Online materials

Hi everybody!

As we prepare to the 4th weekend of the course Friends of Januária, we would like to announce that the first part of the course materials is online!

You can download it here.

It has contents on citizen journalism, how to create and post in a WordPress blog, how to submit an information request to public institution and others.

Hope you enjoy it!

Second weekend

The second weekend of the Friends of Januária project had a very special guest: Arthur Serra Massuda, from the organization Article 19, who talked to the participants about the importance of access to information to citizens and citizen journalists.

In his presentation, Arthur emphasized the idea of access to information as a right, and contextualized how it is being implemented in Brazil. He also gave access to information models made especially for journalists and some materials produced by Article 19. The idea is that the participants can use it to make research on the subjects they want to write about.

After Arthur’s presentation, Fábio Oliva showed some examples of how access to information is important to fight corruption. The participants were very interested and asked a lot of questions about their city. We also taked about the functioning of the public administration and public budget.

Our 17 young citizen journalists seemed to be very interested in learning about some of the rules governments should abide to. After some questions, we started to work on their first texts that were published on the blog: http://amigosdejanuaria.wordpress.com.

We commented on each one and gave some tips on how they can improve their writing. Amanda, Fábio, and I were very glad to see their first texts, most of them were very mature and interesting, considering that this was their first experience with journalistic texts.

The group is very excited and seems to be anxious to write more. We talked a little more about how journalism sometimes means hard work and that in some cases it will take long until they can find all the information they need for their stories.

We also had a discussion on anonymity, since we were worried that they could suffer restrictions on public services because of their work on the project. Some of them have decided not to identify themselves on the blog.

Fábio, Jamila, Sueli and Arthur after the second class

The main challenge we are facing in Januária until now is the use of computers in the class. Although we have a very nice laboratory available, a lot of the computers have software problems and the internet connection sometimes is too slow. We are trying to work on that, but because of that, the group had to post their first entries on the blog from home, since we couldn’t do that together on class. This has delayed some of the program, especially the exercises, that they are not able to start with us.

This weekend the group is in company of Fábio Oliva and Márcio Couto, from CGU, an institution that is responsible for monitoring the public administration in different areas (municipal, state, and federal). They will be talking about corruption and how to fight it!

Report on the first meetings

Friends of Januária’s course on citzen media started on September 3-4 with 14 participants excited to become reporters.

The first meeting started with a quick speech from Luiz Carlos Matos, the director of the school where the course will take place, to welcome the students. After him, Fábio Oliva and I presented ourselves and the course. The participants introduced themselves by telling their names, careers they have had or want to have once they graduate, neighborhoods they come from and something in this neighborhood they think could be different.

Panel with the things the participants would like to be different in their neighborhood.

Their answers opened a discussion on the importance of the citizen journalist to their communities. From that, we started to talk about what is citizen journalism and how it can provide more information to people.

We followed this subject with a quick activity in which the participants had to research on the internet what information they found about Januária. After this, the group started discussing the role of the mass communication companies and some questions arose:

  • What is a news story?
  • Who determines what is or what is not news?
  • Where to find news?
  • How to write news?

In order to answer this, Fábio and I talked about some foundations of journalism, such as: its commitment to the public interest and truth; the selection of a subject and the structure of the news.

Finnaly, the participants talked about their experiences with internet and blogs and created their accounts on WordPress to start participating on the Friends of Januária’s blog.

On this first day, all the participants received a kit with a folder, a notebook, a pen, and the first volume of the book we made for the project. The ones who were selected to participate in the course (besides them we invited three people to participate as visitors to the course) also received a book on how to fight corruption in small cities (that were donated to the project by Amigos de Ribeirão Bonito NGO) and a pen-drive.

On Saturday, the participants also decided what time the classes would be and what would be the tolerance for delays. They agreed with some basic rules for the course, too.

The local TV channel of Januária – TV Norte – registered the first activities of the course and interviewed Fábio, myself, and two of the young participants to know what were their expectations.

Getting started!

On Sunday at 8 a.m., the young journalists were all together again to start working!

The day started with a quick chat on what is journalistc research and how to do interviews. After that, the group was divided in three smaller ones to prepare a field activity in which they would search for news in Januária by interviewing people and taking pictures of what called their attention.

Bellow are some pictures took by them during this activitiy:

Each group received equipments to register the interviews and take pictures. For about an hour they walked around Januária’s downtown looking for subjects to develop for their stories.

