Adversative headlines

Image: Marta Nogueira


One of the most painful hardships of professional journalism today is trying to speak to both poles at the same time.

Last Saturday, March 2nd, the three main Brazilian newspapers carried almost identical headlines. The Globe, at the top of the first page, proclaimed: “Brazil grows 2,9%, but the drop in investments is a warning”. O State St. Paul sought a more detailed statement: “GDP rises 2,9%, but investment falls and could hinder further development”. A Folha de S. Paul risked a variation: “GDP grows 2,9% in 2023, but stagnates in the second half”.

In the center of the three, the adversative conjunction “but” prevailed, amid two contradictory statements. In the first statement, before the “but”, the news was the positive result of the Brazilian economy in 2003 (almost at the same level as the previous year, which reached the 3% mark), which positively surprised the so-called “markets”. The second statement, after the “but”, talked about the snags. O State e The Globe They warned that, with interest rates still high, the capital invested in production is shrinking, which does not encourage anyone. At Sheet, the negative highlight was the decline in economic activity at the end of last year, foreshadowing a downward trend for 2024.

The first three pages, instead of trumpeting a fact, communicated a dissonant, distressed ambivalence: things weren't as bad as some supposed, but they also weren't as good as some expected. Neither there nor here; not so much to the sea, not so much to the tidal wave.

As soon as the editions began to circulate, they received virulent reactions on social media. Nothing new under the sun. For half of the noisy cybercrowds, the Brazilian press is communist and constantly offers unworthy concessions to the President of the Republic and his ministers. This half wants to fire all the reporters and replace them with influencers Bolsonarists. For the other half, which makes almost the same noise, professional newsrooms have moved completely to the right. In the view of this fringe, Saturday's headlines were further proof that the big newspapers insist on not highlighting the federal government's notable achievements; When they can't omit them, they throw in a “but” to neutralize them.

The argument has its logic there. Headlines articulated around a “meanwhile” or a “nevertheless” are not common – and they are not common because they cause strangeness. Editors tend to avoid them, as they can come across as confusing, as if they want to deny what they say. A self-respecting headline categorically states an event, firmly establishing a judgment of fact. When it has a “but” in the middle, it cannot fulfill its function satisfactorily; Readers look at the first page and gasp: after all, was the economic performance last year good or bad?

For these reasons, the argument that has its logic also has its problems. The public that got angry has its right, it has its legitimacy. Other than that, your protest doesn't explain much. Class antipathies often appear in the media, which is not discussed. Ideological preferences are betrayed here and there. However, adversarial headlines should not be credited exclusively to night editors. They come from less immediate – and more determining – motivations.

If we want to understand what is happening with journalistic coverage, we must look less at the inclinations and moral values ​​of those who cover the front page and more at the mood of the public for whom that front page is intended. If we analyze the newspaper readership a little more closely, we will see that the “but” in large letters has more to do with it than with the text style of the newsrooms.

We live in a divided society. This split, which takes the form of a hostile fissure, helped write the three headlines. If you doubt it, let's go.

In a recent book, Biography of the Abyss: how polarization divides families, challenges companies and compromises the future of Brazil (Editora HarperCollins), Felipe Nunes and Thomas Traumann state: “Lulistas and Bolsonaristas believe in a country so different from what the other defends that it is as if they lived in opposite societies”. The sentence is accurate, and the data on which it is based are indisputable. Each of the poles sees a different country, and this not in terms of opinions, but in terms of facts. One side does not recognize the reality described by the other as true.

Because one of the most painful hardships of professional journalism today is trying to speak to both poles at the same time. It is an inglorious discursive exercise that, daily, challenges its own impossibility. Challenge and lose.

For a hub in Brazil, last year's GDP growth is a resounding historical feat that should be celebrated in public squares with popular festivals and national holidays. For the other pole, flimsy investments will lead us to total disaster. Waiting for an adversarial conjunction to sew a peaceful union between one side of Brazil and the other party is a sigh of optimism, a vote of confidence in the deteriorating public sphere. Faced with irreconcilable crowds, what can the press still do?

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.

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