Interview with Josenildo Guerra

“The absence of media regulation in Brazil constitutes the great difference in relation to the Portuguese reality”

Josenildo Guerra is a Full Professor at the Federal University of Sergipe (Brazil). He holds a degree in Social Communication from the Federal University of Espírito Santo (1994), a master’s degree (1998) and a PhD (2003) in Communication and Contemporary Culture from the Federal University of Bahia. He is in the CECS of the University of Minho until the end of June of 2018 for an investigation mission integrated in his post-doctoral entitled “Protocol of evaluation of journalistic quality Brazil-Portugal with focus in the editorial management: test of the instrument and the data base Q-Avalia”, which has the survision of researcher Manuel Pinto. He intends to test the software Q-Avalia, whose methodology and software were developed by himself. For this reason, he says that the dialogue with the colleagues of the CECS will offer important contributions to its improvement.



– “Protocol of evaluation of journalistic quality Brazil-Portugal with focus on editorial management: test of the instrument and database Q-Avalia” is the title of your postdoctoral research. Can you summarize your work?
There are basically three objectives: a) to carry out an experimental quality evaluation of Brazilian and Portuguese journalistic organizations; b) to test the editorial quality evaluation methodology; and c) to test Q-Avalia software, both (methodology and software) developed by me during the research “Quality Management in Journalistic Organizations: An initial panorama” (2013-2017), financed by the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). Both the methodology and the software are in its first versions, so the interlocution with UMinho colleagues, especially Professor Manuel Pinto, who supervises the research here, will offer important contributions to its improvement. This research is part of the work that I have been doing for some years in order to develop editorial quality assessment tools that help society and users of news services as well as journalistic organizations and professionals to recognize criteria and standards of editorial performance, in order to contribute to the reflection in search of a better journalism.

– In the comparative action that you have developed, so far, between the journalistic quality of Portugal and Brazil, what is your comment, although, I assume, you don´t have all the data yet.
Yes, I do not have the data yet, so I can not safely evaluate. A clearly distinct aspect between the two countries that may impact the evaluation is the fact that Portugal is a regulated media environment, while Brazil is not. For example, one of the evaluation indicators that I can use is the existence of an Editorial Project. In Portugal, journalistic productions are required to have their “editorial status”. In Brazil, this is a free decision of the companies. And many do not have a document like that.

– In what consists the database Q-Avalia? Is there a quantitative/qualitative cut? What kind of conclusions can you draw from your research data?
The Q-Avalia database is a structured system for conducting performance evaluations. It allows the creation of forms, the management of evaluation data with proper documentation, the processing of results and their publication. The data are produced quantitatively, that is, the categories, requirements, indicators and sub-indicators are defined and analyzed on a case-by-case basis in each analyzed production; of this analysis will result in a quantitative measurement, through the assignment of points, referring to the degree of satisfaction of the item evaluated in relation to the constant parameter of the indicator. This score is generated from each sub-indicator, and will result in the final score of the production, which can be compared with the final score of other productions evaluated. Any interested research group can create their evaluation form and carry it out, with system support. The forms generated for evaluation can be made available to two other segments: the users, who can be called upon to produce their evaluation; organizations that can be called upon to produce their own self-assessment. In theory, therefore, the system allows a comparison of results, in the same research, of the three segments: the researchers responsible for the research; users and organizations evaluated. The intention is that the system become a public database, in which data and research results can be made available for consultation by both the academic community and society and the organizations themselves. This would allow the creation of an environment for discussion and reflection on the journalistic quality, its parameters and methodologies, on the one hand, important from an academic and professional point of view, and on the other hand, could become an important tool of media literacy, as being able to engage the users of journalistic products in the discussion processes. This is the concept of the system. At some points, such as support for evaluations by research groups, we have already made assessments and it has matched. At other points, such as involving organizations to self-assess and evaluating users, we need testing. But, the system is in its first version, we are still finalizing some features, which results that we still have a lot to do. The expectation is that in this period at UMinho we’ll receive many contributions.

