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Exploring Autonomous Media Activism In Brazil

By Kamilla Petrick, Sandra Jeppesen and the Media Action Research Group

In the early spring of 2017, my Ontario, Canada-based feminist research collective, the Media Action Research Group (MARG), sent me on an exciting ten-day mission to Brazil. The objective: to meet and interview grassroots media activists striving to amplify the stories, voices and perspectives marginalized by the conservative, corporate media oligopoly in Brazil.

As demonstrated, for instance, by right-wing Globo’s[1] recent attempt to co-opt and pacify the valiant legacy of Marielle Franco, it is perhaps more important than ever for autonomous media in Brazil to challenge the hegemonic, right-wing, mainstream media discourse dominating in the country. This vital work involves reporting from the grassroots on issues faced by women, LGBTQ+ people, Black people, those living in poor neighbourhoods, and other oppressed people typically either ignored or represented in Brazil’s mainstream media in ways that are stereotypical or superficial — a distortion that Marielle Franco had sharply criticized.

This kind of reporting and media activism, produced for and by members of marginalized and oppressed groups, is what interests MARG. Through our five-year project (currently in its final year), our objective has been to work collaboratively with anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, feminist, pro-trans and queer media activists in countries around the world in order to co-produce research and media toward social transformation.

In pursuit of this mission, last year I travelled to beautiful Brazil to meet and talk with a dozen activist media makers involved in five exciting projects: Blogueiras Feministas, an online hub for over 100 feminist writers; Revista Capitolina, an alternative online magazine for girls and young women; Revista AzMina, also an online magazine plus a feminist consulting and educational service; Periferia em Movimento, a grassroots journalism project in the marginalized, Extreme South region of Sao Paulo; and Mídia Ninja, a network of collectives engaged in guerrilla digital broadcasting as part of a bigger objective to create a counter-cultural way of life.

This list of five projects is far from comprehensive; other media activist initiatives in Brazil include important projects like Blogueiras Negras, Coletivo Papo Reto, and Think Olga. If, for various reasons, it proved more difficult for me (as a non-Portuguese speaking researcher from North America) to access some of these projects during only a short trip, our hope as MARG is that by summarizing some of the insights from these conversations, this report can be of some use to media activists in Brazil — whatever project they are working on!

After first introducing the five projects that participated in this research, the focus of this report is on outlining key issues, challenges, tactics and best practices related to three themes that came up most frequently during the interviews: access and representation; digital technology and communication; and the mobilization of resources by media collectives.

The Projects

Blogueiras Feministas (BF) is a project by a group of feminist bloggers living in and outside Brazil, and a big part of the fast-growing cyber-feminism in the country. It began in 2010, during the first round of the presidential election involving Dilma Rousseff, as an email list dedicated to women’s issues and politics. As the group grew, the next step was to create a website that would serve, in their own words, as a permanent “grupo de discussão, onde feministas poderiam trocar informações e debater sobre assuntos diversos.” [2]

Currently, more than one hundred blogueiras contribute to the project, while a team of two women acts as a volunteer editorial board. The duo evaluate and co-edit articles with writers and ensure adherence to the project’s express commitment to intersectional feminism (which recognizes that women’s experiences of oppression differ based on multiple markers of social stratification such as class, age, race and sexual orientation). They also make sure that all texts contain proper references (as specified in the “Como Participar” section of the website, authors should check that “Se o texto tiver citações ou dados estatísticos, tudo tem que estar referenciado”.[3]) This last criterion for publication speaks to the quality of writing found on the BF website: it is typically analytical and well substantiated with research, thus “too big for the internet,” as one BF editor, Bia Cardoso, said with a laugh, clarifying that this standard is the project’s special strength, one that has earned it the respect and appreciation of readers.

While BF contributors and editors live all over the country and some outside of it, Periferia em Movimento (PeM) has strong roots and ongoing presence in one place. PeM is a grassroots journalism project that began in 2009 with a documentary produced as a class project by journalism students at the Universidade de Santo Amaro (Unisa). Based on their shared desire to combat “o estereótipo de pobreza e violência que marca as periferias, em especial por influência da mídia,[4] the students’ documentary, titled Grajaú na Construção da Paz, focused on “Evento pela Paz,” ‘um grupo de jovens no Grajaú – distrito mais populoso de São Paulo “criado em 2000 com a proposta de ocupar os espaços públicos e diminuir os índices de violência.”[5]

