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Gustavo Faleiros

The state of data journalism in Brazilian newspapers

September 20, 2012
Photo: Gustavo Faleiros

A few weeks ago, Andy Kirk told us here how he would like to see more projects and learn more about the data visualization scene in Brazil. We couldn’t agree more, because there’s a lot of great stuff being made, especially when it comes to data journalism inside the newsrooms.

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to bring you this interview with journalist Gustavo Faleiros, who’s behind some of the most interesting Brazilian data journalism projects in recent years.

Gustavo has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pontificia Universidade Católica de Sao Paulo and a master’s degree in environment, politics and globalization from King’s College London. He started his career in 2001, writing for Valor Econômico, Brazil’s top financial newspaper.

In 2003, the World Bank awarded him a prize for a story on the water supply in rural areas near Sao Paulo, and in 2006, joined the staff of O Eco, an environmental news site. One year later, he became editor, and he remains there until today, now as project coordinator.

 

Gustavo introduced the use of satellite images and interactive maps in O Eco , and launched projects like oEcoAmazonia and Geonotícias. But it was with InfoAmazonia – a news-hub/data visualization project gathering content and reports from NGOs and news organizations across the nine-country Amazon rainforest region -, that his work came to the international spotlight.

Today, he divides his time with O Eco, his work as a Knight International Journalism Fellow and his data journalism training courses and projects with Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

Visual Loop (VL) – Tell us a bit about how you  became a journalist, and when was the first contact with data journalism.

Gustavo Faleiros – My career actually began in 2001, when I entered Valor Economico. Although I liked economic journalism, I never thought that this would be my first work. But I really enjoyed the experience and I think that it was there that began the whole relationship with data and visualization. We had a close relationship with the Art Department, led by Renato Brandão. We used to send scripts and suggestions for graphics. Since then, I’ve had a certain passion for maps and I remember one of the Art guys even gave me a nickname: ‘geographic worm’.

VL – The importance of data journalism has grown significantly in recent years. What are your personal references on the subject, both in terms of individual authors and publications?

GF- The truth is that I got into data journalism without really knowing I was getting there. Since 2006, when I started working at the environmental news agency O Eco, I began collecting data on fires and deforestation. Back then, I had as main references the people who worked with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) within the INPE (National Institute for Space Research), or Carlos Souza, head of the geo-technology laboratory Imazon. I also had training with the crew from Google, specifically their outreach team, led by Rebecca Moore. Sean Askay, for example, is the guy who makes several tours of 3D on Google Earth, and with him I learned a lot. A couple of years ago, I became more seriously interested in looking out for professionals examples in the field of data visualization and computer-assisted reporting, and the number of references doesn’t stop growing. In Brazil, I really admire the analysis made by José Roberto Toledo and Marcelo Soares. Abroad, Aron Pilhofer‘s team at the New York Times has done things that have changed the world.

VL – In your opinion, how is Brazil doing, in terms of data journalism? We know that the major newspapers and magazines are already investing in teams and projects inside their newsrooms, but what about the newspapers from smaller cities, or even other capitals besides São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro?

GF – From what I’ve seen, I can say we’re doing pretty good. I can’t talk about smaller, local newspapers, but in the major cities there’s a lot of good stuff happening. Bahia’s A Tarde and Paraná’s Gazeta do Povo, for instances, were both finalists in the first Data Journalism Awards. Recife’s Jornal do Commercio is also making some investments, and I’m sure a lot more can be found on Rio Grande do Sul’s Zero Hora, and on Manaus’ Crítica. In São Paulo and Rio, Valor, Estado, Folha and O Globo, all of them are investing in this field, mostly resulting in new interactive visualizations.

In the major cities there’s a lot of good stuff happening. Bahia’s A Tarde and Paraná’s Gazeta do Povo, for instances, were both finalists in the first Data Journalism Awards. Recife’s Jornal do Commercio is also making some investments, and I’m sure a lot more can be found on Rio Grande do Sul’s Zero Hora, and on Manaus’ Crítica.

VL – A new initiative that promises to facilitate the dissemination of data journalism is the recently announced Manual Periodismo Iberoamericano de Datos (we talked about it here), in which you have some participation. How are the works progressing?

GF – I know Miguel Paz, Chilean journalist who is organizing the group for making it all happen. I offered myself to help with information about Brazil. But that’s all I have now.

VL – And what about InfoAmazonia? What can you tell us about this project?

GF – InfoAmazonia is a 4-year dream that came true, the evolution of everything I’ve been doing with the analysis of data on deforestation and fires at O Eco for all these years. The ultimate goal is that displaying this information with such impacting visuals will help to elevate the debate on public policy in this region to another level. And I’m not just talking about Brazil, I think one of our main tasks in this project is to make Brazilians understand that the Amazon is not ours alone, it belongs to 9 countries. For example, within the InfoAmazonia project we will soon launch an entire set of visual content with special reports and maps to show the relationship between the Andes and the Amazon, a relationship that occurs through the waters. Without one, the other doesn’t exist.

InfoAmazonia is a 4-year dream that came true, the evolution of everything I’ve been doing with the analysis of data on deforestation and fires at O Eco for all these years. The ultimate goal is that displaying this information with such impacting visuals will help to elevate the debate on public policy in this region to another level.

VL – The way we get news and information is changing rapidly, forcing newspapers and magazines to reinvent themselves in this new digital world. Risking a bit of ‘futurism’, from a journalistic point of view and looking at what has changed between the last two Olympics (2008 and 2012), how will information be consumed by 2016, when Rio de Janeiro hosts the games?

GF – I think the path we are treading now is very interesting. A challenging one for journalists, of course! By 2016, in my opinion, we’ll be witnessing the consolidation of the concept that if people want to know any information, a machine will answer them. This is what Google’s voice activated searches and Apple SIRI bring us. What was the score? Who’s the champion? You won’t need to open a website to find that out, your phone, your tablet will answer you, with data. But organizing this information in an interesting way and, obviously, to be able to get inside people’s heads with analyzes that go beyond the raw web 3.0 data, that will be the biggest challenge for journalists

What was the score? Who’s the champion? You won’t need to open a website to find that out, your phone, your tablet will answer you, with data. But organizing this information in an interesting way and, obviously, to be able to get inside people’s heads with analyzes that go beyond the raw web 3.0 data, that will be the biggest challenge for journalists.

VL – What about the near future, Gustavo, anything you want to share, any new projects?

GF – Nobody knows the future. But right now, we’re trying to take this model of mapping information and crossing it with news to Africa, let’s hope it works out and we can be of some assistance there.

VL – Thank you, Gustavo!

GF – Thanks, and keep up the great work!

 

We thank Gustavo for making the time to give us this interview, and if you want to learn more about his work, check out his ICFJ profile, visit  O Eco and follow his Twitter updates.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.

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