Rosina Duarte is restoring the social power of journalism in Brazil. Building on her experience as a freelance consultant for social change organizations, Rosina promotes inclusion and strengthens civil society by helping poor youth gain a voice in the news media.
The New Idea
Rosina has developed a strategy for invigorating journalism with the values of social consciousness, thus becoming a tool of change and inclusion for the most oppressed people in Brazil. Rosina is facilitating a new relationship between the media and citizen sector institutions both to stimulate better attitudes toward excluded populations and to inspire wider participation in the journalism profession. Her organization focuses first on broadly educating the public about social disenfranchisement and oppression. She then convenes representatives from journalism, human rights, academia, civic participation, and communications to discuss plans for more substantive public representation and portrayal of otherwise ignored groups. Finally, Rosina works with the most disregarded populations, like street youth, to help them create their own media tools.
The current function of news media in Brazil is to protect the exclusive interests of the few and reinforce perceptions of the poor, youth, and ethnic minorities as violent, dangerous, and vindictive. For the most part, the topics covered by the press do not address the social problems faced by poor communities, further preventing reform, keeping marginalized people from taking active roles within mainstream media, and discouraging human rights organizations from raising their voices in protest. The negative portrayal of the population at large contributes to a sense of hopelessness among Brazilian youth, promoting crime and clandestine behavior as the only responses to their situation.
In general, the Brazilian press does not fulfill its responsibility to cover current events affecting the greatest number of potential readers. Since many Brazilians presume that the poor are not interested in or capable of understanding the news, the media tend to disregard the 63 million Brazilians living in poverty or portray them negatively or incompletely. This approach does more than breed ignorance of the social realities experienced throughout the country; it actually reinforces the public apathy at its base. Thus, mainstream journalism generates and perpetuates stereotypes, preventing social outcasts from assuming productive roles within the media and society.
Few statistics exist about the way the Brazilian press deals with social issues. Unlike other underrepresented groups, youth benefit from the national Statute on Children and Adolescents that is intended to protect their rights and interests. Despite this federal statute and its purported national impact in making young people enthusiastic contributors to Brazilian society, the news media report almost exclusively on the less flattering aspects of the country's youth. According to a 2000 study, 66 percent of press coverage of children's issues deals with victimization, and 14 percent exposes crimes committed by adolescents. Although the public eye generally has even less concern for the country's poor and homeless population, research would likely show that the press regards the crime, nuisance, and despair of these groups as more notable than their rights or treatment.
In 1998 Rosina and three other socially conscious journalists founded the Free Agency for Childhood, Citizenship, and Education, or ALICE, to refocus the news media's attention on topics affecting Brazilians as a whole. Although she considered the representation of children's issues an initial priority, Rosina quickly realized that the media's problems were much more deeply and ideologically rooted than its ignorance or misportrayal of specific topics. She shifted her mission to address journalism's shortcomings from all perspectives, generating discussions on ethics from within the profession and educating the general public on the meaning, power, and scope of effective social journalism. Like its mission, ALICE's strategy remains constant and is based along three lines of action: public education on the media's representation of social topics and human rights; facilitation of discussions among journalism and civil society specialists about the media's attitudes toward poor people and its potential to influence positive changes; and training of street youths and other disenfranchised people to produce effective media. The overarching goal of Rosina's activities with ALICE is the use of news media to provide a clear, loud public voice to all Brazilian people.
Rosina directs the media education component of her program primarily towards teachers, high school and college students, community leaders, labor unions, and social workers throughout the country. Through an accord with ALICE, the Municipal Secretary of Education and universities provide physical space and resources for workshops and trainings. Thus far, Rosina has worked with the Municipal Secretary of Culture to host three highly successful workshops on critical reading and media exclusion. Rosina also works with workshop participants to mobilize volunteers from their respective institutions for local civil society organizations. Expanding on public education initiatives and the power of informed readership, Rosina strives to engage journalists at a very early stage of their professional development on themes surrounding socially conscious media. For communications students and professionals, she organizes conferences and debates on ethics, accountability, and civil responsibility. Rosina has also developed Project Saideira to bring journalists together in an informal setting, like a bar or café, to discuss and debate social issues, the way they did before the advent of corporate media in Brazil. Project Saideira has garnered wide praise from its participants and the profession in general, earning Rosina an excellent reputation among journalists who are now eager to take part in other ALICE activities.
