Two men and a newspaper

Hélio Costa Nogueira da Gama Filho and Jorge Fernando Gallina
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By CARLOS ALVES MÜLLER*

Hélio Gama and Jorge Gallina were fundamental to the newspaper's project of recognized quality Southern Diary

With an interval of less than a month, Rio Grande do Sul lost two exceptional journalists who were also two extraordinary human figures: Hélio Costa Nogueira da Gama Filho and Jorge Fernando Gallina. They lost and didn't miss them because they were away from Rio Grande do Sul journalism, professionally banned. They were incomparable to each other, but they had some common characteristics: the main ones being moral integrity and professional competence that are not abundant in the environment.

It was said by Hélio Gama that it was a rare example of publisher modern, English expression that designates the press man who knows all sectors of a newspaper, from journalism itself to circulation, including the industrial area, etc. Jorge Fernando Gallina didn't go that far, but he flew very high, mastering the technical and aesthetic aspects of graphic production. With each edition, based on a common basic project, the layout of the pages was light and attractive, enhancing the texts without sacrificing them.

Many people may not have even been aware of the double death and the talents that were disappearing. The published obituaries were bureaucratic and combined irrelevant details with the absurd omission of the main achievement of both, the conception and publication of Diário do Sul, an audacious and ephemeral attempt to offer Rio Grande do Sul a newspaper that suited its needs and desires. . The project, when mentioned in the obituaries, was just that, an incidental quote without references to anything substantial.

On some occasion it was heard from professionals linked to the local “big press” that the Southern Diary It didn’t survive because “it was too good”. Cynicism is barely hidden behind these words that first and foremost insult the tens (few, but growing) of thousands of readers who welcomed the newspaper and, because they wanted a quality newspaper to call their own. These readers were both demanding and tolerant.

Demanding in relation to content and tolerant of some flaws – possible delays in delivery, for example, because, they said, if they read it at night, it would still contain information and analysis that they would not have found elsewhere during the day. Furthermore, the statement does not fail to contain two somewhat surprising truths: the recognition of the quality of daily and the confession that the poor quality of others was not fortuitous.

The project of the Southern Diary It was an old idea of ​​Hélio Gama that gained momentum with the collapse of Caldas Júnior, in which unsuspecting observers of the company's misdeeds did not understand how a newspaper with several tens of thousands of subscribers could fail. As is known, the bankrupt estate would be sold in the meantime and the People's Mail relaunched as a pastiche of its previous version, something enough, however, to disrupt the market.

For Hélio Gama and those he attracted to the adventure in the best sense of the word (all identified in the file always published on page 2), it was not a utopia. Or rather, it was in what a utopia can have as something viable, even visible, but that distances itself and becomes more challenging the closer we get to it. The biggest challenge was how to build a capitalist company without capital, a problem that is not original, especially in Brazil. This was the main source of the difficulties of our enterprise.

Without capital, the daily it did not have its own graphics park. Outside of the newsroom, everything had to be contracted to third parties and it is clear that it was impossible to compose and print a newspaper among competitors for obvious reasons and others not so much. As a result, the newspaper was printed in Santa Cruz do Sul, 153 km away. Without capital, it was not possible to have stock of the main raw material, paper, which was sometimes only obtained shortly before the next day's edition was printed. Without capital, it was extremely difficult to face the double abuse of economic power by the two main competitors: low-cost advertising sales, as long as they were exclusive, and subsidized circulation.

The purpose of this text, however, is not to cry over spilled ink or complain about competition that was not loyally tough but rather did what it knew how to do and was tolerated. As the great Mexican comedian Cantinflas said: “Are we going to fight like gentlemen or like what we really are?”

The best way to evaluate the project Southern Diary is to remember the international, Brazilian and state context of those brief two years of the equally so-called brief 20th century. The launch of daily was scheduled for the beginning of 1986. For various reasons, including the difficulties already mentioned, it only occurred at the end of the year, when the Cruzado Plan, which had tried to reorder the Brazilian economy and brought a temporary expansion of consumption – including newspapers – foundered. The closure occurred at the end of 1988, almost coinciding with the promulgation of the new Constitution.