Two years later, the group reunited in Grajaú to create a longer lasting project and thus Periferia em Movimento was born, as a “coletivo de comunicação” that aims to challenge the lack of representation of poor neighbourhoods outside the urban centres. As stated on its website: “A periferia continua à margem da mídia. Não somos representados pela mídia hegemônica e nem pela dita “alternativa”, que falam a partir do centro, com uma visão eurocêntrica, patriarcal, e legitima ou se omite diante da continuidade da violação de nossos direitos.” [6] The project therefore seeks to “refletir e retratar as lutas pela garantia de direitos na região Extremo Sul – principalmente contra o racismo e o genocídio, o machismo e a LGBTfobia, o direito à cidade e a valorização de manifestações culturais e identidades nas nossas quebradas.”[7]  To do this, PeM produces grassroots journalism for its website in addition to engaging in specific projects, such as Cultura ao Extremo, “um extenso mapeamento da produção cultural do Extremo Sul de São Paulo,”[8] and À Margem da Margem, which produced mais de 30 reportagens e três artigos sobre a diversidade das quebradas paulistanas.[9] The PeM collective also organizes workshops on media and human rights in schools and cultural centres in and around Grajaú, to empower youth in these poor neighbourhoods by equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to produce their own media.

The newest of the five projects, Revista AzMina (RA) was created in 2015 by an enterprising young feminist, who told me she envisioned it as the Brazilian version of the independent feminist magazine Bitch. AzMina, as stated in its self-description, is “uma publicação online e gratuita para mulheres de A a Z.” [10] The project specializes in investigative journalism, particularly regarding women’s issues, “cujo objetivo é usar a informação para combater os diversos tipos de violência que atingem mulheres brasileiras, considerando as diversidades de raça, classe e orientação sexual.”[11]  As its first target, the magazine took on the toxic beauty standards that result in record numbers of plastic surgeries among women in Brazil. The aim in addressing this issue was, and remains, to celebrate diversity among women: of bodies and all the various markers of personal identity.

As the project grew in visibility and influence, companies and non-profit organizations started to solicit the collective’s feedback on their promotional materials. “It started happening over and over again and we said, wow, we think we have a product here,” recalled one RA representative. This is when a new structure was created inside AzMina: in addition to the existing Journalism department, two new departments were established, dedicated to feminist consulting and educational services respectively. At that point, “AzMina became much more than a magazine.” By offering these services to various organization for a fee, the RA collective is able to generate a small income which helps to support the production of the magazine and the personal livelihoods of the core editorial team. We return to this question about resources later on in this report.

While AzMina addresses adult women, Revista Capitolina, also an independent, feminist online magazine, is addressed specifically to teenage girls. Capitolina emerged in 2014 from a Facebook group about feminism and literary discussions, for girls and young women who shared criticisms of mainstream Brazilian magazines targeting them. “We could never see women of colour and no gender non-conforming people, or we would never see Indigenous people,” explained RC collaborator Debora Albu. The purpose of Capitolina is therefore to “representar todas as jovens, especialmente as que se sentem excluídas pelos moldes tradicionais da adolescência, mostrando que elas têm espaço para crescerem da forma que são.”[12]

Following a major internal restructuring, the project currently has several dozen collaborators, an editorial board, and a coordinator assigned to each of the main thematic areas covered by the magazine, such as Sociedade, Ciência & Tecnomania, and Relacionamentos & Sexo. Inspired by Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie Yearbook, Capitolina has also published two book-length anthologies: Capitolina: o poder das garotas, and Capitolina: o mundo é das garotas.[13] Both books feature some of the best contributions from the magazine in addition to new articles plus quizzes and other fun activities intended to appeal to teen girls. Look for these books wherever books published by Companhia das Letras (one of Brazil’s biggest publishers) are sold!

Last but not least, Mídia NINJA (which stands for “Narrativas Independentes, Jornalismo e Ação”[14]) emerged around 2006 from the Fora do Eixo network of cultural collectives that continues to organize events, mostly music festivals, in small Brazilian towns like Rio Branco, Cuiabá and Londrina. The NINJA project started out by producing digital video reports from music shows and cultural events and conferences, but it quickly grew more and more political. Today, Ninja is Brazil’s largest autonomous media network dedicated to grassroots, guerrilla journalism. It specializes in livestreaming and producing digital video reports from protests and other political events, including those in the favelas, which are routinely ignored by Brazil’s corporate mass media. As their website states, the objective of the project is to empower “narrativas que não tem visibilidade nos meios convencionais de comunicação” and to challenge the “falso mito da imparcialidade do Jornalismo Corporativo.”[15]

But Mídia Ninja is more than a grassroots journalism project; as I learned from two MN representatives, it is also about creating a collective way of life. People who wish to become part of MN are invited to take part in the full MN experience that entails moving into one of the collective houses located in several cities in Brazil. These houses operate according to a collectivist logic that forms the core of MN’s “social technology,” as one MN representative called it. This social organization influences many aspects of how MN operates, and distinguishes MN not only among the Brazilian media projects that have participated in our research but among all the dozens of projects internationally that we have engaged in our work. We discuss in more detail how MN mobilizes and manages its resources in the last section of this report.

