After much media coverage both in Brazil and abroad about Danish journalist Mikkel Keldorf Jenson’s decision to leave Brazil, meet this motley crew of international freelancers who aren’t afraid to work here and will keep telling its story as long as we can.
Thinking back I’m not quite sure how my (Brazilian) wife put up with me during the first few months after our move from London to São Paulo. As far as I was concerned there was hardly anything I positive I could take from the experience – apart from the weather. Why was there so much traffic? Why the crippling bureaucracy to sort out my visa? And why the hell were there turnstiles on buses?
Over time though, my apathy for Brazil slowly became begrudging appreciation and later flourished into a passionate love affair (don’t tell my wife). Most importantly, I realised that my problem – and I would hazard to guess it is the same for many ‘gringos’ – was as much about my own struggle to adjust to Brazil as it was about Brazil itself.
Certainly, Brazil is not perfect and yes, there are still many things it needs to get right. And whilst Brazilians might not like it when us foreigners point these things out to them – largely, I guess, because they are often already very much aware of them – we have an important role to play in helping Brazil move forward. Running away from problems, as far as I am aware, has never been a particular constructive way to go about helping to solve them.
Reporting the World Cup, and everything that has led up to it, was one of the main reasons I made the move to Brazil three years ago. Each day life here has brought new challenges and new frustrations, but often alongside brighter, sometimes life-changing experiences.
By battling Brazil’s everyday conundrums – bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, high living costs – and talking to people from all walks of life, we can give the outside world a clearer picture of what is really happening here.
Getting a sense of events on the ground has been vital during coverage of the run-up to the World Cup and the Olympics, including the anti-government protests, the pacification of Rio’s favelas, and the real impact of a sputtering economy.
Brazil has an undeniable dark side – one of inequality, violence, corruption – but these complex social injustices form the very powerful narrative that underlines exactly why the story of what remains wrong with Brazil must be told, and told from Brazil.
The build-up to the World Cup has, in many ways, exposed the very worst of Brazil. I hope the event itself will allow Brazil to bring its best. Whatever the story is, we should be here ready to tell it.
I have reported from Brazil before for the UK press and am returning this week to investigate the impact of the World Cup on children, so it was with some interest that I read Mikkel’s story. If I did not believe that journalists have a vital role as agents of change, I would never have chosen to be one. There will always be a conflict between the story the authorities would like you to tell and the reality as you find it. Equally, the truth can sometimes be more complicated than it first appears. That is why societies need professional journalists, and not just social media commentators, to find out what is really going on.
Some situations are undoubtedly difficult to report on for a variety of reasons, but these stories must still be told. Mikkel’s Facebook post (intentionally or not) has added to the debate about Brazil’s social problems generally but I do hope that Brazilians do not interpret it as an outsider taking a superior stance towards them. I believe that we all benefit from cultural exchange and from good journalism, practiced to high professional standards and with integrity.
As is often the case, my interest in Brazil began with a girl. A couple of years later I now speak Portuguese and have just moved to Belo Horizonte, attempting to bring some on the ground coverage to the English speaking world as the World Cup looms large.
Brazil is a nation of contrasts, of great beauty but hideous in equal measure. One of the worst things that can be said of Mikkel Jensen’s allegations about street children being disappeared in Fortaleza is that no one is surprised.
In a nation where tens of millions live under the yoke of crippling poverty and rampant crime, FIFA and the government would have the world see only the beautiful side of the Brazilian coin and seem to be prepared to violate any sort of human right they can get away with in order to achieve this.
By leaving Brazil and giving up his World Cup tickets Mikkel sent a strong statement and has helped his vitally important story gain nationwide attention. However, had he not been there in the first place, the story might have remained forever untold.
International journalists are a vital tool in giving the world a window on the reality of Brazil’s streets and exposing the misdeeds of FIFA and the government and, if can play some small part in that, being here will have been worth it.
Drama is the oregano of journalism.
Or so I thought.
It now appears, however, as though drama has been substituted for an idyllic cottage nestled amongst the rolling plains of the Danish Archipelago.
Mikkel Jensen’s decision to leave Brazil left me baffled. In my young journalistic career, it’s the first time I have heard of a reporter running away from, and not scurrying towards, a story.
Unlike the majority of people invited to contribute to this patchwork, I wasn’t even a journalist when I arrived in Brazil, a little over two years ago.
What changed that, was the complexity of my new home – the passion and the apathy, the promise and the waste, the loyalty and the promiscuity, the joy and the violence. The last thing I want to do now is run away.
Mikkel should come back to Brazil and complete the work he started. But, if he doesn’t, I’ll happily take his tickets.
For me, the big attraction of moving to Brazil 18 months ago was not covering the World Cup but using it as an opportunity to report on a country that has been historically overlooked and under-reported yet has a fascinating and complex story. It presents a journalistic challenge to break down stereotypical ideas of Brazil and actually tell the stories of Brazilian people, whatever they may be.
