in order to do so, reduced the coverage
of other topics. The remaining 64.8 per cent of the companies kept
their editorial and coverage teams unchanged.
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What really grew in the pandemic were audience numbers and
followers on social media. This finding reinforces the idea that,
during this period, the audiences recognised the importance and
usefulness of journalistic work, which strengthened the relationship
of trust between readers and media.
But, despite this apparently very favourable environment to
consolidate these relationships and appeal for the support of this
audience, there were few organisations that saw the numbers of
paying subscribers and supporters increase.
Financing sources
The survey identified 13 revenue sources that give sustainability
to local journalism. Of these, three are based on advertising.
Ad revenue ranks in the top two positions of the most explored
sources. This dependence on advertising explains the financial
crisis experienced by many. The temporary closures of trade, the
economic crisis and the migration of advertising budgets from
advertisers to technology platforms are pointed out by them as the
causes of the reduction in revenue.
Source of income Explored by
(companies)
Advertising (other types) 110
Graphic advertising (banners, pop-ups etc.) 83
Partnerships 75
Sponsored content 71
Services provision 61
Native advertising (paid journalistic content) 42
Institutional financing (e.g., Foundations,
companies etc.)
27
Direct donations 26
Financing by project 19
Sale of copies 16
Subscription/paywall 15
Crowdfunding 12
Selling reports/content licensing 2
Table 1 - Sources of income of the respondents. Source: survey by Atlas (2021)
All organisations that lost advertising revenue during the health
crisis have made it a priority to recover their revenues and return to
at least to pre-pandemic levels, but many are sceptical about this
possibility. A fact revealed by the research explains this scepticism.
Despite advertising being the main source of revenue for the
interviewed newsrooms, 61.5 per cent of them no longer have
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their own structure dedicated to the commercial sector, and 39.5
per cent of those who still have a sales department reduced the
number of personnel during the pandemic. Note that the ethical
difficulties of Brazilian local journalism, as seen before, are often
related to an intense search for revenue. With the Brazilian local
press mainly structured around the pillar of advertising, and with
that pillar especially susceptible to the pandemic and progressively
abandoned as a journalistic subsidy method globally, a remarkable
space is opened for a closer relationship between journalism and
potential advertisers than between journalism and the public.
The solution may lie in exploring new financing models, taking
advantage of the increase in audience that many had during the
health crisis. The relationship that has been strengthened between
the media and reader communities, and the level of trust that has
been established, create favourable conditions for exploring new
financing models, with greater support from readers and reducing
dependence on funds from advertising.
The urgency for revenue, which emerges in this survey as the main
challenge for local journalism in the country, should not hide nor
minimise other equally important challenges that are in the path of
local journalism, such as improving management, implementing the
digital transformation, training qualified professionals, increasing
transparency and giving more visibility to the ethical commitments
of organisations.
If the search for financing overlaps with the organisation’s other
challenges, there is a risk of breaking the association between the
business model and editorial principles and commitments. Putting
all the effort into revenue can create new dependencies that lead
newsrooms to destroy a considerable part of the appreciation
gained during the pandemic, an especially sensitive period for
Brazil and which showed Brazilians that quality information is a
valuable service.
Final considerations
As in other places, local journalism in Brazil has experienced
two different trends: an increase in audience and relevance of
journalism, but a decrease in revenue, associated with a lack of
resources to pursue funding. Although they were focusing on
digital native outlets, Salaverría et al. (2019) identified that news
managers do not usually have experience in business, a very useful
skill in such a scenario.
In this paper, we have seen how journalism in Brazil has a history of
ethical troubles. We have also detailed the Brazilian News Atlas and
how it has identified news deserts across the country.
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84 Copyright 2021-3/4. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 18, No 3/4 2021
Although Brazilian journalism has passed through professionalisation,
specialisation and improvements in technological aspects, historical
factors such as market concentration and political influence
facilitate the crossing of ethical limits. Thus, local journalism in
Brazil has two challenges to overcome. On one hand, it faces the
same financial issues as other parts of industry, and on the other, it
still has to tackle the heavy influence of local politics and business.
The financial troubles of the industry risk increasing the ethical
troubles, since they may encourage newspaper owners to establish
even closer ties with potential advertisers. In small towns, where
advertising space tends to go to the same companies and to local
governments, and where professional culture is weaker, this risk is
higher.
This danger may result in a lack of critical coverage, concealment
of corruption and self-censorship. News deserts enter as another
element of repression, since they represent a decline in places
where journalists can exercise their profession. Of course, they
also represent opportunities for journalists eager to create their
own experiments and serve audiences that are neglected, but
there are financial, political and even safety issues. This paper has
contributed to the discussion on how the ecosystem of local news
in a developing country is faring in a time of change, but more
research is needed, especially in the convergence between ethical
faults and the reliance on advertising as a main source of revenue.
Notes
1 A Brazilian expression, common in politics, denoting a power structure where
local figures, especially in the countryside, control local politics, public work and
money, usually spanning across generations
2 https://www.cjr.org/local_news/american-news-deserts-donuts-local.php
3 https://www.atlas.jor.br/english/
4 https://www.atlas.jor.br/plataforma/formulario/ (in Portuguese)
5 https://cetic.br/pesquisa/domicilios/
6 https://www.gwi.com/hubfs/Downloads/Market%20Snapshot%20Brazil%20
2021%20-%20GWI.pdf
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Note on the contributors
Marcelo Crispim da Fontoura is an adjunct professor of data and digital journalism
at PUCRS University and a temporary professor of communication studies at UFRGS
University. He has a PhD in Social Communication from PUCRS with a research
period at Northwestern University. He is also a researcher for the Atlas da Notícia.
His main research interest is how journalism finds new definitions online.
Sérgio Lüdtke is a Brazilian journalist and consultant in digital media. He is the editor-
in-chief at Projeto Comprova, academic coordinator of Abraji’s training courses and
manager of the Atlas da Notícia research team at Projor.
Conflict of interest
Both authors work for the Instituto para o Desenvolvimento do Jornalismo – Projor.
PAPER
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Padrões de manipulação na grande imprensa
  • Perseu Abramo
Abramo, Perseu (2016) Padrões de manipulação na grande imprensa [Patterns of manipulation in the mainstream press], São Paulo, Fundação Perseu Abramo
Sobre ética e imprensa
  • Eugênio Bucci
Bucci, Eugênio (2000) Sobre ética e imprensa [On ethics and the press], São Paulo, Companhia das Letras
A crise do jornalismo tem solução
  • Rogério Christofoletti
Christofoletti, Rogério (2019) A crise do jornalismo tem solução [The crisis in journalism has a solution], São Paulo, Estação das Letras e Cores