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It came out on the National News

Media widens its space for science and technology and launches a series of new products over the next few months

Today science, technology and innovation are terms and issues that are visible in the Brazilian media in such volume and natural setting that their lack of coverage, which they merit, up until close to a decade ago, now appears astonishing – with the exceptions of habit, clearly. Considered as strategic inputs for socioeconomic development, and sometimes as valuable elements for the determined creations of popular culture, the advances in the area of science and technology – related to: transgenic organisms, cloning, therapies with stem cells, nuclear energy, space investigation and exploration and many other fields – they have had their room noticeably widened over the last few years within the various means of national communication. And more: in this process, science and technology produced in the country have stopped being discriminated against, if not having, frankly, even gone on to be valued.

For example, the change can be clearly perceived on the Journal Nacional [National News] of the Rede Globo TV network, the news program with the largest audience on Brazilian television, which daily reaches tens of millions of people. It also shows itself significantly in printed journalism where, on a par with the increase in the space for science in traditional vehicles, over the last few years one can register that there has been the launch of some important labels linked exclusively to science and technology.

As if these were not enough, new publications are being at this very moment prepared to heat the editorial market. The powerful Abril group, for example, responsible for the magazine with the largest print run that is linked to the spreading of science, the monthly Superinteressante [Super Interesting] (400,000 copies), which has just completed its 200th edition, has put on the agenda for the end of July the launch of the magazine Sapiens, with an initial print run of 40,000 copies. And finally, the on-line publications make up a special chapter of the recently national climb in scientific diffusion.

Certainly ten out of ten of the close to 70,000 Brazilian researchers and a good portion of the other professionals who closely follow scientific issues would like to know what is capable of transforming data and results of scientific research into news for the Journal Nacional.

According to its chief editor, the journalist William Bonner, basically what is reported is what is new – some scientific conquest, something new in research –, that which is possibly immediately applicable or which is without doubt important s a step in the conquest of something such as a medicine or a determined economic benefit in the near future. “If we carried out an analysis of all that went on the air over the last few years, certainly issues linked to health would come out on top; or themes of circumstantial interest, such as the energy crisis, material about research into how to save energy or alternative energy sources.”

Bonner recognizes that health is truly the easiest theme to register on the television, in particular news about new paths towards a cure for an illness. Anyhow, according to him, the array of issues concerning science is dynamic on the Journal Nacional . “We don’t have science editors, but we have a list of consultants available to us, which is a basic need for dealing with scientific themes with quality and rigor.” Indeed, some criteria were suggested as the result of a report in 2000 by one of these consultants, the medical doctor Caio Rosenthal, from São Paulo, which has transformed itself into a sort of bible for the editorial staff, he explains.

They include the obligatory checking of four items before a report or news item goes on the air: check that the researcher used the correct scientific methodology in his experiment; if the research was with human beings, then if the code of the ethics commission was followed; if the volunteers for the experiment signed terms that they were conscious of the risks and if the research was or is going to be published and in what scientific magazine of importance.

Bonner admits that the fact that the JN is directed towards a very large public, made up of groups from different social and economic classes, creates difficulties as to the most adequate manner of approaching the questions on science. “We have to be sufficiently clear to the public of low educational level, without offending the intelligence of those who have a higher level of knowledge. Both of them are our spectators.” The language strategy adopted is to always work with analogies and with examples from the repertoire of knowledge of the lesser educated public.

But a precious piece of information about the perception of the public relative to scientific questions came about, according to Bonner, from a large qualitative piece of research carried out at the start of this year for internal consumption by the Globo network, in which the broadcaster, among other things, wanted to know to what point some complex themes covered had been understood by its large public.

“The result was frustrating but at the same time productive: in the series concerning transgenics, though we had used didactic forms to deal with the theme, the perception was very low. The spectator tended to look for objective responses to the questions, and in this particular case, what remained was the existing debate about the question of modified organisms. Realizing the failure to reach the objective helped us to search for an understanding as to why the didactic terms used were not sufficient”, the journalist says.

Visceral linkage
It seems that there is a strict and essential linkage, even obvious to a certain degree, between the notable growth of scientific research in Brazil over the last ten years and the systematic expansion of scientific diffusion in the country during this period. And highlights that this expansion can be seen, shall we say, throughout all of the production chain of information concerning actions and results of scientific research: of the more specialized vehicles and closer to the producers of science, such as the news agencies, sites and university magazines, development agencies and scientific associations, to the large means of mass communication, such as television.