– Can you characterize, even in general terms, the quality of journalism practiced in Portugal and Brazil?
In very general terms, of course, because I do not have data yet to allow me a minimally based analysis. What strikes me at this moment are the differences arising from the media environment regulated in Portugal. The studies of the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERC), on political-partisan pluralism, for example, offer a reference for journalistic organizations. In Brazil, we have practically no instruments that regularly and systematically monitor vehicles. I think this impacts on the behavior of journalistic organizations, professionals and also news users, in order to generate expectations for better journalism. So, the absence of media regulation in Brazil constitutes the great difference in relation to the Portuguese reality.

– Do you think that the Internet has changed the media ecosystem due to its instantaneousness, gratuitousness and fragmentation of information? What implications does all this have for the profession of journalist?
The question is very complex. I will try to approach it from the angle that is most familiar to me. Undoubtedly, the internet has brought about profound changes in the media ecosystem and in the way how people relate to journalism. But I do not think that it has altered the core of the basic contracts that govern the activity, such as the commitment to the truthfulness of the information, with plurality and relevance, produced by professional agents who need to cultivate working methods and ethical procedures that inspire confidence society and its audience. The internet has widened the possibilities for journalism, some of them well used, others, unfortunately, not so. And it has brought difficulties, such as the problem of the financing model, which has affected the sector. From the point of view of the activity, the perception I have is that, to date, journalism has explored the possibilities of the Internet as a communication tool, all are present in internet sites, social networks, and multimedia, etc. But the possibilities of the internet for the production of more qualified information are still underutilized. For example, the research possibilities provided by the internet are many to overcome the fragmentation of information. But they are not exploited. Here, I believe it has not yet been found, at least in the case of the Brazilian experience, with which I am more familiar, the better match between new organizational routines and the possibilities of the internet. Much social networking is used, for example, and public databases are rarely used to gather relevant and consistent information on a regular basis. I work with the hypothesis that the knowledge management of the journalistic organizations themselves is limited, not exploiting the amount of information they themselves have or could have if they explored the possibilities of sophisticated information systems for their internal management. There is more emphasis on production processes geared towards the distribution of cross-platform content than the emphasis on enriching journalistic information. Moving forward in this area means having professionals more familiar with fundamentals of the area of information and computer systems, together with knowledge management. Something that has been sought by those who work with data journalism, I assess. I have worked on some of these fundamentals in another research, completed in 2012, with funding from CNPq, which resulted in the development of an experimental software, the Qualijor, geared to the management of journalistic production in a way oriented to quality. It is a system that seeks to organize content and manage internal information of a journalistic production, manage the flow of production and associate content and processes with editorial quality parameters. In it, we have related resources from the internet, quality and knowledge management, associated with a journalistic knowledge that is its basis. It is in this sense that I see the greatest professional challenges at this moment.

– How do you see the quality of journalism in the future?
First, we must not accept any quality claim dissociated from evaluation parameters and processes. It is common to have references, especially from companies, about the quality of their products, a self-attributed quality without the use of any consistent evaluation resource. The quality seal must be a consequence of evaluation processes, with clear criteria and methodology. It must demonstrate, in a transparent way, what are the editorial guidelines, the production processes and the effectiveness with which a journalistic production operates. In this way, I consider it indispensable to distinguish organizations and professionals committed and effective in honoring the responsibilities of the basic contracts that govern the activity. The issue of quality applied to journalism is challenging because it is an area in which there are many fluctuations of understanding about its responsibilities and possibilities, of its contracts to which I referred at the beginning. Even its contours. Therefore, the theme challenges us in identifying parameters and evaluation methodologies. It has a political dimension, the agreement on the responsibilities and the resulting evaluation criteria; it has a technical dimension, the ability to elaborate performance measurement methodologies with a view to proceeding with the correct evaluation of the practices. None of them is simple. Nonetheless, I believe that journalistic productions, be them public or private, small or large, may have in quality evaluation processes an important seal to back up their editorial credibility with their audience and society.

Text & photos: Vítor de Sousa