At the end, they met again to share with each other what they had found during their walk. We took notes on the subjects and each participant chose one to research and write about during the week.

Announcing the participants

We are very happy to announce that we already have the list of 15 participants of Friends of Januária’s project.

In the selection process we analized the answers the applicants gave to a form. Our basic requirements were age (since we wanted to work with young people from Januária) and school grade. Besides that, we analized the candidates’ opinions on subjects related to the project.

Although this wasn’t a requirement to participate on the project, we also priorized the candidates that had some previous experience in political or communitary activities and social movements. According to some partners that had other experiences in capacity buildings projects in Brazil, a great dificulty is to make people commit to a hole course. Their experiences showed that people who are related to other organizations might take more seriously their commitment to the project.

Among the selected ones, we have young people from 17 to 26 years old and all of them have finished or will finish high school this year.

We were are very glad with the application process we were able to take in Januaria: at the end of 23 days, 51 candidates applied to it.

One of the questions we made the candidates answer to apply was was “How did you got to know the project?”, so we could evaluate the efficiency of our publicity. At the end we had the following results:

21 through a poster we put on important places for our target public (such as schools)
12 through the internet
5 through the radio
15 through TV
1 through other media

The variety of media in which these 51 people got to know the project makes us believe that we had a significative publicity. So we are very happy that ended up well too, since we had some dificulties in the middle of this proccess.

Our classes will start this weekend (September 3rd and 4th) so soon we will have more news to tell!

Meeting partners in Januária

I was in Januária between July 7th and 9th. The visit was very important to tell people about the seminars that will start in September and hear their opinions about them.

Together with Fabio Oliva, we visited several schools and talked to their administrators about the idea of capacitating young people to monitor the public administration with news reports for a blog. They seemed very excited and also gave us interesting feedbacks that might be useful for eventual other projects in the city, such as giving the media journalism course to children and teachers!

Fabio and I also talked to one of the representatives of the Public Prosecution Service in Januária that agreed to participate in one of the meetings and tell the participants more about his work.

In the last day we had a meeting with the Asajan members that also gave us some feedbacks on activities that we can do with the participants during the course. One of them was to visit Januária’s hospital emergency sector and report how is the attention to the patients there. As this, there were a lot of great ideas that we hope to incorporate.

They also helped us to define the target public for the project and places where we should publicize it.

After the visit, Amanda and I had a meeting to discuss our next steps until September. We have now prepared some marketing materials and are starting to distribute them among our partners and schools from Januária. Everything is going well, but we have a lot of work until then! We will keep you informed on what is going on!

How to fight corruption in Januária? Talking to people!

Amanda and I finished taping the documentary “Velha Januária” in October 2008, weeks before the municipal elections. Since then, our contact with the city was through Fabio Oliva and other people that we met and that shared with us news from there. In the beginning of July, I went back to Januária after almost two years to make some final arrangements for the project “Friends of Januária”.

When I arrived this time, the municipal employes were in the middle of a strike for wage adjustment. As always, the city was incredibly alive and people were anxious to talk about politics and their impressions on the municipal government… specially when they saw Fabio Oliva! To spend some days with him made me understand a little better the work of Asajan.

We were together to tell people about the project “Friends of Januaria” but, meanwhile, a new case for investigation appeared. In the morning, it was just a rumor told by a teacher about some houses that were being built for selling somewhere in the town. Who was building them and with which money were some of the questions in the air, but the suspicion was that the municipality was somehow involved in this.

A clue for the investigation came in the afternoon during a meeting with the representative of the Public Prosecution Service in Januária. He asked if people were using materials and trucks from the municipality for this work, what would be illegal… In the evening, more information: the municipality had done paving only in the streets around the place where the houses will be located. The mystery was getting interesting and Fabio was anxious to find out more.

In the next day, before leaving Januária we went to the place where the houses are being built and got some pictures of the constructions and the paved streets. We could also find out who is in charge of them, to whom it belongs, how many houses will be made and their prices. Fabio has now a lot of elements to find out the if the municipality is really involved in this. Let’s wait to see what he will discover!

Obviously this made me think a lot about the project and things we should stimulate in the participants. A quick look around their neighborhood can bring interesting stories to tell and new cases to investigate.

Next

On the next post I will tell more about the meetings we had in Januária during this visit and the advances we are making in the project.

Barriers to access to information in Brazil

Today we will to talk a little more about the situation of access to information in the municipalities of Brazil.