Access & Representation

Having introduced the five projects, the rest of this report focuses on the issues that came up most commonly in the conversations. First of all, a key issue that media activists in Brazil have to confront is the fact that their vast country is marked by sharp regional economic contrast: wealth is concentrated in the South and Southeast regions, which contain the largest urban centres, while the largely rural North and Northeast regions remain relatively poor and marginalized. There is also a lot of migration within Brazil, resulting in additional oppression of the residents of the North and Northeast. All of this affects the efforts of largely city-based media activist collectives to represent and amplify the voices of the people living in those states, in part because meetings, conferences and demonstrates take place in the rich, urban places, and in part because those areas often lack access to the internet, the technology so fundamental to media activism today. According to 2013 reports, only 52 percent of the Brazilian population have internet access.

Access and representation are issues that most if not all of the five projects have grappled with. When it comes to Mídia Ninja, they are at the very core of the project: as mentioned earlier, it emerged out of the Fora do Eixo (“Off-Access”) network that connected the youth cultural and music scenes outside the big urban centres like Rio or Sao Paulo. In other words, challenging the cultural hegemony of the Brazilian urban elites by promoting local, independent culture and media has always been a big part of the MN project.

Furthermore, according to RC representative Debora Albu, trying to ensure that Revista Capitolina reflects the diversity of interests and perspectives among Brazilian youth women and girls “was always an issue for us…so we always try to get more diverse voices from Brazil.” At the start of the project, the collective was almost exclusively composed of women from Rio and Sao Paulo, but a conscious effort was made to change this through outreach. The effort paid off when a couple of new collaborators from the North and the Northeast decided to join up.

Access is also an issue for the grassroots journalists with Periferia em Movimento, who are aware that even though their intended audience consists of people living in the poor outer suburbs of Sao Paulo, “few people who are not related to social movements are going to access our website and search for us.” As further explained by PeM editor Mariana de Sousa,  “We’re trying to overcome this, but it’s really tough work.” One element of this effort involves holding meetings with teenagers at the local community centres, in hopes of empowering them to become autonomous media makers in their own right, and potential PeM contributors. Another relatively new element intended to make PeM reports reflect the concerns of residents living on the margins of Sao Paulo involves an online form on the PeM website, inviting the readership to suggest story topics.

Strongly connected to this desire to invite audience to participate in the process is a set of ethical practices that distinguish autonomous, grassroots media journalism from corporate, mainstream journalism. One such practice is self-reflexivity on the part of the journalists when covering stories about the margins — the media makers with PeM, for example, are young and university-educated, therefore are bearers of relative privilege, compared to many other people in the neighbourhood they consider home. As such, the journalists’ own experience and related outlooks may differ from that of those being interviewed.

They recognize this. Exhibiting self-reflexivity in their approach, PeM journalists make sure to always ask for feedback when doing interviews. As explained by PeM founder and editor Thiago Borges: “we ask the person what he or she thought of that, what he or she considers to be important to say, what we haven’t asked, how he or she thinks this subject should be approached. That’s when we become aware even our approach was wrong, because what we deemed important to talk, to highlight and emphasize, was not the same for the person we are trying to give some space to talk.” This practice gives marginalized people more access and greater ability to participate meaningfully in their own representation.

Although its contributors live in various places inside and outside Brazil, Blogueiras Feministas likewise struggle with issues of access and representation. In the editorial found on their site, they note that despite the editors’ political commitments to anti-oppression and intersectionality, the project archives contain some “textos com vestígios racistas, gordofóbicos, transfóbicos, classistas, capacitistas, lesbofóbicos, bifóbicos, homofóbicos, entre outros preconceitos tão arraigados em nós. Há também a questão da invisibilidade, na maioria de nossos textos damos voz a mulher branca, heterossexual, cissexual, de classe média.[16] According to one former Blogueira, who is trans, the BF project has improved since it first began, when it did not discuss trans rights very much, if at all, and welcomed contributions by bloggers who are TERFS (trans-exclusive radical feminists). However, as a result of internal debate the project emerged from that phase with an explicit commitment to intersectional feminism and respect for trans rights as well as sex work, both highly polarizing issues among feminists, in Brazil and beyond.

New Media Activism: opportunities and limits

Connected to issues of access is the question of the communication platform used by media activist projects. In the words of the famous Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium Is the Message,” meaning that each new medium enables and constraints social organization and behaviour in unique ways. The proliferation of the Internet beginning in the late 1990s, followed by the ascent of social media in the mid-2000s, has had an undeniably deep impact on social processes of all kinds, including how social movements communicate and how allied media activists do their work.

In many ways, social activists have benefited tremendously from the new media revolution, and it is no wonder that much if not most of media activism today (including all of the Brazilian projects participating in MARG research) takes place primarily online. The Internet and related technologies allow social actors including activists to bypass corporate media gatekeepers and filters and communicate horizontally with unprecedented speed, reach and ease. New media have made possible new forms of sociality and community across distance, which can be especially important where the distances are especially vast — like in Brazil.

