Brazil’s ninja reporters spread stories from the streets
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
Camped out on the concrete in Rio de Janeiro’s swanky Leblon district, the Mídia Ninja have been watching and waiting for almost two months.
Journalists rather than assassins, they are armed with smartphones, cameras and gas masks – the tools of a fast-growing trade in street protest news.
In Leblon, they have recorded and live-streamed almost every chant, song and tussle with police in the ongoing demonstration outside the home of Sérgio Cabral, the Rio state governor and target of anti-corruption campaigners.
Elsewhere, they have been in the thick of the action in the long-running occupation of the city council, at marches to the TV Globo headquarters and on the frontlines of the protests that erupted across Brazil in June.
Though the demonstrations have shrunk and splintered, Mídia Ninja, a journalists’ collective, continues to grow in popularity and influence as it provides a channel for popular discontent with politics – and the media.
Largely unheard of until a few months ago, the group claims 2,000 collaborators in 100 cities, and its Facebook page has drawn 183,000 likes.
Using social networks as a platform, it has broken news on police infiltrators and wrongful arrests – forcing the mainstream media into sheepish follow-ups.
The work is gritty, sometimes just tedious waiting and often discomfiting. There is the risk of teargas during clashes and, even in Rio, it can be cold when the winter wind blows in from the Atlantic. But the live street reporting and “no-cuts, no censorship” approach has a devoted following.
“We believe we are making a counter-narrative to show what does not appear in the mainstream media,” said Rafael Vilela, a photographer, who gets no credit on his published pictures. “It’s journalism based on collaboration.”
Mídia Ninja has its origins in the Fora do Eixo, a group of collectives that organised music festivals and other cultural events. This largely student movement, which started in the cities of Rio Branco, Cuiabá and Londrina in 2005, has spread to more than 200 areas and encompasses an alternative university, a political party and financial system.
The movement launched Mídia Ninja – ninja is an acronym for “independent narratives, journalism and action” in Portuguese – this year as the communications arm of the movement. Its initial role was to promote gigs and run live broadcasts of concerts and conferences, but it quickly found an extra mission covering events in the favelas and small protests that nobody else reported.
When one of those demonstrations – a rally against increased bus fares – made headlines in June so did the work of the ninjas, who were among the first to collect, curate and broadcast images of police violence against the protesters. Much of the reportage was filmed on and broadcast live from mobile phones. Other material was gathered from images posted online or sent to the group.
As the protests grew to more than a million people in 52 cities during the Confederation Cup football tournament, the ninjas saw a surge in support.
Anonymous Rio, which is among the organisers of the demonstrations, look to their work. The Bar Association is collaborating with them on issues of media freedom and police brutality. In several cases, they have also led the news agenda.
Last month, Mídia Ninja sparked public indignation with images that suggested a police infiltrator might have thrown a molotov cocktail that set off a violent counter-reaction. The police deny this claim, but the coverage – later picked up by Globo TV and others – pushed the issue of provocateurs high up the news agenda, served as evidence for the defence of a wrongly arrested demonstrator and highlighted the gulf between street-level citizen journalists and big news organisations that often over-rely on police briefings for information.
Mainstream media organisations, such as Globo and newspaper Folha, have acknowledged Mídia Ninja’s transformative effect. Read more in The Guardian.
From → Analysis