Many people have a new curiosity about the country simply as a result of knowing it will host the World Cup and it’s important to capitalise on that to shake up preconceptions. It’s natural that there’s some posturing and make-up to disguise the problems before hosting a mega-event but it’s an integral part of a journalist’s job to hold authorities to account and try to get beyond the superficial.
Brazil is not an easy place to cover. But when I moved to São Paulo four years ago, I was under no illusion that it would be. I’d heard the horror stories of needing to use the public healthcare system, the beyond-crowded public transportation and the much-hated bureaucracy to get anything done. And I do mean anything. Even coming from Canada, a place where the aforementioned items are not nearly as much of an issue, I knew I could take on Brazil.
No country is perfect, buy every country is important. I didn’t come here for a sporting event. The stories of people’s struggles and triumphs in everyday life are what brought me here and what make me want to stay. I’ve covered stories of protest, crack addiction and domestic violence. Everyone should have a voice, and the job of a journalist is to help them speak a little louder.
I would never, nor would any of my colleagues, put anyone in danger for the sake of a story, but sometimes staying silent because of fear is more dangerous than speaking out. Brazil most definitely is not easy, but the things worth doing in life never are.
Compared to a lot of the international media working and living in Brazil, I very much feel like I’m fresh off the boat, having arrived at the turn of the year. But I’ve had more than enough time to see the best and the worst of the country.
In lots of ways your first 15 minutes here is enough time for that – the intoxicating best of Brazil and the dispiriting worst can be found on the same street corner. But no country is perfect. If it were it would be a very bland place.
Being a sports journalist can often seem like the easier of the industry to operate in. There’s a reason sportsdesks are known as the toy department in newspapers. Sport isn’t life or death. There are much more important things going on in the world. But right now sport is the very reason the world is looking at Brazil.
And no matter what type of journalist you are, you are here to tell the world the stories of Brazil. Telling good stories is the easy bit, telling bad stories is invariably the much harder part. But both are vitally important, now more than ever. And both are, well, the job. That’s what we sign up for. To borrow a well-worn, kinda cheesy yet pretty apt line from the toy department, we don’t do walking away. At least we’re not supposed to.
I arrived in Brazil in 1989, and have covered news since Eco-92. Back then there were reports of busses in the middle of the night gathering the homeless from Rio’s streets and dropping them off far away so that foreign tourists would not see them during the conference.
There have always been social problems in Brazil, but that is expected from a country this large, whose public officials were never really taught how make long-term future plans. Foreign correspondents show the contrast between the first-world Brazil and the third-world Brazil, and with their stories pressure officials to take action and improve the lives of those who need it most. Media outlets (foreign or local) give these people a voice to express their concerns.
The government will always try to sugarcoat problems, and it is up to journalists to distinguish between long-lasting policies and ‘cheap make-up’ and report what is actually happening. Not covering an event will not make it go away. We are not ‘part’ of the conspiracy and it is not for our benefit the ‘show’ is on.
I’m a British freelancer living in Brasilia since May 2012. Brazil is a wonderful country that, like all countries, has its problems. Undeniably, we reporters in Brazil see, daily, stories of heart-breaking poverty, of corrupted power, of services that are inadequate to help those who desperately need them and officials who seem to shrug their shoulders in response.
What is clear is that those stories need voices to tell them. Isn’t reporting that kind of thing what we’re here for? If reporters left a country every time they saw something unsavoury, we’d have nothing but puff pieces and PR releases left to read.
The story related by Mikkel Jenson, that street kids are being killed to clean up for FIFA, is an extraordinary one. Is it plausible? Perhaps. We know from experience that where poverty and extreme inequality exist, children are always at risk. But we can only be skeptical, until another reporter goes to Fortaleza and does a thorough job of reporting and fact-checking the story. What we do know is that, whatever problems the World Cup brings – the over-spending, the evictions, the corruption – it also offers a period of intense international scrutiny that offers a perfect opportunity for getting stories like this out into the light.
Reporting from Brazil is not for the faint hearted. Mikkel’s gripes about Brazil and the World Cup are well founded. It’s unfortunate for him that he wasn’t able to take the pressure and had to return home- for that, he doesn’t deserve to be ridiculed.
But why are his Facebook posts being paraded around in certain sections of the Brazilian press as if he is a world renowned expert, as opposed to an amateur freelancer?
It’s as if Mikkel, from Denmark, is some kind of spokesman from a more civilized society.
While I doubt Mikkel himself has much of an ulterior motive, it seems that his story- the young honest, hardworking boy, whose dreams were shattered upon arriving in Brazil and seeing the shocking inequality, is merely being used to advance the omnipresent ‘Ó que vergonha Brasil’ narrative.
We live in times of dubious, unreliable and opportunistic viral internet campaigns- from Kony 2012 to Don’t go to the World Cup! to #SOSVenezuela!.
It’s unfortunate that this episode may smear young Mikkel’s career. Where will he be in 6 months? Probably long forgotten for the latest Facebook craze.