Clearly one could tell a long history of the spreading of science in Brazil, whose roots go back to the 19th century. And there is no doubt that José Reis, with his work that began back in the decade of the 40s in the 20th century at the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, is the incontestable pioneer of Brazilian scientific journalism.

However, a more systematic observation of the panorama of scientific diffusion shows that in the 80’s its more consistent bases for this diffusion were established at the end of the decade of the 90’s, that this diffusion widened in an extraordinary form – almost as if it were the counter balance of the evolution that can be verified in national scientific production. Thus the monthly magazine Ciência Hoje [Science Today], from the Brazilian Society of the Progress of Science (SBPC), was launched during 1982, and reached a print run of around 70,000 copies in the second half of the decade and sales close to 50,000 copies.

And again in the second half of the 80’s the Revista Brasileira de Tecnologia [Brazilian Technology Magazine], from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), in its journalistic form, with a print run of 25,000 copies, a large part of which was sold to subscribers – the magazine disappeared in 1990, during the Collor government. In the environment of the major press, the Superinteressante magazine was launched in 1987, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper launched in 1989 a weekly supplement on science that would last until 1992 (when it gave way to the science section) and in 1990 another monthly magazine, the Globo Ciência [Globo Science] was launched, which was after re-baptized as Galileu [Galileo]. One should emphasize that the Globo Ciência was originally launched as a television program in 1984, which indeed marked the pioneerism of Rede Globo in scientific diffusion within the powerful television media.

The accumulation of scientific competence in Brazil during the 80’s and 90’s would have a fundamental influence on the size, on the ambitions and in the deeds of national scientific research close to the turn of the 20th to the 21st century. And it is possible to understand today how this phenomenon would produce a powerful effect upon scientific diffusion in Brazil starting from that moment, composing step by step a species of new scientific culture in the country that today continues to widen.

In the footprint of this widening scope, as well as the new magazine from the Abril group, a series of new introductions related to scientific diffusion are awaited over the next few months. Among them is the TV Superinteressante program, of duration 30 minutes, produced by MTV to be shown at a peak hour on Sundays on TV Cultura. The Discovery Channel, known in the country for its scientific documentaries linked to a cable channel and to the Rede Educativa (Educational Network) is preparing its Brazilian version on paper, as recently reported by the newspaper Meio e Mensagem , information confirmed by the subeditor Marcelo Affiny, but still guarded in secret by the responsible publisher.

In August, the publisher Dueto Editoral, which since July of 2002 has been publishing the Brazilian version of Scientific American – the oldest magazine of scientific diffusion in the world, launched in April of 1845 –, should put another title on the market, the magazine Viver, Mente e Cérebro [Living, Mind and Brain]. The TV Cultura, which also has a tradition of productions in the scientific field – keeps in its portfolio the Repórter Eco (Eco Reporter), on the air for eleven years, as well as the young Ver Ciência (See Science) produced in 1999 as a series of documentaries about genomic research, with FAPESP’s support, which was recently rewarded with a series of documentaries Minuto Científico (Scientific Minute) and Viver Ciência (Living Science) –, will premier at the end of June Cientistas Brasileiros (Brazilian Scientists) a series of short films focusing on personalities, large projects and research institutes, which should distribute itself among the normal programs of the broadcaster’s portfolio, informed Mário Borgneth, TV Cultura’s documentary manager. And there are a series of other initiatives being planned, linked to radio and television, but whom those responsible prefer for now to remain reserved.

A new understanding – FAPESP has without a doubt a role that is still to be correctly evaluated and recognized in the transformations that have been occurring in the environment of scientific diffusion in Brazil in recent years. Firstly, one has to highlight the growing professionalism of its work since 1995 of its public relation, when the Foundation would begin diversification and the extraordinary widening of the range of its programs in supporting research. Little by little this work obliged the journalists of large newspapers to take account of the quality and the importance of scientific and technological research systematically developed in the state of São Paulo.

In this manner, when for example in 2000 the international press literally celebrated the sequencing work of Xylella fastidiosa in Brazil, the result of a pioneering and daring proposal by FAPESP in the area of genomics, all of the Brazilian media, well clothed with information, dedicated themselves exhaustively to the issue and needed only give it a new repercussion. It was a flagrant difference in relation to the indifference with which the launch of the project had taken place in 1997.

