Reporting on Rio's realities – and comparing them to New York City

Two young Brazilians from some of Rio's poorest favelas say their community reporting connects Brazilians with the realities of living in challenging communities, and brings global attention to poverty and inequality. They recently traveled to New York on a youth journalism exchange program.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
A boy on a bicycle makes his way up a steep hill in favela Vidigal, Sept. 14, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blogRiogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.

Some of Rio's best and brightest are getting the chance to expand their horizons, thanks in part to opportunities arising after favela pacification and new projects to benefit low-income communities. One example of this is a [...] young journalist exchange program, now in its second year, which has benefitted some of the city's most promising young community reporters. It's thanks to these journalists that people in Rio and all over the world are getting a more accurate, clearer picture of what's happening in the city's favelas.

Last year, the US Consulate in Rio started a new program that sends two Carioca community journalists to New York, and two New Yorker community journalists to Rio. This year, the Rio participants were Michel Silva and Daiene Beatriz. They traveled to New York in August, after hosting their counterparts in Rio in April. I interviewed them on their last night in New York City in Union Square.

Michel Silva: An Entrepreneurial Journalist

Michel and his sister started Viva Rocinha, a community news site, after the military occupation of Rocinha in 2011. They wanted to share the reality of Latin America's largest favela, and to identify problems in the community like sewage, water, and electricity. His site also aims to focus on the positive, by telling stories about residents and social projects. It's also one of few, if any, community news sites in Brazil that has its own mobile app. They also have an active following on FacebookTwitter, and Youtube. Smartphones are becoming increasingly important, Mr. Silva says, [because] any favela resident can capture what's happening. 

In 2012, he and some friends created Fala Roça, a print paper about Rocinha that comes out every two months. He's the coordinator of and contributor to the newspaper, which is also available via PDF. The most recent issue had a cover story on the rising cost of living in Rocinha, which was then reprinted in the Brasil 247 news site. This is common, says Silva. These two community news outlets serve as a connection between the community and mainstream media. It's not just a matter of providing stories; if the media reports something wrong, he sets them straight. And it's not just the local media that seeks him out as a source; it's the international media, from The New York Times to El País. Plus, by identifying problems in the community and bringing attention to them, it's a way to solve problems, with things as simple as a pothole.

Silva is also a social communications student at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, one of the city's best private universities. And if he wasn't already busy enough, he's also a participant at the Agência de Redes para Juventude, an organization that provides training and stipends to youth in pacified favelas. It was the Agência that helped him get Fala Roça off the ground.

Silva is shy and sweet, but sharp as a tack. During his stay in New York, he posted frequently on social media, pointing out detailed observations about everything he came across. It was his first time abroad.

When I asked him what he enjoyed most about the trip, he had trouble identifying just one thing. He pointed out Amsterdam News in Harlem as a highlight, since a newspaper devoted to the African-American community was something he hadn't seen before. Plus, he liked visiting CNN, which gave him the experience of a big network.

Daiene Beatriz: Reporting on Favela Realities

Ms. Beatriz is poised and well-spoken, and has a deep grasp on a large host of issues affecting her city. She's a journalism student, and works for Parceiros do RJ at Rede Globo, a program that employs journalists from favelas to report on their communities. She covers Complexo do Alemão, where she's from.

Beatriz wrote on her blog that the trip was a dream come true, and it was her first time on a plane, and her first time abroad. She got to know a totally different culture that opened her mind, and it gave her new ideas to bring home. "I can't even describe it," she says. It gave her a chance to see a different country and think about how things could change in both places.

Like Silva, she had trouble singling out her favorite experience, but also pointed to Amsterdam News, because it's something that doesn't exist in Brazil; she was impressed by this pride in African heritage. She also liked CNN and The New York Times. And like her counterpart, she was keen to observe her new surroundings and compare them to her hometown.

She was impressed that street vendors are legal in New York, whereas in Rio that's less common. "Why can't Rio legalize street vendors?" she wondered. Now, they run from police. She was also interested in subsidized housing. In Rio, the Minha Casa Minha Vida program often puts people far from the city, whereas New York subsidized housing can be found in the middle of the city. She compared New York's subway system to Rio's BRT, which she says will ultimately benefit tourists more than residents. When it comes to infrastructure in Rio, "the investments aren't thinking of the population; it's to show a good image to foreigners," she says.

Both Silva and Beatriz are wary about pacification. "The war continues," Silva says. "Pacification is make-up," adds Beatriz. It's not just a matter of policing, but it's taking numerous actions to effect change, she explains. The realities are the same, but certain things are just hidden now, including drug trafficking. While it's a good idea, it's been lacking in execution, she says. On the positive side, people tend to respect communities more and there are more opportunities for favela residents. She noted that before, people tended to associate the word favela with negative aspects, like drugs and poverty, and now people are increasingly using the word "community" instead. This, she says, is the major media's doing.

Michel and Daiene have shared their experiences of the exchange online. You can read about Daiene's experiences on her blog, and stay tuned for a forthcoming piece by Michel.

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