Facebook in particular emerged as the leading platform used by media activists in Brazil. This seems to reflect a larger reality: according to one report, Brazil is the world’s second-biggest user of Facebook. All of the projects participating in this research have a very active Facebook presence, and many thousands of followers (with Mídia Ninja’s following not far from two million).

The use of Facebook by Brazilian autonomous media goes beyond having a public page on the platform. Within the Capitolina collective, the platform is used as the main means of internal communication: all the sections of the magazine’s website have a dedicated private Facebook group for the editors and contributors assigned to that section. There are also two big groups for everyone involved in the project. The first, called simply “Capitolina,” is “more institutional,” a space where collective members discuss matters strictly related to magazine production and where they vote on decisions (since they live in different places, doing this in-person is not possible). The second group, “Capitolina Chat,” is where members “share everything,” from questions about sex and relationships to job offers and interesting content found elsewhere. In the words of Debora Albu, the second group “works as a network space.”

Using an existing, free communication platform like Facebook, with groups and other functionality, offers many advantages and thus holds a strong appeal. According to Albu, “In that group, I think we were able to get to know each other better, even though it’s only Facebook…and it does have to do with feminism. It does have to do with the way we relate to each other and the way we construct our bonds [that] do strengthen the magazine as well.” Another RC representative, Rebecca Raia, spoke about the FB group as a kind of resource or source of emotional support that ensured many contributors remained involved even after a big internal rift occurred inside Capitolina.

At the same time, reliance on the internet and corporate social media platforms poses limits and challenges, and a number of these were raised during the interviews. “People use a lot of Facebook here in Brazil,” said Thayz Athayde, a BF editor, “and it’s not a good platform to discuss feminism.” This was a lesson this person learned the hard way, after toxic online debates unfolded on the BF Facebook group that had become its forum for internal discussion (once the now-outmoded email listerve was abandoned). The situation spun out of control to the point that the editorial team decided to permanently shut down the group. A note was posted to explain that the volunteer admin team’s lack of capacity made it too difficult for them to moderate the comments in line with the project’s respect for diversity and commitment to intersectional feminism.

Moreover, being organized into separate Facebook groups poses the risk of reinforcing existing divisions within the feminist movement. There is no network currently in place to connect feminists across the vast, continental country that is Brazil; consequently, to give the example offered by Thayz Athayde, the marches organized in multiple Brazilian cities in solidarity with Women’s March on Washington in 2017 were organized in isolation from one another, without any attempt at coordination or sharing of resources. Online communication can only go so far in creating such a network, however; relationships central to such a network are best built during encounters in real life, at events and meetings, according to Thayz Athayde, “because knowing people, seeing their face, it’s very important for the [relationship-building] process.”

So far, BF has managed to organize one face-to-face meeting for its contributors who live around the country. The scarcity of resources makes it difficult to organize more such meetings, a challenge that we turn to next.

Mobilizing Resources

Not unlike in other countries (as MARG is finding out), a key challenge confronting media activists in Brazil has to do with scarcity of resources. “We see all the groups of feminists in Brazil and the problems are the same: the time, the volunteers, the money to continue,” said BF editor Bia Cardoso, listing some of the essential material as well as immaterial resources often lacking in autonomous media and left-wing social movements more generally.

So, how do Brazilian autonomous media projects manage to support themselves — or even get off the ground in the first place? Technology can be of some help: a couple of the projects involved in our research got started thanks to successful online fundraising campaigns. Revista AzMina, for one, was able to raise 50,000 reais that way. Since then, its team has raised funds online to sponsor specific investigations; however securing more stable financial support from readers has proven a larger challenge. “We don’t have a donation culture in Brazil,” said one AzMina representative. Nonetheless, the project receives some support from three hundred donors. These generous individuals do not get any extra content, in keeping with the project’s commitment to making their independent reporting available for free to all.

Another source of support for AzMina’s journalism comes from the fees it collects from private companies and non-profit organizations for its feminist educational and consulting services. “Basically we charge the rich to give to the poor,” said one project collaborator with a chuckle. For instance, an advertising company might wish to hire AzMina to do an anti-sexual harassment workshop for its employees, or to provide feedback on a planned advertising campaign, to ensure it does not come across as offensive to women.

The effort to diversify its sources of support is a conscious strategy; as explained by one representative,“the most sources of revenue that we have, the better for us because we don’t depend solely on one thing and we can keep doing good work without losing our independence in journalism.” This also means not being bound by the prudishness of some readers (as exemplified by some backlash upon the publication of a large report in the magazine about safe anal sex), or the demands of advertisers. As its website proclaims, the project is proudly about “jornalismo investigativo acessível, de qualidade e sem rabo preso com anunciantes.”[17]

In fact, none of the projects involved in this research receive any funding from advertising — they do not seek it and most of them are opposed to it on principle. Again, for Revista AzMina, this is to protect the ability of its writers to engage in fearless investigative journalism. At Capitolina, this principle extends even to decisions about which films to review in the magazine: the rule is  that the film must be accessible to the magazine’s entire readership around the country.

