In the summer of 2001, frustration boiled over for community leaders in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.
To the extent that the Brazilian mainstream media covered favelas, it was only in terms of poverty and violence. There was no media directed at, or created by, those who actually lived in Brazil's low-income communities.
To address this, they teamed up with the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Viva Rio to create Viva Favela: a website that features media created by and for people who live in favelas throughout Brazil. But populating the site with high-quality citizen media would not be easy. How would they compel favela dwellers to blog and make videos about their community? And, considering low levels of internet access, would Brazilians have the
opportunity to read and watch this content? Would more far-flung netizens notice the project and see for themselves what life in the Brazilian slums is really like?
VivaRio, the NGO that launched Viva Favela, is the main antiviolence NGO in Rio de Janeiro. They run free internet-access centers and offer media and tech for favela residents. When they initially started, Viva Favela selected local correspondents within various communities and trained them in the production of blog posts and online video.
The 25 journalists and photojournalists that they initially hired come from and still live in the shantytowns.
In 2007, Rodrigo Noguiera was brought on to expand the project. The organization wanted to work on a larger scale and solicit more contributions.
"We want to create a huge network of community reporting in the favelas" throughout Brazil, says Rodrigo, who studied journalism at university in Rio de Janeiro and grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of Rio. He sees the project is as part of global social movement to highlight and promote media created by and for traditionally underrepresented populations like those in the favelas:
“Imagine what will appear in the next years, when the peripheries of the world start to create and spread their culture. We’re going to see different perspectives of the world, produced by the people that understand that culture.”
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
Viva Favela trains its contributors to use free or cheap cameras like the Flip Cam—and even cell phone cameras—and video editing software. In Rodrigo’s words:
“We have a multimedia room where we use Linux to edit video, and we use Drupal. In the beginning it was very hard to figure Linux out, because our contributors are used to working with Windows, and it’s complicated, but we want them to use different software and to know both operating systems....”
The challenge of grasping Linux for editing video was worth it for the Viva Favela project because of their focus on open-source tools. It’s not feasible to expect favela dwellers to rely on expensive software like Adobe Photoshop.
On the tools they use to promote the site, Rodrigo says:
“We use Twitter a lot to spread our stories. Twitter is our main focus to spread content of the website, because it’s very fast and easy for people to read, it’s short and link-focused. It is easy both for us and easier for our audience. Twitter isn’t popular among favela dwellers, but we are targeting people who don’t know the favela culture, and Twitter allows us to reach them. And Facebook as well—although most in the favelas do not use Facebook but rather Orkut.
We are working to build a bridge between people in and outside of the favelas, to create a network, introducing people to different communities. We have different kinds of people following us—from influential international organizations to community correspondents for the website—our following is diverse.”
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
The biggest obstacle they faced was the fact that very few people have regular access to the web, let alone computers in their houses. When they started in 2001, there were about five internet users for every 100 Brazilians. Now it’s closer to 40, but it’'s still a big challenge.
One ticket to access that Viva Favela has benefited from is the “Lan House,” similar to Internet cafes, which have boomed in popularity.
Attracting new contributors is of course a huge challenge for the Viva Favela team. But as Rodrigo says,
“It would be hard to get people to write for us if it weren’t for the fact that now they are already writing for their own blogs, and they see that by sharing the content on Viva Favela they can get a bigger audience. When we hired 25 paid writers at the beginning to produce one piece of content each, they all kept making more even without getting paid because they felt the site was a good opportunity to show off their abilities and stories—to get exposure.”
Viva Favela has successfully persuaded bloggers that they won’t claim ownership over anything that gets posted on the site, and they display their Creative Commons license prominently on the site’s footer along with their sponsors.
Rodrigo highlights political neutrality as the other central challenge. Especially with an election coming up, preventing people from using the site for their own, a politician’s, or a political party’s ends may prove taxing.
Rodrigo launched the new website in April, and in just one month they’ve published more new citizen media than in the whole year of 2009. They have 300 new correspondents.
“This number would have been impossible to achieve with a traditional website. We’ve opened the site so anyone can produce content, and the results are that we have doubled the number of visits and the time people are spending on the website. Our contributors are creating the new Viva Favela.”
By creating a website that posts and provides links to information of direct relevance to the young population of low-income communities, Viva Favela aims to open up the otherwise foreign world of the internet to this sector of society while at the same time shedding light on life in the Brazilian favelas for the rest of the world.
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