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The Death of Roberto Civita | The Man Who Would Be Murdoch


Via Brasilianas.Org

Roberto Civita has passed away.

Civita was the key figure in bringing American journalistic standards to Brazil, convincing his father to create news and information magazines.

The first of these was Realidade. According to journalists who worked with him, such as Luiz Fernando Mercadante, the young Civita had sound journalistic sense, and handled the importation of U.S. entertainment models with talent.

Sometime thereafter came Veja, copying the model of a U.S. journalism product.

The editorial standards adopted were based on those of Time. They consisted of treating news as though it were melodrama. On Monday, a planning meeting would be held in which the articles with most appeal to the readers would be selected. The issue was planned in accordance with criteria that made the news more attractive to read. Then the reporters would go out in search of quotations that confirmed the theses predefined and defended by the magazine.

Veja had its golden years. The first was Mino Carta’s tenure as editor in chief. After three years of shoring up his position, Mino and Veja reached a tipping point in the 1970s that made Veja the most influential magazine in Brazil.

Despite its superficial style – a style «beloved of housewives from Botucatu» (this was the magazine’s motto) — the magazine was outstanding for the creativity of its coverage, for its rigorous, if somewhat Parnassian prose style, and for its ability to compress an enormous amount of information into a short articles.

After the departure of Mino, the magazine maintained its influence and grew its circulation, accompanying the growth of the Brazilian economy.

During the 1990s, along with other major publications, it experienced the apex of its brilliance after helping to destroy the image of Fernando Collor.

Brilliant as a creator of a universe of specialized and thematic print magazines,Roberto Civita failed to make the transition to the digital age.

Together with Senator and Communications Minister Magalhães (ACM), he obtained cable TV concessions and created some channels for it that failed to develop. The TV experiment was a financial disaster. There was also an opportunity to establish the first great Brazilian Internet portal — BOL — with much more content to feed it than UOL and the Folha de S. Paulo had. But Abril lacked the agility demonstrated by Luis Frias at the head of UOL.

After a minimal courtship, Frias proposed a UOL-BOL merger, assumed management of the new enterprise and then later took advantage of the enormous liquidiy of the capital markets to acquire one-half of Abril. Nowadays, UOL must be worth more than the entire Abril Group together.

One of the main obstacles to Abril’s digital transition was the resistance of a group of advisers who remain strongly attached to print mode. Even as the Internet became an irreversible trend, Abril slept. Abril executives told at least two tech companies that offered systems to the company — one of them was IBM — was that Abril would bet all its chips on comic books and magazines for Class C.

The advent of online journalism wound up as a success story for other portals, including UOL, G1 (Globo) and two new entrants, Terra and iG.

Abril’s last bet was to try to imitate the sort of political clout wielded by Rupert Murdoch. Its campaign against the ballot initiative on disarmament revealed a reader whose profile is middle class, intolerant, prejudiced and conservative to the bone.  And so Abril, which had always targeted the middle class reader, bet all its chips on this new model.

It was the first to introduce the crude, virulent style of Fox News.  It engaged in character assassinations on a grand scale, the most well known being the Opportunity case and the case of Carlinhos Cachoeira.

In the Opportunity case, among other things, Veja magazine enabled a phony scandal according to which senior members of the government had offshore bank accounts.

In the Cachoeira case, a senior Veja editor was caught on tape planning planted stories serving the interests of the gambling racketeer.

Some years ago, in terrible financial shape, Abril received a capital infusion from South Africa’s Naspers group, plus 20% from offshore funds in Delaware, a violation of Brazilian law. Later, when it sold TVA to Telefônica, the two holdings disappeared from the controlling block of the company.

In recent years, the group has begun to sink all its left-over cash into the education businees. With the death of its leader, Abril’s future is uncertain.