Secondly, it is necessary to highlight the importance of Pesquisa FAPESP, which today has a print run of 45,000 copies, coming from the bulletin Notícias FAPESP, launched in August of 1995, as a reference source of weight for the national media, first concerning the research produced in the State of São Paulo and then later in the country as a whole. A systematic survey of news conveyed by the media based on from material published by the magazine shows that, for example in 2000, eleven issues of Pesquisa FAPESP generated 208 articles in Brazilian newspapers and magazines.

Indeed, a comment by Muniz Sodré, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and one of the most respected experts on communication in the country, in an article published on the site Observatório da Imprensa [Press Observation] in January of 2004, is worth recording, which had the title “An Example of Useful Journalism”. In his words, Pesquisa FAPESP is beginning to show itself as one of the best, if not the best publication in its genre within our country”. And further: “With it, the journalistic function truly gains in the broader sense”, he adds.

Finally, on the contributions of the Foundation towards scientific diffusion, it is imperative to highlight the new step taken in this sense in June of 2003, with the creation of the FAPESP Agency, which daily sends out national and international news on scientific policy, scientific diffusion, and science and technology to its 25,000 subscribers throughout the country. All of this communication effort in which FAPESP has been investing has resulted, for example, during the period of 1st of March until the 20th of May of this year in some 424 citations on material produced by the Foundation in the press and media. Specifically the Agency was responsible during this period for 183 articles published in the newspapers throughout the country, outside of the axis Rio de Janeiro – São Paulo.

The special insertion of FAPESP and in the specific case of Pesquisa FAPESP, on the panorama of scientific diffusion, in truth, had already been noticed back in 2001 by foreign executives interested in the Brazilian market of science journalism. During that year the Foundation received a visit from one of the directors of Scientific American in the United States, who proposed a partnership in the production of a science Brazilian magazine.

The negotiations advanced to a certain point, but FAPESP would not give up the right to maintain 70% of the editorial material of the magazine linked to Brazilian scientific production, whilst the partnership candidate wanted to have at the minimum 50% of the material from the international production of Scientific American. Consequently an agreement was not signed and the American publication went in search of other alternatives to enter into the Brazilian market, which ended up happening by way of the publisher Duetto Editorial.

According to Alfredo Nastari, the publisher’s director, “in spite of Brazil having low schooling rates and endemic poverty, the market potential, evaluated between three and five million readers for specialized publications, turned Brazil more attractive than Eastern Europe, which was the other option of the Scientific American group at that particular time for the launch of a new international edition”. With two years of existence, the Brazilian edition had already positioned itself in fifth place in a ranking of a top twenty that theScientific American publishes throughout the world.

In Nastari’s opinion, there is space for an informative science magazine, in spite of a public interested in the various areas of knowledge available through so many free electronic options. “The role of a magazine is to order the universe of abundant information and books by way of an edition and a language adequate to the capacity of learning of the reader”, he explains. For example, an advanced search in Google brings an excess of sources and levels of intelligibility that are difficult to absorb. “The treatment of news, the clarity, originality and the credibility of the content are the keys to conquering the reader”, he considers. Nevertheless, he underlines that “the tragedy in our area is publicity, which is not prepared for this profile of publication, doesn’t understand its sales potential and makes the economic life of these projects difficult”.

That there is a public demand for science information in magazines is demonstrated by the success of periodicals such as Superinteressante, directed towards the young-adult public, which occupies second place in circulation of monthly magazines, only behind the woman’s magazine Claudia. The secret of the fine success of the magazine, right from its launch some seventeen years ago, lies in its focus, according to its editor Dennis Russo. “It’s not a publication directed towards school children, but towards people interested in knowledge in general, both adolescents and adults.”

Editor Russo stated that he considers Super, as he usually calls it, a magazine of knowledge, and not of scientific journalism. “We are organized towards the huge desire to surprise, to speak of things that people want to know about, but as yet don’t know. Our coverage doesn’t have any commitment to day to day news, though we don’t stop attending to current affairs.”

Weeklies and the Internet
Among the informative weekly magazines Época [Époque], from the publisher Editora Globo, came onto the market in 1998 and opened up an unprecedented space for science and technology. José Roberto Nassar, the editorial director for the first year and a half of publication, observed that the magazine searched for an editorial differential that made possible the expansion of the magazines’ public and did not split up the already existing public for weeklies.

The issues always had a minimum of one hundred pages, distributed in a form that was more or less evenly spread between the various sections – and that included the area of science, technology and information technology. “In our evaluation this was a pathway for capturing new readers. The experience of this model had previously been tested abroad, where one could observe the market interest explode in publications in Germany and the United States, principally throughout the years of the 1990’s”, Nassar recalls.

