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Shifting perspectives: Marco Zero and the evolution of journalism in Brazil’s northeast

Brazil Programme / Partner story

Photo courtesy of Marco Zero

Pernambuco is a state in the northeast region of Brazil known for its vibrant culture, beautiful beaches, and diverse tradition of dance. But it also has many unaddressed issues such as poverty, racism, and inadequate public infrastructure, especially in remote, interior regions of the state. In addition, many municipalities in the northeast of Brazil are “news deserts” –meaning they don’t have any local news outlets – and it’s difficult to obtain trustworthy information about local issues.

Marco Zero Conteúdo emerged in 2016 as an online independent news source to cover stories in the region through a human rights and socio-environmental lens. According to its co-founder and president of the board, Ines Campelo, Marco Zero is journalism for and by the people of Pernambuco. Its mission is to combat misinformation through investigative journalism, defend freedom of expression, and cover complex topics from diverse perspectives while remaining independent from governments, political parties, or businesses.

“When we created Marco Zero, we were a set of seven journalists with lots of experience, but somewhat dissatisfied with what we did in our jobs in big media,” says Sergio Miguel Buarque, co-founder and executive director of Marco Zero. “We noticed a lack of coverage of human rights, public interest, and environmental topics. When these topics were covered, it was from the point of view of the economic and political powers.”

Indeed, over the last decades, small news outlets and independent journalists in Brazil have been crucial in covering human rights issues and keeping key topics in the spotlight, long after the mainstream press has lost interest. The lack of credible news sources specifically in northeast Brazil motivated Sergio and his team to create Marco Zero. However, they quickly understood that one organisation acting alone could not represent the diversity of voices of the region or cover all current events.

“In 2021, we began to think of the idea of creating this network of journalists, to distribute resources and strengthen the news ecosystem in the region,” says Carol Monteiro, innovation manager at Marco Zero. “We saw that it was important for us to create a stronger network of independent journalism so that we could act more powerfully, together.”

To this end, over the last several years, Marco Zero has helped develop a network which brings together independent news outlets and journalists throughout the northeast of Brazil. Together, they share experiences, knowledge, resources, and funding opportunities. Currently, members represent eight out of the nine states in the northeast, ensuring a media presence even in the most isolated, rural areas.

Marco Zero offers members of the network trainings in topics such as investigative journalism and ethics, social media, project creation, fundraising, and sustainable business models. Through this financial and capacity-building support, Marco Zero helps organisations transform from small journalists acting alone, into resilient news outlets with financially sustainable business models. Furthermore, journalists in the network frequently reshare each other’s content, helping important stories and topics reach communities across the region, as well as in the rest of Brazil, and opening new communication channels between municipalities.

The network has already seen the advantages of collaboration, especially in bringing important stories to national attention. In 2023, for example, a disaster occurred in the northeastern city of Maceio, Alagoas when salt mines caved in, forming dangerous sinkholes in the city and causing major infrastructure collapse. Here, three outlets established a collaborative newsroom in the city, helping distribute trustworthy news to the country and the world.

“Local newsrooms were doing the coverage, but they weren’t getting to the whole country. So, we came together to strengthen their voices and spread this message,” says Carol. “In one week, we were able to write 16 different pieces on the topic, not from the perspective of the corporations, the mines, and the government, but from the perspective of the communities affected.”

Marco Zero’s goal is to continue sharing stories from the northeast in the region and to the rest of the country. It recognizes that a truly democratic media ecosystem must include a diversity of news sources and perspectives.

“The stronger each of our media partners is in the ecosystem, the stronger we will all be. Marco Zero doesn’t want to grow by itself, we don’t want to be the biggest independent digital newspaper in the northeast,” says Carol. “We want the northeast to have quality, independent journalism which shares a perspective that is closely tied to human rights, to strengthening democracy, and combatting misinformation.”

Oak Foundation supports Marco Zero Conteúdo through our Brazil Programme, which strives to deepen democracy, uphold human and socio-environmental rights, and promote an inclusive, transparent public debate throughout the country. You can learn more about the mission and work of Marco Zero here. You can learn more about our Brazil programme here.