Rosina incorporates into all media objectives a clear commitment to human rights protection and education. She has developed the Giving Voice to the Voiceless project to work directly with adolescents and street dwellers, and, because of its success thus far, she will expand services to other groups in and around Brazil. The project identifies groups that are under- or negatively represented in the press and trains them both to take advantage of opportunities within the existing constructs of mainstream media. It also helps them to create new media outlets by which to represent themselves and draw attention to the issues faced by marginalized groups and the population at-large. This type of initiative is unheard-of in the southern region of Brazil and stands to have positive impacts comparable to those of similar projects in other regions of the world. Unlike other publications by or for the poor that are mostly produced by foundations, however, all aspects of the ALICE papers, including story ideas, writing, editing, photography, and layout, are managed by street youth. Through Giving Voice to the Voiceless, Rosina helps young people refute perceptions of crime and apathy and promote awareness about institutional discrimination, human rights, and the need for education. Furthermore, the project effectively increases the youth's self-esteem and gives them meaningful vocational skills.
The success of the newspaper Boca de Rua ("Mouth of the Street"), which is published by young adults living on the streets of Porto Alegre, perfectly represents the impact of Rosina's social innovation. Once a week the paper's staff come together to discuss new story lines, reporting objectives, stories in development, and the editing, photography, and illustrations that issue's articles will require. While the program participants oversee every aspect of the publication, Rosina's primary role in the project is to facilitate communication, encourage participation, and promote quality through consultation. The name of the newspaper and the logo were designed by a staff illustrator and humorist who had previously spent most of his time as a graffiti artist. Common themes of the articles, editorials, comics, and poems include community participation, local events, personal improvement and rehabilitation, the arts, and social responsibility–all from the perspective of street youth. In a departure from the practice of mainstream publications, which often horrify, condemn, and obscure truth, Boca de Rua's pieces on drug addiction and violence serve to create understanding and inspire change among readers.
Boca de Rua not only provides valuable lessons on the broad social importance of media and the personal development affected by journalism, but also raises awareness on social justice and community relations among both the readers and creators of the paper. By October 2001 Boca de Rua reached a circulation of 3,000 after only three issues published every four months. Based on the contributors' increasing output, Rosina plans to increase publication to a quarterly schedule. The paper is sold around southern Brazil in shops, at news kiosks, and on street corners by program participants. The opportunity to market and sell a certain number of each issue adds extra incentive for even the most skeptical street youth to participate because revenue generated is directly proportional to the quality of the paper itself. A partnership with the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora allows ALICE to publish Boca de Rua at no cost so that all proceeds from sales cover plans for expansion and contributor stipends. The paper is also distributed free-of-charge to selected public schools, courts, government offices, human rights organizations, universities, and journalists in Brazil and abroad. As a result, Rosina has established fruitful partnerships with the Maurício Sirotsky Sobrinho Foundation, the International Network of Street-Papers, and the Street Dwellers' Movement of Porto Alegre, increasing awareness of program activities and further supporting objectives of community participation and education.
Rosina plans to expand her program to address other important social issues, benefit other underrepresented groups, and incorporate other means of artistic expression. She has already gained approval from the heads of the Juvenile Hall of Porto Alegre to begin a newspaper project with adolescents living in juvenile detention centers. The education component will soon include themes of child labor and the misrepresentation of the youth through fashion and advertisement. Additionally, Rosina plans to employ art as a medium for expression and advocacy among street youth, further engaging the mainstream by partnering with Latin American artists willing to donate unfinished pieces and unused designs for completion by project participants. Furthermore, Rosina is working to increase fundraising and is exploring revenue generation options. With ALICE's success and growing interest in her model from like-minded organizations and individuals around Brazil, Rosina is prepared to bring her new idea to the next level.
Rosina inherited her social consciousness and interest in journalism from her grandfathers. Both were newspapermen and members of opposition groups during dictatorial regimes. They taught their families that the greatest achievements are to "stand tall and stay alive, always conscious of, and responsible for, one's actions." When Rosina's father fell ill, her mother took a job as a seamstress, but could not meet the family's needs. Rosina followed her grandfathers' lessons and, at 12, found work at the music school where she had studied. She quickly became the school's highest paid employee and improved her whole family's standard of living.
Rosina's determination and entrepreneurial spirit, along with her grandfathers' examples, led her to study journalism during her university years. Working for various regional and national publications, Rosina was recognized for her work on human rights topics, earning nine achievement awards. Throughout her 20 years as a journalist, she saw that professionals had the means and resources to transform the lives of people they encountered in their daily work. However, like most people, her coworkers passed up or ignored the opportunity to make change and moved on instead to the next hot story. Determined to disprove the myth that a crisis of ethics is inevitable in journalism and that reporters must always remain detached from their work, Rosina committed her work to infusing the profession with a social objective: to put the tools of communication in the hands of those who are least often heard.