The magazine Focus, the inspiration for Época, when it was first published in Germany during 1995, had a print run of 800,000 copies, whilst Der Spiegel maintained its one million copies. There was no loss of readers. It had been believed that the same phenomenon could be repeated in Brazil, with a mix of readers that incorporated a young public, already a consumer of technology. But with the economic crisis many things changed in the editorial market.More recently there has been a proliferation of sites that cover science.

FAPESP, for example, has three: the institution of the Foundation, the magazine Pesquisa FAPESP and the FAPESP Agency. The SBPC maintains the JC Email, the daily electronic version of the Jornal da Ciência [Science Journal], which is weekly. Other electronic magazines have sprung up such as the ComCiência [With Science], from the Journalism Laboratory of the State University of Campinas (Labjor) in an agreement with the SBPC.

Portals such as the Canal Ciência [Science Channel] of the Brazilian Institute of Information on Science and Technology (Ibict), a Ministry of Science and Technology organ and the SciDev.Net have also appeared. As well as this, sites specific to the area of communication, with special emphasis towards scientific journalism, such as Comtexto [With Text] or even the Observatório da Imprensa have expanded.

The supply of scientific material has also grown on cable TV: on the Futura ( Future) channel the programs Globo Ciência (Science Globe), Mundo da Ciência (Science World) and Ponto de Ebulição (Ebullition Point). On the Globo News channel, the program Espaço Aberto: Ciência e Tecnologia (Open Space: Science and Technology) is distributed all along the day. It is difficult to forecast, in the middle of the effervescence of the area of scientific diffusion, any unfolding beyond a few months, in the environment of discussed crises of journalism and the media.

For example, if we take the pioneer of the science magazines, Ciência Hoje, we will from Alícia Ivanissevich, its executive editor – who, incidentally, joined the team in 1985 and afterwards looked after science at the newspaper Jornal do Brasil from 1992 until 1997, and then returned to the SBPC magazine –, a statement about the maintenance of the publication’s original objectives, uninterrupted after more than 200 editions, and the proposal of increasing its print run, which fell to 15,000 copies, of which almost 70% are directed towards subscribers.

“The intention is to make possible a more effective national distribution, but the costs are high”, emphasizes Alícia. From the original Ciência Hoje several spin-offs were born, some extraordinarily highly successful in terms of public as is the case of the magazine dedicated to a very young public, Ciência Hoje das Crianças [Children’s Science for Today], for the age bracket 7 to 12 years, which began as a supplement but starting from number 16 took on its own life and in 1986 reached a print run of 200,000 copies. Today 180,000 copies of the magazine are purchased by the Ministry of Education, which then distributes them to all school libraries.

The journalist and researcher Luisa Massarani, from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and responsible for the site SciDev.Net América Latina, observed that in the future “one of the main challenges is to make the diffusion of science more critical, in which, instead of focusing exclusively on the marvels of science, it is important to consider aspects such as legal and ethical risks; doubts within the scientific community; the impact of science and technology on society”. As for the science editor of the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Marcelo Leite, he draws attention to the risk of reducing the space of serious scientific journalism, which shrinks away when faced with the difficulties of the theme when is it socially relevant, given the tendency of publishing more and more on health, in a form that will facilitate a throw-away type of counseling, particularly in the weekly magazines.

The director of journalism of TV Cultura, Marco Antônio Coelho, considers that “the translating of scientific language into a TV language is of public interest and is within the mandate of TV Cultura”. This is a line of work that the current management is pursuing, will continue to pursue and is reflected in the agenda of daily journalism, says Coelho, for whom “the main merchandise of the future is the idea. To develop knowledge is fundamental for social growth”. Within this concept, he adds, journalism has a fundamental role and the diffusion of science is a whole part of it. Coelho evaluates that the space occupied by this diffusion is as yet small – “perhaps 5% of the program” –, but he guarantees that this is an expanding area.

The diffusion of science has a fine guaranteed future as well in daily newspaper journalism, if one is to rely upon the vaticinations of the editorial director of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, made during an interview published in edition No. 95 of January 2004. There, Octavio Frias Filho stated that journalistic interest for science will only tend to increase. “Firstly, because science exerts a very large influence, even though indirect, on peoples’ lives”, which can only increase in a technical-scientific civilization like ours. And secondly, “because science has gone on to be seen as one of the portals for the entry of a younger public to the habit of reading newspapers”. A public, he adds, that is the enfant gâté of newspapers today, when the concern for the formation of new readers is immense.

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