Internationally, the turmoil was intense. The United States was governed by Ronald Reagan in his second term and with his Hollywood belligerence. Great Britain was under the authority of the similar Margaret Thatcher. Together, they led the rise of neoliberal economic policies.

In the opposite direction, in May 1988, François Mitterrand, a former member of the resistance to Nazism and the first socialist to preside over France since the Second World War, was re-elected. In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeevitch Gorbachev, intending to regenerate communism, led it to its implosion in Europe. In China, Deng Xiaoping led the Middle Kingdom through seas never before navigated by the Great Helmsman Mao Zedong.

These were “interesting times” and the dominant news agencies (AP, UPI, AFP) and the newspapers that had them as the main sources of information from abroad were in debt while the readers of the daily had access to news and analysis from some of the best journalistic outlets in the world (The New York Times, The Washington Post, Le Monde, Asahi Sumbum, El País, Clarín, Inter Press Service, in addition to magazines Foreign Affairs, BusinessWeek e Rolling Stones, among others), all translated and edited by a team that knew what they were doing.

Brazil, which had frustrated its dream of returning to direct elections for president of the Republic, lived poorly with José Sarney's erratic government, but between February 01, 1987 and October 5, 1988, little less than the period in which the daily circulated, followed the work of the National Constituent Assembly. Its 559 members were not exactly Brazilians of impeccable conduct, including bionics and centões, but they were indisputably superior to parliamentarians from later legislatures. Its president, Ulysses Guimarães, gave us one of his memorable phrases when presenting the new Charter: “we hate and disgust the dictatorship”. In another, less well-known, he would say: “If you think this Congress is bad, wait for the next one.” He was a prophet.

The new Constitution constituted, if I may be almost redundant, a new Brazil. At least from a formal point of view. And, as would be seen over the 30 years since then, it was far from having the desired robustness. More than 350 provisions depended on ordinary laws to be drafted in order for them to be fully effective (20 years later, 51 were still missing); not to mention the 132 amendments introduced at the time of writing this text.

Brazil is not only a hostile country towards amateurs, in addition to professionals, it requires well-informed citizens, who were those who daily tried to deserve as readers. That's why he set up a branch in Brasília, during the Constituent Assembly – it was nothing more than a handful of brave people, led by a veteran from the (Center) West and made up of young journalism warriors who still shine today.

In economics, it is enough to remember that between 1986 and 1994 Brazil changed monetary standards five times, twice between February 1986 and January 1989. It is no coincidence that there were those who considered a month to be a long term. Factual information was not enough. It was necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff and not the wheat outside. O daily He didn't fight with the news, with the facts, but he wasn't satisfied with it. He sought to give readers contexts and reasonable expectations regarding the facts reported. Furthermore, not being linked to other economic interests (real estate, agro-industrial, etc.), it could position itself editorially only in terms of the principles set out in its first issue: the uncompromising defense of democracy, support for the regulated market economy, the protection of human rights, the reduction of social inequalities and the promotion of culture.

The Gauchos have always boasted of their uniqueness in relation to the rest of Brazil, seen as the closest (not always) friendly country. On some occasions this was taken to a paroxysm. This is what happened when the Legislative Assembly, on the initiative of the government leader, declared President José Sarney persona non grata in the State. This the daily cannot inform because it had stopped circulating a few months before. But he carefully reported on the hardships of governor Pedro Simon, elected in November 1986.

