sexta-feira, fevereiro 24, 2006

 

WPI Report: Back at Home

WPI Essay
Raphael Gomide

February, 2006

Changes and Readaptation
I am still readapting to my life as a journalist back at home. I’ve changed jobs and I assume it takes a little while to adjust. The fact that I left O DIA upset some of my former editors, who took it personally in a way and could not see that it was essencially a professional and necessary move for me.
Especially after the four months in the US with WPI I was positive that I was not to stay at the same paper, which for 2 years had been great, supported and helped me become a better journalist. Unfortunately, since Feb 2005, the new director implemented a new editorial orientation to which I could not agree less. The newspaper became more of a tabloid: sensationalist, biast and sometimes irresponsible. All the power to the Police Section and the Political Section, for which I worked, was reduced from ten to four professionals, as was our space in the paper dramatically decreased. In the first month and a half, I had six stories embargoed due to political/economical/God knows why reasons. Suddenly I could no longer write about the Brazilian president, the president of the State Legislature, the Governor and some of the most important mayors in the State. Even though the editor-in-chief, second in hierarchy, reassured me that I could work in whichever area I chose, I knew I no longer agreed to what was being done.

The Right and Necessary Move
It was obvious even before I left Rio that the newspaper’s agenda and mine were no longer the same, but WPI fellowship, all the seminars and talks with some of the best journalists in the US made me see it even clearer. When I was offered a job at the Rio bureau of Folha de S.Paulo, the top Brazilian newspaper, I could not wait to move ahead. Folha is an investigative, “picky” paper, concerned about the best journalism. My views of the profession, its principles and ethics, strengthened by the fellowship, are those of Folha. That’s why I am happy to be there now and no longer where I was before.
The beginning is always hard. I am still getting reconnected with some of my sources, since I also ended up just actually restarting work in January. Most people tell me I am doing very well, but I am very selfdemanding and wish I had been doing more. I know I am a better journalist now than I was before and that also makes me even more exigent toward myself, since I believe to be able to do more now than before the fellowship.

Difficulties and Good Perspectives

The fact of working for a branch office makes a difference. Besides the fact that one is not so close to the decision makers, some topics that used to be news for me, working for a State newspaper, are no longer so interesting for a national paper based in São Paulo.
Nevertheless, Folha offers a possibility which I’ve always been interested in, that of becoming a foreign correspondent. Unlike other publications, that have very experienced reporters as correspondents, it also encourages young journalists in their late 20’s and early 30’s to go abroad and work as correspondents. And I consider myself to be ready for this task now. Much of this confidence is due to the knowledge, readings and experience I got from my 4-month stay in the US with WPI. It gave me a broad view of the country that I can compliment with my previous experience as an exchange student, 12 years earlier, in Oklahoma. I believe I’ve learned a lot about the US – as a foreigner – and the way it is and works. Our trip and activities showed me dozens of things that I had no idea about, made me see others I thought I knew but I didn’t, and changed my mind about various issues and preconcepts that one is likely to have. I feel now that I am capable of pointing out the mistakes of the speech of those who talk about America based on myths, stereotypes and prejudice – for the good or the evil.

Experiences and Possible Plans
I enjoyed the fact that, during my stay, I wrote a blog (raphaelgomide.blogspot.com) telling in a journalistic way stories that I researched, comments and observations about the trip, America and Americans while traveling. I repute it as a fundamental tool to help me rationalize and organize my thoughts about the overwhelming number of interesting activities, events and people we met during the period we were there. Even though it made me work very hard on the scarce free time in the US beetween meetings and planes, it was definitively worthwhile and pleasant. Looking over the stories on the blog – by now “frozen” –, I revive my days and experiences. Many friends and family heard about me during the 4 months through the blog and enjoyed it. I thought the stories and posts were done in a light, nice and informative way, that pleased as well as “taught” the readers something. Unfortunatel, it is mostly in Portuguese – a beautiful language, by the way.
Some people have encouraged me to transform it into a book. My idea would be to add as many as 20 or so stories that I had in mind but didn’t have enough time to include on the blog due to the intense rythm of travels and visits. It may sound obnoxious, but I believe it would be interesting for young Journalism students to read about some of the most famous news organizations and to learn, through my eyes and experience, about tips and techniques developped and used by some of the best journalists in America. I am thinking about submitting the idea – after I’ve gotten it clearer – to a private university that could sponsor the book, so as to use it with their students. I think that would also be interesting advertising for WPI in Brazil, amongst journalists and students. That’s a wish I have and hope to have time to make it come true.