What about funding from the state? It appears that this is not a viable option at this time for media or other left-wing activists in Brazil, given that the current, right-wing regime has all but eliminated cultural programs and grants, and defunded government bureaus established under Lula or Brazil’s first woman president Dilma Rousseff, such as the office of women’s issues secretary and the secretary for LGBT issues. Widely seen as corrupt and authoritarian (during my trip, I saw Fora Temer! graffiti everywhere), the current government is perceived by activists as an enemy rather than an ally. As BF editor Bia Cardoso put it when asked about applying for government grants, “we don’t want to, because for us he is not a president and this government is not a choice for us.”

Funding from national and especially international foundations is another matter, however, especially insofar as it typically comes without any strings attached. Aware of the need to secure some external funding, the editors of Blogueiras Feministas are increasingly discussing applying for foundation grants, but both also admit to being too busy with managing the project in their limited spare time to take on this additional task. This predicament reveals the importance within activism of time, a vital immaterial resource in and of itself. Its notorious shortage in volunteer-run project perpetuates a vicious cycle as it translates into a lack of capacity to explore and pursue grant applications and other funding opportunities.

This is no easy cycle to break, especially since the task of fundraising is seen as relatively less rewarding or exciting. Thus, at this time, the only funding received by Blogueiras Feministas comes from honoraria the core members receive for participating in events and/or making presentations. This usually covers the costs of travel only. However, since all the writing and editing labour is unpaid, the costs of maintaining the BF project are fairly low, limited to paying for web space and domain name; consequently, although this is not ideal, these costs are covered by the co-editors themselves.

Revista Capitolina likewise cannot afford to pay its editors or contributors or editors; the only funding it receives also comes from taking part in events, and this money is dedicated to covering the costs of web design and hosting. Sometimes, a Capitolina representative invited to speak at an event will receive a portion (40 percent) of the honorarium amount — but only if this support is needed and requested. Recognizing the limits of this, as of spring 2017, a group has coalesced inside Capitolina of women with relevant experience, to collaborate on applying for a few grants, including a special one that would mandate and enable collective members to travel to cities “that are not as reachable as Sao Paulo and Rio,” and empower the public school girls in those places by talking with them and bringing them free books. But this would mean additional demands on the collective members: as Rebecca Raia shared with me, “honestly we are having so much trouble publishing articles and stuff that if we do get the grant, I hope that we can keep up with both activities.” Since contributors to Capitolina are all volunteers, and the magazine is a “side project” for them, “the little time we have, we use it to invest in the magazine,” according to another RC representative, Debora Albu.

Of the five projects that took part in this research, Periferia Em Movimento relies perhaps the most on state support — but not the federal government, rather local and municipal state agencies and their programs, such as “Programa Vai,” established by São Paulo’s Prefecture, which provided PeM with grants in 2010, 2011 and most recently in 2017, for a new edition of the project “Repórter da Quebrada – Jornalismo e Direitos Humanos conectando o Extremo Sul.”  Other governmental donors, as acknowledged on the PeM website, have included das Secretarias Municipais de Cultura, Serviços e Direitos Humanos & Cidadania da Prefeitura de São Paulo, and Agente Comunitário de Cultura, um programa da Secretaria Municipal de Cultura da Prefeitura de São Paulo.

However, a considerable limitation of this type of funding is that it is short-term and project-specific; a shortage of more general and permanent funding remains a challenge for PeM. If they had more financial resources, office space would be top of the spending wish list. Working together in a shared space would enable PeM activists to do something that right now they find pretty difficult, in the words of PeM editor Mariana de Sousa, and that is to “think big.”

A diversified system of mobilizing resources has also been put in place by Mídia Ninja. Like the other projects, it too has received some foundation funding as well as engaged in online fundraising; in fact it currently has a campaign underway on a platform called Catarse (as I discovered, this is the Brazilian version of Kickstarter).

Uniquely, however, Mídia Ninja goes beyond these common sources of obtaining material support for its grassroots journalism. Specifically, Mídia Ninja pools together the individual incomes and resources of members who choose to move into one of the houses owned or rented by the collective — and while the two MN representatives I interviewed in the back garden of their collective house in Rio did not use this term, these houses function essentially like communes.  “Ninja — it’s not actually an outlet, we are not a communication group, we are actually young people living in a different way of life and happens to do communications,” one of the representatives told me.

