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Scientific Divulging

At the head of the news

José Hamilton Ribeiro wins the prestigious award in journalism from Columbia University

eduardo cesarIn a career in which the accumulation of experience usually takes the professionals off the street and pushes them towards bureaucratic posts, the journalist José Hamilton, 71 years of age and with more than 50 years in the profession, continues on reporting. For 25 years, with microphone in his grasp, he has produced special material for the program Globo Rural, which goes on the air every Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. on Rede Globo, aimed at the interests of the man in the countryside. José Hamilton, who has ended up conquering the prestigious international journalism prize, the Maria Moors Cabot Award, conceded by Columbia University, kicked off his career in 1954, as a newspaper reporter – he remained for six years with the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. After he helped to create magazines such as Quatro Rodas (Four Wheels) and the extinct Realidade ( Reality). It was when working at Realidade, in the second half of the decade of the 1960s, which a dramatic experience marked the life of José Hamilton and he won space in the history of Brazilian journalism. When a war correspondent in Vietnam, he lost a leg in a land mine explosion in 1968 – his report in the form of a diary about the war was turned into a book,  O gosto da Guerra [The taste of war], recently re-launched by the publisher Editora Objetiva.

The less notorious side of his trajectory is his divulging of science. Of the seven Esso Journalism awards that he has received, four were conferred for reports on scientific information, about themes such as organ transplants, ecology and the ailments that kill Brazilians. “My interest for science began back in school when I wrote an essay in order to participate in a competition about the soil. I went to speak to a teacher in order to write about the issue and he gave me a lesson about the nutrition of plants”, recalls José Hamilton. “I was enchanted with that conversation and the world that he had revealed to me. This sensation is always repeated until today when I go to interview researchers”, he says. In 1999, José Hamilton was graced with the José Reis Award for Scientific Divulging, in the modality of Scientific Journalism, conceded by the National Scientific and Technological Development Council (CNPq).

The recently conquered award from Columbia University has been conceded for 68 years  to newspaper professionals who have demonstrated a commitment with the freedom of press and an understanding of inter American relations when covering questions concerning Latin America. As well as him, others who have been awarded the prize include the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Ginger Thompson, head of the branch in Mexico City of the newspaper The New York Times, and Matt Moffett, the South American correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Each one will receive a medal and US$ 5,000 at a ceremony during the month of October. Curiously enough, José Hamilton didn’t even bother to register. His son-in-law, the journalist Sérgio Dávila, a correspondent with the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper in the United States took the initiative and presented the candidature of the veteran journalist, on verifying that his biography fitted into the scope for the award.

At a ceremony that paid homage to José Hamilton Ribeiro during a recent journalism congress, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper’s ombudsman , Marcelo Beraba, risked a definition of a veteran journalist: “His reports interest one by the pleasure of the text, by accompanying a well told story and they prove that journalism, well done, doesn’t have to be boring, pedantic or hermetic”. A teller of untiring tales, it is José Hamilton Ribeiro himself who searches out the topics that will transform themselves into the reports on Globo Rural. “One theme feeds another. We go out to do a particular report and end up getting involved in other interesting themes”, says the man who spends at least 15 days per month traveling through Brazil. Researchers are frequent personalities in his material. One of the reports that he most enjoyed doing, shown some three years ago, showed the strange phenomenon of termites that shone during the night in the interior of Mato Grosso do Sul State. “It was difficult to manage to register the images at night, because the light was weak and the cameras didn’t have the sensitivity to capture them”, says José Hamilton. “The material went on the air, but I’m thinking of repeating it because I know that camera technology has been improving. This, if we haven’t deforested everything and destroyed the termites there” Professor Etelvino Bechara, from the University of Sao Paulo, assisted the reporter in explaining the event: larvae from fireflies install themselves in the termite wood and produce the luminous effect when they capture termites in flight for eating.

In another memorable report, he dived into a river in the state of Mato Grosso wetlands in order to demonstrate how the selective fishing of species such as the dourado (Salminus brasiliensis), the piraputanga (Brycon hilarii) and the curimbatá (Prochilodus lineatus) had effected the life cycles of these species, a result of overfishing. The phenomenon was revealed by researchers such as the young biologist Izabel Corrêa Boock Garcia, from the Postgraduate Program in Ecology and Conservation of the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS).

“Human soul”
By comparing data from the decades of the 1970’s to 1990’s and the years 2000 until 2005, Izabel verified that the dourado currently reproduces itself with a size that is 40% smaller. That of the curimbatá has had a loss of 18.5%. The effect will be an attempt of these species to more quickly re-establish the shoals defalcated by fishing. “The Globo Rural is not an agronomy-technical program. It covers the world that is lived in the hinterland, but its dimension is of the human soul”, says José Hamilton.

Years ago reporter José Hamilton Ribeiro was invited to stand as a candidate for the presidency of the Brazilian Associate of Scientific Journalism, which had been going through a difficult moment, with few members and under a threat of extinction. His two year passage in command of the entity was marked by the organizing of the 6th Brazilian Congress on Scientific Journalism, which took place in the city of Florianopolis during 2000. “I believe that I fulfilled my mission. When I ended my term, two postulant candidates came forward for the post, in a clear sign of the revitalization of the association”, he says. The journalist transported his living within the rural world into fiction books such as Pantanal,[Wetlands], Amor baguá [Untamed love] and Vingança do índio cavaleiro [Revenge of the Horseman Indian] (1997), and he wrote about other events in his reporting experience, such as Gota de sol [Drop of the Sun] (1992), about the trajectory of the orange tree in agriculture, and Senhor-Jequitibá [Mr. Jequitibá  (a tree in Brazil)] (1979), in which he established a dialogue with the mahogany rose tree that graced the Municipal Palace of Campinas. Shortly he will launch two titles: a collection of reports and a book about the 260 best country music styles during the latest times.