portrait journalism

Image: Cyrus Saurius
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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

More and more we see young people entering a journalism school not to face governments, reveal power schemes or investigate crimes, but to have... a little picture in the newspapers

What led journalism to levels as low as those we see today in newspapers, radio and TV stations? How could technological advancement have opened the gate to so much mediocrity, bad manners and flattery? At what historical moment did journalism schools – policed ​​during dictatorship times for being “leftist dens” – train so many right-wingers, conservatives and reactionaries?

The profession of journalist emerged as a social need, and it didn't take long to be recognized. Of course, before that there were the heralds, the narrators, the fairground singers, the gossips, the king's emissaries, the graffiti writers on walls (yes, they are older than journalism!).

With the invention of Gutenberg, they came to exist as a profession. News reporters, early on. Over time, some became columnists, others even editorialists. But, until the end of the XNUMXth century, they constituted an almost secret group, unknown to the general public. Anonymity guaranteed them the possibility of mixing with the people, listening to conversations in bars, clubs and social gatherings, political parties and unions. Many used pseudonyms. Anyone who knew a journalist personally already had a certain amount of power, positive or negative. It could rat him out or open doors. The prestige of journalism grew so much that, even in the last century, it came to be called the Fourth Estate.

With the advent of television, the journalist started to have a face, and became a star. That guy or subject who appears every day in prime time started to be teased at airports, restaurants and hotels, photographed, idolized, became the subject of gossip magazines, ask for autographs when he is seen in public square. By the way, they asked, in the XNUMXth century. today do selfies.

The internet explosion, as we know, completely revolutionized the transit of information on the planet. The circulation of newspapers and weekly magazines collapsed, and communication entrepreneurs quickly created websites to recover the loss. This is where portrait journalism grows, imitating TV, where each columnist takes shape, smiles or scowls. The print media adopted the concept, and portrait journalism is increasingly seen in columns, articles and comments. On the net, in magazines, in newspapers, in the media in general.

And the journalist became a celebrity. What artist doesn't want to have his portrait published in the newspaper every day? Musicians, actors, plastic artists, dancers and writers try, few succeed. Journalist, yes. The roasted zucchini recipe, artistic gossip, palace intrigue or economic analysis is topped by the portrait. They are teased in airports, restaurants and hotels, etc.

This character can no longer investigate a news story. He cannot enter a union assembly, a café, a demonstration, a congress, a football stadium, and do his work as an observer-analyst. He is a simulacrum of a journalist, a mere news presenter, a talking-head. The most tragic: it became news. The people want to know what he does in his leisure time, what he eats, why he got married, why he took a break. A journalist should never be in the news, said one of the pioneers of the profession.

This explains the decline of investigative journalism in the mainstream press. In order to carry out a decent, in-depth and impartial investigation, the journalist (or detective) has anonymity as one of his main tools. Your face cannot be recognized, your private life must not be exposed. But vanity is one of the seven deadly sins, as we know. And more and more we see young people entering a journalism school not to face governments, reveal power schemes or investigate crimes, but to have... a little picture in the newspapers! This vanity is naturally exploited by the owners of communication companies, whose interests are very different. Information is business, it is a game of interests, it is merchandise. And the young person who wants to have their portrait in the newspaper will quickly learn the power game to achieve their goal. Wagging its tail at the bosses and barking at the bosses' enemies.

"O tempora! O mores!”, as Cicero would say, a Roman politician and orator who has no portrait in the gallery of the precursors of journalism. “Vanitas vanitatum, and omnia vanitas”, would complement Saint Augustine…

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

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