How does it work? I was amazed to learn that inside each MN house, a committee composed of volunteers is empowered to manage its so-called “collective account.” Any money that MN members make for their labour, by doing workshops or participating in research, etc., goes straight into the common pool. To promote transparency and accountability, the committee uses a Telegram account to report in real time its decisions and details regarding accounts and expenses. They work to ensure that resources are allocated to support the journalism work of MN and to ensure that the basic needs of everyone in the house are satisfied, enabling them to dedicate themselves full-time to media activism. “We have lots of time,” confirmed another MN representative, adding that “it’s a resource…maybe the main [one].” Without the need to eke out a living by selling their labour on the precarious, capitalist market, MN collective house residents can become full-time media activists.

Still curious about how well this system works in the context of what remains a dominant consumer culture, I was assured that extravagant personal needs rarely come up as an issue. This is because the individuals who decide to move into one of the collective houses are well aware of their philosophy and rules. However, if and when this issue does arise — an example given was a collective member’s hypothetical but overwhelming desire for a pair of designer sneakers — the budget committee is open-minded to all requests. Even expensive wishes can be granted if the committee establishes, during the course of a private conversation, that the consumer good requested seems central to the request-maker’s happiness. In short, Mídia Ninja takes care of its own, in all the possible ways.

So far this part of the report has focused primarily on material resources and the tactics used to obtain them; however, beyond grants, donations, and the like, media activists also mobilize immaterial or intangible resources. Apart from time, these include networks and connections, knowledge and skills, as well as the level of commitment evidenced by collective members.

As MARG is finding out in talking with dozens of media activists in different countries, even in those cases where material resources may be low or lacking, media activists are able to draw on immaterial resources. Capitolina members, for instance, draw on the resource of mutual support found in online community; and for one AzMina representative, the “biggest resource” of all is “the passion of the team.” The love and dedication of volunteer is vital to success of progressive, largely if not completely volunteer-driven projects, like the five that participated in this research.

In conclusion, it is our hope as members of MARG that the insights we collected from the interviews, as presented in this short report, can help to empower media activist collectives in Brazil to grow in power and in all kinds of resources, so that they can continue their important work. The need for autonomous, grassroots media to hold the powerful to account and support political struggles by women, trans and queer people, Blacks and the working poor is growing now, as movements mobilize to oppose growing authoritarianism and intervene in the upcoming presidential election — as noted by Thayz Athayde, more black and poor women than ever are applying for political office in 2018: “this is the legacy Marielle left behind.” And so, the struggle continues. Solidarity from Canada!


[1] The country’s largest TV network

[2] discussion group, where feminists could exchange information and discuss

[3] If the text has quotes or statistical data, everything has to be referenced.

[4] the stereotype of poverty and violence that marks the periphery, especially by the influence of the media

[5] Based on a desire to combat “the stereotype of poverty and violence that marks the peripheries, especially by influence of the media, the documentary, titled Grajaú in the Construction of Peace, focused on” Event for Peace, “‘a group of young people in Grajaú – São Paulo’s most populous district “created in 2000 with the proposal of occupying public spaces and reducing the rates of violence.”

[6] The periphery remains at the edge of the media. We are not represented by the hegemonic media nor by the so-called “alternative”, which speak from the center, with a Eurocentric, patriarchal, and legitimate view or omits in the face of the continuing violation of our rights.

[7] reflect and portray the struggles for guaranteeing rights in the Extreme South region – mainly against racism and genocide, machismo and the LGBTfobia, the right to the city and the valorization of cultural manifestations and identities in our ravines.

[8]  an extensive mapping of the cultural production of the extreme south of São Paulo

[9] more than 30 articles and three articles on the diversity of the paulistana ravines

[10] a free online publication for women from A to Z.

[11] whose purpose is to use information to combat the various types of violence that affect Brazilian women, considering the diversity of race, class and sexual orientation.

[12] to represent all young people, especially those who feel excluded by the traditional mold of adolescence, showing that they have room to grow in the way they are.

[13] Respectively: “the power of girls” and “the world belongs to girls.”

[14] independent narratives, journalism and action

[15] “narratives that have no visibility in conventional means of communication”…the false myth of the impartiality of Corporate Journalism

[16] We understand that even if we are looking for plurality, we miss some moments. Therefore, by scouring the archives it is possible to find texts with racist, fatphobic, transphobic, classist, capacitating, lesbo- phobic, biphobic, homophobic traces among other prejudices so deeply rooted in us. There is also the issue of invisibility, in most of our texts we give voice to white, heterosexual, cissexual, middle-class women.


[17] Accessible, quality investigative journalism with no tail stuck with advertisers (poor Google translation of the idiomatic expression!)

Job Posting: Outreach Coordinator and Researcher with the Media Co-op and MARG

The Media Co-op (MC) is a coast-to-coast network of local media co-operatives dedicated to providing grassroots, democratic coverage of their communities and of Canada. Media Action Research Group (MARG) is an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial research collective studying activist media to document the processes of organization in radical media, and to build networks and capacity within media activism communities from local to global. Working in a partnership, MC and MARG have created this joint position for an Outreach Coordinator and Researcher, to be filled by a candidate located in Toronto or Montreal. The candidate will work 10 hours/week with MC and 5 hours/week with MARG.