Brazil has a lot of norms with instructions on access to information (you can see some of them in Portuguese here). On the municipal level, there is a federal law (see the text in Portuguese here) that says that information about public budget and expenditures should be made available in real time through the Internet.

Although this law was published two years ago, until now 68,5% municipalities with population between 50.000 and 100.000 have transparency websites. And this doesn’t mean that they have proper information on public budget!

If a person tries to access information by making a formal request to the responsible party, there are still a lot of barriers to the access. Some of the common excuses given to restrict information are:

“I can’t give you this information because it is secret”
“We don’t have enough employees to do this”

They also argue that the person that demands information should pay for the xerox copy of it. Another strategy is to mix a lot of documents and give them so the requester has to find the information there. So, although the law assures citizens their right to information, it still doesn’t details basic procedures how information should be given.

And what all this has to do with Januária?

Access to information is a powerful tool for the ones that want to change the situation of corruption. The case of Asajan (Associação Amigos de Januária) is an example of how information can empower the citizens: with help from people that gives them data on public expenditures they have helped the Judiciary in finding important cases of corruption.

Updates

The citizen media project Friends of Januária has had some important achievements in the last weeks. We are just waiting for some confirmations to share them with you, so be prepared for some good news in the next posts!

If you are interested in knowing more about access to information, here is a nice article by Suzanne J. Piotrowski: The Operationalization of Municipal Transparency: Primary Administrative Functions and Intervening Factors.

A great week

This was a very special week for the project Friends of Januária and we’re back to tell you about the last achievements we had.

First, we are very glad to announce that the project has a new partner: the human rights NGO Article 19 South America. Internationally known for it’s work in defense of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, thay are supporting the project and will participate in one of it’s workshops.

The contact with Article 19 started in April, together with other contacts we made with NGOs commited with the right to access to information and the fight against corruption. We talked to several organizations that showed us their interest in the project and there will to support us in some way. In the beggining of May we had a very important meeting with Article 19 to talk more about the project and last week they gave us their response. This was a great step to the sustentability of the project. We are very glad and thankful to our friends of Article 19 and we are sure that together we will make a great job!

During this week we also had an important meeting with our correspondent in Januária, the investigative journalist Fábio Oliva, (now officially) one of the coordinators of the project. Together with him we started having a lot of ideas of practical activities and exercises to do during the workshops. Oliva is a very experienced journalist and activist against corruption. His participation in this project will be essential to it success! Soon we will get together again to discuss more about the topics of the course.

Fábio is also in touch with local partners in Januária, including a school that might cooperate with a classroom with computers where the workshops could occur. We are now in touch with them so we can define a final schedule for the meetings.

As you can see, we have a lot of reasons to celebrate this week! Thank you all who were wishing us luck!!
Soon we will be back with more news!

Building the contents for the workshops

One of the most interesting parts of the citizen media project “Friends of Januaria” is preparing its content of the workshops. Among other things, this week we started planing the contents we want to discuss during the workshops. Initially, we have defined six main themes that will guide the course: access to information and freedom of expression as human rights; public administration and public budget; corruption; journalism techniques and tools; how to search information and, finally, how to store and process information.

The topics we listed may seem a little weird at first: why talk about the right of access to information and freedom of expression to people that are starting a course on how to access information and share it? Aren’t the concepts of these rights already clear to the population?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Brazil’s Federal Constitution recognizes the right to access to information and also signed the international standards that guarantees it. However, there are few and sparse pieces of legislation that effectively stipulate that all public institutions must give information to the citizens and the ways and conditions in which it must be given. This results in a culture of secrecy that little by little is being changed. As we said before, nowadays there are a lot of initiatives making public data available to the population – these are the ones we want to publicize in this project and teach people how to use them. But we also believe it is very important to contextualize the situation of access to information in freedom of expression in Brazil, so people can realize when their rights are being violated and fight against that, since we still have a long way to go.

That’s why we are planning to structure the workshops in a way that we can have a part with discussions on some topics of theory and a part with more practical techniques (how to make interviews, how to write in a blog, how to find information, etc.). The idea is also to plan activities for the participants to apply their knowledge and get in touch with the reality of the city by visiting places, interviewing people and researching in public databases.

During the next weeks, we hope to share in a deeper way more about each of these topics, since we are starting our researches and soon will start writing the material.

Just to let you know: this week we got in touch with some possible partners in Januaria to introduce the project and they all seemed very open and interested. Here in São Paulo we are still contacting some organizations in order to find the final financial support we need to buy the tickets to Januaria and we have some important meetings this week, so… wish us luck!!