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How to Report on Protests: Getting Involved Vs. Staying Impartial

Brazil Activism
by Nicole Froio Aug 16, 2013

IT WAS an unexpected development during June’s Confederations Cup in Brazil. Out of nowhere thousands were marching down the streets in anti-government protests. Some of the protesters were violent and trashed the city.

Except it wasn’t out of nowhere, and the world outside of Brazil found it difficult to see that. But as a Brazilian journalist stationed at the heart of the unrest, it was easy for me to understand what was happening and why.

In the last three weeks, I have written many analytical pieces about the protests. It doesn’t surprise me that the international community was somehow surprised — the last decade has been full of reports of Brazil excelling in the economy and becoming a “superpower.”

But to make a crude comparison, Brazil is like a beautifully iced cake made of grass inside. Looks great in theory, but it tastes awful when you sink your teeth into it. It has been obvious for a while, to all Brazilians, that corruption, misuse of public money, human rights violations, lack of basic sanitation, appalling health services, broken and understaffed schools, and many other problems are just part of the average Brazilian citizen’s life.

What is better for your reporting, being a neutral observer or getting involved?

So when the people took to the streets, so did I. I yelled with them and I talked to them. Who were they and why were they here? I know that I looked sympathetic, so I believe that made me a little bit easier to talk to. In general the movement was extremely hostile to mainstream media, but for me who knew what they were fighting for — seemingly, the mainstream media was incredibly out of touch from the very beginning — getting quotes and feature ideas was incredibly easy.

As an ex-student journalist, I have struggled with this matter before. What is better for your reporting, being a neutral observer or getting involved? In my experience, speaking to people who see you as a sympathizer or even a participant gives you much better quotes. And if you participate it is easier to understand the atmosphere and tone of the movement.

This unique point of view was very useful to me, and my audience grew quite a bit because of it. I wrote about the generation who started it all, interviewed movement leaders, and analysed President Dilma’s national address. I happily exposed Ronaldo and Pelé’s attitudes towards the plight of the lower classes for First Post India, and to my surprise, was invited to speak at BBC World Have Your Say.

To a reporter who has just quit her job to pursue freelance journalism, this was an incredible boost. And I feel like actively participating in the protests and studying the issues helped me immensely. I wasn’t cynical, and that’s what caught the attention of people who were looking for strong opinions like mine.

Most international correspondents I follow on Twitter haven’t exactly been neutral to the issues either. Though if you follow me on Twitter, you will know I am the most vocal person on social media ever…but the fact that professional journalists weren’t hiding behind neutrality was ultimate proof that you can be biased (and let’s face it — we all are) and still be a good reporter — if you also report on the other side, of course. The right to respond to media coverage is paramount and can’t be forgotten.

Sometimes I think I talk too much and that I am too young to be so critical. I think I am too young to try and write about the world. And maybe I am, but this has shown me that I must be doing something right. It’s been an amazing ride and I hope it will continue. * This story was published in its original form at Wannabe Hacks and was reprinted here with permission.

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