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WAN-IFRA speaks copyright @ Internet Governance Forum

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WAN-IFRA speaks copyright @ Internet Governance Forum

Good morning!

What a great honor it is to be here today to talk to you about professional journalism.
I think professional journalism in Brazil has some impressive numbers. I’m the digital editor of VEJA, a current affairs magazine. In times when print circulation numbers are getting lower and lower, VEJA has a circulation of about 1 million printed editions every week. Only Time Magazine has a higher circulation.

On Facebook, we have more than 7 million followers. That’s more than The Washington Post, or Spain’s El Pais. And our follower base has grown substantially in recent times… due to the coverage of constant government corruption scandals.

So, professional journalism is important and well received in Brazil. People care about what’s going on.
That’s the good news.

Now, the bad news:

It’s been difficult times for the media; advertisers are moving away from media outlets, both big and small, and investing more and more in social networks, for example. Of course that is an international problem, but in Brazil it’s like a matryoshka doll: we remain to be in the middle of a serious national economic crisis; within this problem we have the media sector being hit even harder than other sectors, because we are dealing with not only this national crisis, but also the international crisis affecting the media business model; and, within that, individual companies going through their own individual problems. And within that you have us: the journalists, trying to work within this environment.

And why should you care about our jobs? Why are we so important?

We are not.

Let me tell you a quick story: in the early years of my career, I was so excited at the chance of being able to interview people like Michael Bloomberg or Bono from U2, or even just regular people with incredible stories. One day, I was writing a piece about drivers who had lost their license. Some had lost it because they had been caught speeding again and again; some for repeated minor infractions. But there was one guy who’d made just one mistake. He’d been caught speeding at seventy on a thirty mille an hour avenue. I asked him what his profession was. He was an ambulance driver. And he was used to having the privilege of driving as fast as he needed to… And during the interview it dawned on him that this privilege was in fact a professional privilege. It was not about him, it was about his profession.

At that moment, I became aware of the fact that the privilege of hearing his story was not mine, but of my readers… That it is on behalf of them I go to amazing places, talk to powerful people, ask – at times – inconvenient questions, have access to confidential documents – that’s a privilege I have on behalf of our readers, but not only our readership – but on behalf of every citizen.

And presently we are having to fight to keep this privilege. How many newspapers have had to shut down in recent years? Many newspapers are cutting costs, reducing staff, closing branchs. How could a national media outlet cover a huge country like Brazil from just one or two cities?

Six months ago, VEJA launched a project to have ten local correspondents spread across state capitals in Brazil in addition to the three cities where we have newrooms. The results have been amazing: we’ve broken stories that local newspapers would’t publish, often because of pressure they received from local government.

The project has been fantastic, but it’s cost money. That’s why we implemented a paywall on our website some months ago. It’s clear that publicity is not enough anymore. Charging readers for newsworthy content is vital to the media outlets survival. And we work, just like The New York Times and many others, with a freemium model. Access to the website is free and visitors have access to a set number of articles per month, and with the premium account you can read everything. The great thing is that even with the paywall, most people don’t reach the content limit, meaning that really important breaking stories are being read by millions of people and we are still able to make an impact… and, in a country like Brazil, where corruption remains to be a major problem, politicians are aware more than ever that people are watching. And it’s essential for democracy.

So everybody should care about this business because it goes beyond business per se. A hospital can be a business, but health is not. A school can be a business, but education is not. A newspaper can be a business, but journalism is not. It’s a public service.

Empowering professional journalism - and its right to investigate - is a major common interest. And everyone should get behind this.

Big digital companies and big social networks, for example, can spread the reach of professional media posts, while helping us to fight fake news, which has shown itself to be a serious problem and with serious consequences around the world.

Digital companies can also create platforms that make it easier for people to subscribe to news websites. We need to develop partnerships with social networks, search engines, cloud computing, university departments, small startups. Technology is not the core business of big media outlets nor small local news websites run by a few independent journalists. Our business is reporting the news; very often stories that people don’t want to be revealed.

It’s time to empower professional journalism. Democracry is at stake.

Thank you very much.


Elena Perotti's picture

Elena Perotti


2018-01-17 12:47

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The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

We will be examining policy discussions that will define the news publishing environment of the future, the key topics being internet governance, privacy and copyright. Click here to learn more about our work.

WAN-IFRA Media Policy team and experts.

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