Valor Economico is currently the leading economic journal in Brazil. Despite it’s being relatively new (it was created in 2000), it has quickly become the top venue for specialised economic discussion. Inspired by the Financial Times, Valor aims to produce pluralistic, well-informed, analytical reporting on the economy, and the social and political issues that surround business. As its title suggests, the journal claims to produce news that generates economic value. How to explain Valor’s rapid success? This post draws on three months of ethnographic observations in Valor Economico’s Sao Paulo newsroom and on thirty interviews with members of its staff. I’m grateful for the generous disposition of Valor’s editorial direction, and the many journalists who shared their working practices and perspectives with me. Without their openness, this research would not be possible.
Several features give Valor its distinctive profile and may help account for its rise: the media and financial power of its owners, the quality of its reporters, the balance of voices on its editorial board, its accessible visual layout, as well as background changes in the media industry itself. Valor is a joint venture between Globo and Folha do Sao Paulo, two of the three most broadly circulated general newspapers in Brazil. Because neither Globo nor Folha influence the daily running of the newsroom, the editorial line is, in practice, almost entirely driven by journalists. All editors interviewed emphasised that they had never receive pressure of any kind from the owners concerning the content of the journal’s reporting. In addition, there is a sense of balance among the editors with respect to their diverse political positions. This balance is no accident. Since its inception Valor has set out to create a journal of diverse political perspectives. Celso Pinto and Vera Brandimarte, the former and the current director respectively, were conscious of building this diversity in the interest of encouraging what they refer to as the ‘independence’ of their reporting. Moreover, due to the clout, press knowledge and financial muscle of Globo and Folha do SP, Valor was in a position to recruit virtuous professionals, assembling a skilled team of journalists with extensive experience in covering the political economy.
Another distinguishing feature of this journal is its affable layout. Valor uses direct and unpretentious language, aiming to explain economic phenomena in the simplest way possible, using prose sheared of technical jargon. Plus it uses lots of images and graphics, especially when presenting statistical data, in order to reach readers by immediate perceptual routes. The journal is aware that many of its readers are short on time and overwhelmed by information from multiple outlets, and caters itself particularly to them.
The success of Valor may also be linked to outside factors, and in particular, to the changing context of the media industry. In this regard the decline and ultimate demise of Gazeta Mercantil, the principal economic newspaper in Brazil for many decades, has done much to shape the conditions in which Valor currently thrives. Many factors may have played a role in Gazeta’s demise (it stopped publishing in 2009): managerial and financial problems – e.g. an expensive set of specialised reporters distributed around the country and the world coupled with inadequate financial support for renewing the journal’s infrastructure; a too cosy relation with the business sector, which limited the journal’s critical capacities; and a too technical approach to reporting, which alienated non specialist readers. Despite these shortcomings, Gazeta proved an effective training ground for many reporters and editors at Valor, who learnt the skills of the trade there as well as receiving an inadvertent education in the pitfalls of the media industry, and the challenges of the current business environment. These lessons helped create a disposition to do things differently at Valor, which has managed to flourish alongside market expansion in Brazil during the 2000s.
The most recent challenge facing Valor Economico has been the introduction of a real time news service, entitled Valor Pro. This wire service was launched in January 2012 and aims to compete with similar outlets such as Bloomberg, Reuters, Dow Jones and mainly, Agencia Estado (Broadcast). Valor Pro’s strategic purpose is to generate new revenue streams independent of advertising. News cycle production has changed significantly for the entire journal with the introduction of Valor Pro. The journal is now aiming to integrate news production across three different platforms at the same time: Valor Pro (real time news), the digital website, and the print journal.
This major undertaking – which is still very much a work in progress – has intensified journalists’ workloads and produced some tensions within the newsroom. To state the obvious, real time news must be produced constantly. This results in the generation of much smaller slices or ‘bits’ of descriptive news, which must then be consolidated or re-integrated at the end of the day for the print paper. The very notion of what counts as news has shifted along with these changes. Within the real time business environment, every event, press conference or market movement that may affect the price of shares counts as news. This leads to a very different perspective on events than that traditionally cultivated at Valor, which has been known for its analytical coverage. Real time news mainly aims at the speed of reporting – this, in turn, increases the load of journalists, diminishing their capacity to investigate and to explore different angles. This has put stress on Valor’s reporters, making it harder – in some cases – for them to produce the sophisticated, analytical reportage that has been their mainstay.
On the other hand, news coverage at the journal has become more dynamic, that is, more connected with daily, even hourly events, more attuned to fine-grained political and financial movements. The volume of economic news has also grown massively. The integration of real time news has also affected the definition of the news agenda, increasing attention on news that affects the stock market. Senior staffs at Valor talk about new challenges to the balance of their coverage, considering the huge amount of ‘news’ that is generated by market reactions, and the anxious tone this can bring to their coverage. “Real time news is very important for the part of our news service that is oriented towards the financial market. But Valor Economico has a much bigger aim than real time news, which is to be a journal that discusses the country, defends democracy and holds power to account”, one of the directors commented. It is still too early to assess the full impact of Valor Pro on Valor Economico and its reporting, but certainly this shift has changed what it means to create news of economic value at this media outlet.