We are looking for a creative, energetic, and plugged-in person with solid knowledge or experience with alternative media to join the Media Co-op collective as Outreach Coordinator, and to contribute to MARG’s research project. You will work with MARG collective members in Toronto, and the Media Co-op’s national editorial collective to support the creation of top-quality radical, independent media for the Media Co-op network and flagship magazine, The Dominion.

As Outreach Coordinator, your primary responsibility will be to develop the presence of MC in Canada. We’re trying to grow our base of writers, readers, and paying-members while trying to create a place for progressive, diverse, and feminist news written in the public interest. You will work for ten hours a week on the following: seeking and soliciting content for both the Media Co-op (online) and The Dominion magazine; in-person outreach and fundraising through events, conferences, and coalitions; online outreach; in-depth development of targeted outreach for published articles; building relationships with existing alternative and radical media projects; and other tasks determined by the national Media Co-op’s staff collective.

As a MARG researcher, you will engage for five hours a week on our feminist alternative media research project, blogging about your experiences and your thoughts about community and alternative media, and contributing to the organization and creation of multiple forms of media proceedings from the May 2016 Media Activism Research Conference (MARC).

We need somebody with on-the-ground organizing experience, creativity, and energy to support and build the local presence of the Media Co-op and to place The Dominion magazine and our unique, critical community-powered journalism into the hands of people who want access to solid grassroots news and reporting; and to contribute experience, knowledge, and analysis to the MARG research project.

Duties and responsibilities:

Your work will include fundraising through events, conferences, and coalition building; leading basic website operations (some training can be provided); building relationships with existing alternative and radical media projects; contributing your reflections on media activism to the blog of the Media Action Research Group; contributing your skills and expertise to the collaborative media project documenting the May 2016 Media Activism Research Conference that was organized by MARG, and other tasks determined by the national Media Co-op’s staff collective and board of directors.

This position is funded through a partnership with the Media Action Research Group at Lakehead University.

This is a temporary position. Starting date: December 5, 2016. End date: May 31st, 2017.

Salary: 15 hrs/week at $16.67/hour.

Duties for the Media Co-op might include the following:


  • Fundraising for the Media Co-op through hosting events, soliciting membership, and subscription sales, and special fundraising projects, such as the acquisition of ads for special issues and/or online


  • Outreach and promotion of the MC through events, conferences, and coalition building
  • Online outreach through social media, listservs, and email
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Network/developing relationships with existing alternative and radical media


  • Basic website management and operations (non-specialist)

Duties for the Media Action Research Group might include the following:

  • Contribute to media action research with personal reflection and analysis through writing, blogging, etc.
  • Assist with the production of media projects arising out of Media Action Research Conference
  • Assist with research and outreach of media activists when needed
  • Assist with research promotion (web, social media) as needed

Desired Skills:

  • Highly organized and able to meet ongoing deadlines
  • Fundraising experience through membership drives, events, grant writing, and or subscription sales
  • Networking – social, in-person, vertical, and horizontal.
  • Self-motivated and able to work independently with a team spread across the country
  • Strong writing skills
  • Background in academic and/or community research

Desired Experience

  • Experience in working with media/journalism
  • Familiarity in working with community organizations
  • Experience in anti-oppression practices and anti-racist, feminist, anti-ableist, queer  organizing
  • Demonstrable success in seeking direct funding through community outreach and grant writing
  • Strong commitment to social justice and community-based movements
  • Demonstrable experience in producing and editing online and/or print content

Work space: This is a virtual position; you must have access to your own computer and a reliable internet connection.

Anti-oppression: We prioritize candidates from historically marginalized groups who are systematically denied media work opportunities, including women, Black people, people of colour, indigenous people, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities, etc.

Language: While the Media Co-op aims to offer bilingual employment and content, this particular job is an English language position.

To apply: Please submit a cover letter, resume, and one writing sample (preferably as a single attachment) to info@mediaactionresearch.org with “Outreach Coordinator” in the subject line by 6 PM (EST) on November 18, 2016. Short-listed candidates will be contacted by November 25.

Community update on Canadian interviews

This past summer, MARG members including myself embarked upon a new phase of our research project involving in-depth, one-on-one interviews with radical media activists (who are feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and pro-queer and trans liberation) based in Canada. We reached out to activists who are involved in several major media groups or projects, including Shameless magazine, the Media Co-Op, Ricochet media, and radical campus and community radio such as McGill’s CKUT station and Groundwire. Our interview participants gave generously of their time as we spoke about the availability of resources, both tangible and intangible ones (such as time!), and its importance to the vitality of media activism. The matter of resources had emerged as a key area of shared concern during the radical media mixers that MARG members held in six cities across Canada during the previous phase of our project.