These were still Varig's times (because Panair had already ceased to exist, absorbed by Varig itself). The largest aviation company in Latin America was from Rio Grande do Sul. Like her, in several sectors, companies with headquarters and shareholding control in Rio Grande do Sul were leaders in their respective markets. The “degauchization” of the state economy had not yet intensified, but a kind of extratropical cyclone (as the storms would later be called) was already causing great damage. In 1985, the Central Bank began the intervention and subsequent liquidation of Banco Sulbrasileiro (the largest private bank in the State) and, subsequently, other, let's say, regional financial “institutions” such as Habitasul and Maisonnave.

Banrisul, BRDE and Caixa Econômica Estadual were practically paralyzed (and bankrupt) because “The previous government (Jair Soares), pressed by needs, and violating the country's banking rules, had compromised around 70% of the banks' credit capacity state officials”, as economics professor Argemiro Brum reported in a book published in 1988. It was not the only cursed legacy of Jair Soares. Still according to Argemiro Brum, when Pedro Simon took over, “around 65% of the direct administration debt (Treasury) and more than half of the indirect administration debt (state-owned companies) were due or would be due during 1987”.

It cannot be forgotten that Jair Soares, a faithful servant of the dictatorship, in 1982 was the first governor elected since the also hardened conservative Ildo Meneghetti, 20 years earlier. But the election was in a single round and he was declared the winner with just 38,16% of the votes (just over 22 thousand votes for Pedro Simon and just over 500 thousand for Alceu Collares – Olívio Dutra, from the PT, had 50 thousand). He won in only 114 of the then 244 municipalities, including Porto Alegre and other important cities. Politically, it was a fragile and contested government and therefore economically inept.

The world and Brazil were not easy to understand and as for Rio Grande do Sul, well... let's just say that the gauchos had a lot to discuss about their relationship. To do this, a lot of reliable information and analysis was needed, not exactly on a couch. This meant that the journalistic sameness of previous decades, which avoided difficult topics, preferred to dole out easy praise, and provided diverse frameworks for authoritarian governments at all levels, fell far short of what was needed.

O daily and its readers knew how to distinguish culture from entertainment, a notable personality from a frivolous celebrity, they knew that in a quality newspaper there was a place for news about sports and even crime, without concession to vulgarity, with equally sober and well-written texts. To these needs the daily He proposed to respond and did so while he could. Not by chance, he quickly accumulated reporting awards.

The “articles”, as they say in professional jargon, prepared under the guidance of competent editors, were accompanied by photos and illustrations produced by a small group of authentic artists, who did not see them as mere images on the topics covered, but rather, many Sometimes playing with light and shadow, angles and original perspectives, they were a visual way of revealing something about people and facts that the texts were unable to reveal.

That said, dear reader, if the idea that the Southern Diary stopped circulating because it was “too good” continues to resonate in your thoughts, as in mine, I propose a reasoning. Compare the world, Brazil and Rio Grande do Sul at the time and their exponents in politics, economics and culture with current equivalents. No, let's not slip into nostalgia and idealization of the past. We will easily see that there was a complexity in them, a kind of fearlessness incomparable with the current mediocrity. As the saying goes, “one button is enough for a sample”, just one example: Ulysses Guimarães x Arthur Lira.

Now compare the brief experience of Southern Diary with the current printed media in Rio Grande do Sul. Yes, without false modesty we can say that the Southern Diary It had several problems, but it was very good! Its competitors, however, were already what they are today, now even poorer.

Hélio Gama and Jorge Galina did not die out of Rio Grande do Sul journalism because they wanted to. Their gentle and daring souls are summarized in the last sentence of a statement by Hélio Gama more than 20 years ago: “They call me an adventurer, but one thing is certain: I never play games”. I didn't ask Hélio, Gallina, or the incomparable editor of the daily What assessment would you make of that feat today?

I'm sure that, with a mischievous smile, they would agree with Darcy Ribeiro when he said: “I have failed in everything I have tried in life... But failures are my victories. I would hate to be in the place of someone who beat me.” Everyone would probably object: “We don't fail at everything we try. We have not failed in daily. "

*Carlos Alves Müller, journalist, holds a PhD in social sciences from UnB.


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