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The Veja File | «Ai, Robot!»

Item, to translate and file under «Journalism» and «Life in Sambodia»:

In a growing dispute among Brazilian newsweeklies, the  Turing Test is employed to question the authenticity of critics targeting market leader Veja, alleging whopping ethical failures.

After involving itself with the numbers racketeer known as Charlie Waterfall and finding itself in the position of seeing top executives summoned to be deposed by a congressional commission … the ultra-right wing weekly magazine Veja is trying to convince its readers that it is the victim of malicious robots capable of destroying what remains of its good name.

Targeted by a Twitter hashtag, #VejaTemMedo — «Veja is afraid» — cited millions of times in the last 48 hours, columnist Reinaldo Azevedo accused an internet involved the campaign against the magazine’s «sewer journalism» of being a robot programmed by the government to pursue its political ends. Azevedo also refused to run the user’s response in which this accusation is denied.

Those pesky robots! I doubt very seriously that the tag really trended to millions of adherents. As often happens with news items based on  the fact of a viral effect, the signficance of the effect is exaggerated by all concerned.

As to Veja‘s hysterical victimology, let me just say that if you want to read press releases trumped up as puff pieces and tagged as investigative journalism, you would do better getting it straight from the source, from PR Newswire.

Brazilian journalism tends to be less exacting about the Chinese wall between PR and the genuine article. Example: The rag’s cover story on the Chinese educational system was a veiled bit of public lobbying for interests controlled by this Waterfall character, it is said.. It is often easy to spot such pieces — they generally are based on a single interviewee from some think tank or other, or on apparently diverse sources.that actually act in concert behind the scenes in order to shield themselves from criticism of their purported objectivity.

Azevedo — former editor of the failed Primeira Leitura and the cultural weekly Bravo!  — I find to be an interesting case of  what I like to call «blog farming» by established media brands. All Brazilian portals — UOL, Globo, iG, R7, Abril and Terra — have adopted this feature.

Most follow closely the model established at El Pais, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — the latter, with its marvelous Dealbook coverage of the private equity world, is the state of the mainstream media blogging art in many areas.


This analysis of the UOL-Folha blog farm shows systematic citation of content shared in translation with the blog farm of the NYT.

What El Pais, the W$J and NYT also have in common with their Lusophone imitators, in fact, is the consulting firm Innovation Media Consulting — founded by former editors of Veja and the Estado de S. Paulo, along with a group of conservative Spanish Catholics at the University of Navarra, with close ties to Opus Dei.

The New York Times is specifically cited as a client of the Brazilian firm Di Franco Consultoria, headed by an outed Opus Dei supernumerary who also runs the Journalism 2.0 program Master [sic] em Jornalismo at IICS, a continuing education program of U. Navarra that places dozens of graduates in the regional and national media.

For this and related reasons, I thought it would be interesting to compare the network strategy of the parties to this robotic dispute, but I find that Azevedo’s blog is not robot friendly — it lacks a TLD of its own, such as say azevedo.blogs.veja.abril.com.

Who are the ur-bloggers of the Brazilian media anyway, and what are their digital strategies? Using massive amounts of data on URLs crawled by the WIRE Web crawler — Castillo et al. of Chile — one can use Pajek to detect interesting and relevant homophily — «birds of a feather flocking together».

One can then test hypotheses about the strategy used in these cases — the most interesting being what I call the «anxiety of influence» effect.

If key players display a high volume of outlinks and inlinks, they assume the profile of brokers and gatekeepers — points of contact with a larger sphere of information and opinion.

The most obvious case of this is translation — blogs in Portuguese citing English-language hyperlinked discourse, using something quite similar to Geertz’s account of «thick description». Global Voices Online is a project fomenting this kind of L10N.

Sound complicated? Not necessarily.

The subject even came up in a vintage episode of Law and Order we viewed recently, subtitled in Portuguese, and so it must be true to life: the investigative problem of seeing through a dense fog of interlocking LLCs and NGOs, not to mention proxy-protected or pirated virtual pseudonyms …

Who Says?

After all, the goal of this little project of mine is enable myself to better observe the first principle of journalism — qui parle? or, «consider the source».

In order to answer this question in a landscape dominated by virtual organizations, we need to reverse engineer the digital strategy of important players.

USAID’s PROMEDIA project and the ECOLEAD ontology of the virtual enterprise used by the European Union  are good sources for this purpose.

With these schemata in mind, we look for signs of virtual organizations at work in the structural and semantic qualities of internauts and interauthors that turn up in a simple «key man» analysis.

Let us consider, for example, the «blogosfera» of the UOL-Folha de S. Paulo Internet portal. Two bloggers stand out as enjoying high prestige — they are both structurally central and measurably influential in terms of reblogging. They are:

  1. Josias de Souza
  2. Toda Mídia — Nelson de Sá
  3. Novo em Folha

Josias and Noblat | «Behind the Scenes»

[ … ]

Toda Mídia

Novo em Folha

Novo em Folha is a nearly perfect example of the «innovation journalism » genre, and draws on English-language blogs for its mashups.

[[ WAN-IFRA ]]

Luis Nassif

An example of the self-styled  «progressive blogger» genre, it lacks sophisticated search engine optimization. [ … ]