Felipe Jose Porciuncula Lins, a twenty-five year old journalist is starting a news agency designed to gather and disseminate news to the mass media about Brazil's social movements, community groups, and citizen organizations. The agency, based in the northeastern city of Recife, plans to deliver news and information to the public about grassroots initiatives that the media have, for the most part, not covered.
The New Idea
The citizen and grassroots organizations that have appeared since the end of Brazil's military regime twelve years ago have been raising and defining major public issues, as well as advocating solutions to problems. Some of these groups are good at mobilizing, and giving voice to, public opinion. Others do solid analytical work.These new organizations should be important news sources for Brazil's media, and the media should be an important resource for the activist citizen groups. Felipe wants to build bridges between them, thereby strengthening the media, the citizens social change movement, and democracy.In order to do this, the media and the citizens groups need to become aware of the needs, strengths, and weaknesses of the other. Felipe's news agency helps both to understand the organizational and institutional incentives that explain the behavior of each other. For example, the press must believe that the information given to it by citizen groups is reliable. This has not been the case in the past. To meet this need, Felipe supplies the media with issue packets, and helps citizen groups to develop investigative reporting skills.Felipe's People's News Agency will cover community associations, unions, and groups advocating new policies and approaches in fields as diverse as education and local security. Access to information is the agency's purpose, as Felipe explains: "The effort behind this work, in truth, is to make it possible for the population, particularly the most needy, to have access to this information in a way that stimulates social action."
Brazil's citizen organizations and media have not learned to communicate effectively with each other. As a result, Brazilians do not have regular access to the independent perspective and alternative ideas of the country's social movements.Felipe found, from his own work in the media, that reporters want to tap these news sources. However, they usually do not know these sources and, even when they do, often find it difficult to fit the provided information into the stories they have to write for their editors.In addition, many journalists distrust the data supplied by the citizen organizations. They believe such information is ideologically biased and carelessly compiled, according to a survey of journalists reported by Valdemar de Oliveira Neto, an early Ashoka Fellow.Indeed, few community workers or citizen group leaders know how to capture media attention, or know what will interest a publication's readers or radio station's listeners. Even fewer are skilled at investigation, documentation, and communication.
Felipe's press service links the press and the citizen groups. His agency gathers news from the citizen organizations, and then makes it available to the press. It also suggests story ideas. A researched agenda of "hot" topics with a list of sources for reporters to contact is available. A clipping service providing background articles has also been established.His clients include groups that work with adolescents and groups that focus on the issues of education, health, and alternative technology.
Felipe has worked as a journalist, and has been active in community social action organizations. While earning his communications degree from the Catholic University of Pernambuco, he helped produce social film videos, including one on the popular culture movement for the city of Recife. Since graduation in 1988, he has worked as a copy editor for the Folha de Pernambuco newspaper, done production work for TV Pernambuco, and participated in the creation of community radio programs. He also did public relations work for the Dom Helder Camara Center for Studies and Social Action, a citizen organization.There he supplied the press with information on the center's efforts to improve the health and education of the community's residents and to strengthen local workers' cooperatives.