“The Interpreter”
Another consequence of my trip is funny, in a way. Something that already happened before has become more frequent: I am now "the guy who speaks English" in the newsroom, playing the role of “the language expert”, so to speak... and I am requested to help out colleagues with interviews or am sent to speak to foreigners when they come to Rio (although many of my co-workers speak English).
I have also been consulting more international websites in order to learn about different issues, which certainly broadens my views when writing an article, making it more complete and accurate, as well as those of my paper’s readers. I wish I could and had time to check more international websites, though.

More Research and the Colombo Method
I’ve also noticed that I’ve become even more demanding when it comes to writing an article. I try to speak to as many people as possible and to research as much as I can in order to have the information as accurate and precise as it should be. When it comes to wrongdoing stories, I am more concerned about listening early to the other side and printing it as part of the story, giving them actual voice. The fact that my paper enforces it and tipically reserves a title or box for it certainly encourages me to that practice. In other cases and newspapers, the rush and lack of demands from editors often give the “targets” a lower importance, and it has also happened to my stories.
On the other hand, something I am still working on is the “Colombo Method”. I still have a hard time applying it on a daily basis, although I’ve heard about its advantages from so many excelent journalists in the US. The fear that they will manipulate data and keep information from public scrutiny makes me many times choose to use the traditional method when researching a story. I assume it might be tougher and longer many times, and I want to practice the Colombo Method, but I am afraid I still resist to it a little. I want to try it when possible, though. There’s one specific story I’m after in which I am having a hard time to get done going around the “target”, and that’ll be a good chance for me to test the magic Colombo Method.

Investigative Journalism Issues
Some cultural differences and views of journalism haven’t allowed me to dive into investigative reporting the way we’ve seen it is in the main American papers. Unfortunately, the flow of tasks, lack of reporters and patience of editors leave little time for digging deeper issues athat are not on the headlines. When I first arrived I suggested long term researches such as some we saw in America, at the weekly meetings. My idea was to go through the homicides police investigations of a year in Rio and uncover their flaws and lack of actual investigation that lead to a ridiculous success in finding and arresting murderers responsible for the astonishing 2.500 homicides a year only in the city of Rio de Janeiro – 6.500 in the whole state a year (with half of Rio’s population, Chicago had 155 murders in 2004, the lowest number since 1965 – information collected from a poster at the police precint we visited and posted on my blog). My idea is based on the hipothesis that our police absolutely neglects homicides that happen in favelas, ghettos and in conflicts between crimminals.
It is hard to have time off to research a story that is not planned for the next few days. There’s always another priority. (That’s another reason to implement John Ullmann’s idea of having seminars for editors, in order to convince them of the importance of investigative journalism.) Despite the difficulties, I haven’t forgotten that project and will try hard to get it done, although I am aware it requires time, patience, persistence and some luck in order to be allowed access to that doccumentation that may be “explosive”. I am certainly going to try to use the CAR tools we learned in order to help me with the task.

The US and Worldwide Connections
Another very important aspect of the fellowship experience relates to the connections we have built with international fellows, journalists and professionals we have met in reunions. It opens doors for the future and puts us in a network of journalists that help one another. For instance, I’ve been contacted by an IRP (International Reporting Project) fellow of this semester who’s coming to Brazil in late February, for 5 weeks. She heard about me from IRP and was interested in my slave labor project and in a series of problems related to land conflict, violence and labor issues in Northern Brazil. I’ve helped her out in giving tips, a lot of contacts and offering to talk to some of the people in order to help her understand and move around in that region. I am sure that I will be able to count on her if I need to in the future. Somethings that are easy for us may turn into something difficult for one who does not have the language skills at a high level or knows the right people. We can show the shortcuts and that is a good thing. That is also a lesson we learned from WPI and WPI partners and supporters, who so delightfully volunteered to have us at their houses and offices, helping us either transmitting knowledge or providing us with affection and good will.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank again and ever all the WPI staff for your support, dedication and competence, which made this unforgetable and remarkable experience possible for all of us. Many thanks to John Ullmann, Kris Mortensen, Peter Bradley and Suzanne Lechtman.

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