A school of thought in the field of social movement studies called Resource Mobilization Theory maintains that grievances are a given in our unjust political system, therefore they cannot in themselves account for the rise, trajectory and outcomes of collective political action (which can include media activism). From this theoretical perspective, movements emerge when resources become available: funding, meeting space, and digital technologies, or material resources, but also capacity and skills of the people driving the movement, that is intangible resources. Although Resource Mobilization Theory was subsequently criticized and corrected for placing too deterministic an emphasis on the availability of resources, we cannot dismiss its insights altogether, for resources clearly do matter as a crucial ingredient of media activism.

Our interview data indicates that resources remain integral to successful alternative media production. Interestingly, the most important resources appear to be intangible ones, such as the commitment of volunteers over the long term. Moreover, they are often generated in ways that often escape the attention of RMT theorists, such as mutual aid and cooperation, which are fundamental values of antiauthoritarian social movements.

When it comes to funding sources, we have found some interesting tensions and contradictions that we are currently analyzing in greater depth. For now, suffice to say that it has been very instructive to co-create knowledge regarding the various ways in which particular media activist projects go about securing their financial viability, the ways in which they strive to balance their reliance on volunteers with a political commitment to fairly paid labour practices, and their perspectives on government grants and corporate sources of funding. We are also learning that new technologies and platforms are permitting activists to be more creative and successful with fundraising. Above all, we are finding that although alternative media engage similar activist-oriented audiences, the spirit of solidarity and cooperation that animates radical, pro-feminist media activism is among our greatest intangible resources of all.

In the weeks to come, we will work to complete the process of coding the interview data and validating it together with the aim of publishing our findings in both activist and academic venues in the near future.

Reflections on Social Media and Political Work

by Carolin Huang

What does it mean to do political work through social media? As someone who grew up with the Internet, I have been privy to the social interactions that the Internet has enabled. The grounds for us to find others with similar politics, visions, priorities and goals are ever-so-expansive. It means that we can have multiple discussions simultaneously and multimedially, and access social networks and information that would otherwise necessitate more time and effort to find.

Our social relationships with one another are transforming with the Internet; we mourn differently, we share differently, and we fight differently. Through the Internet, I’ve been able to watch politically-charged events unravel into calamity in the calm of my own home. We frantically search for the correct hashtag when we cannot be there in person, in the moment, resisting. We worry for our friends and send messages of care, as we see, through social media, the everyday violences surface and implode. The use of Twitter was essential to the Quebec student/anti-austerity movement in 2012 and is essential the Black liberation movement resurging from 2013 to the present. Folks were able to find each other at demonstrations, film the actions of the police, provide live-time documentation of important moments, and set up post-action networks of support – ultimately establishing a kind of online or digitally facilitated activism.

As a millennial of colour, I’ve navigated my way through internet space and embraced new realms of relationship-creating. It was through internet space that I was able to understand the histories and legacies I’ve inherited, witness important political conversations, and connect with other youth of similar histories and politics. Even at geographic distance, we are still able to imagine future worlds together.

Furthermore, the avenues of organizing provided by the Internet have advanced disability justice struggles. Mental health, mobility restraints, lack of access(ibility), responsibilities of care and support, and all the burdens of work, of capitalism, are reasons why most folks cannot be there – physically present, at in-person meetings, at demonstrations. Social media has become so prevalent that we cannot ignore it as an important political terrain for action. It has provided so much space for those neglected by mainstream media.

Yet, what are the limitations of doing political work through social media? There is a profound amount of emotional labour that is expended on the Internet – labour that is often left uncompensated and unrecognized. As Jennifer Pan has demonstrated in “Pink Collar”, the realm of public relations/communications, of which social media is a major component, is highly gendered and relies on the exploitation of emotional labour. She argues that the very reason why this work is often disrespected and undervalued is because it is dependent on emotional labour, a kind of labour that both sustains and is abused by capitalism. This hierarchy of labour is especially apparent in the divide between the ‘real’/material political work of direct action and the ‘less real’/virtual political work of social media, often done by women and people of colour.

Instead of internalizing this divide and with the recognition of social media as work, perhaps we can think about how much of our labour can be exhausted in our social media interactions and on that basis, decide to participate selectively. The political arguments on social media platforms that go on to have +100 replies (which are repeating and circular in meaning) perhaps aren’t worth the labour or the attention. There are ways in which social media work can be effective for and affirmative of social movements. So many actions flourish through social media. As do relationships. We just need to develop effective online/digitally-facilitated activism that recognizes the importance of some social media work and is strategic to more profound social justice visioning.

Rethinking Transformative Media

by: Carolin Huang

What does it say about media activism when we continue to fall short of our political praxis? I ask this question to better frame an issue that wavers in and out of political consideration: that journalism is still dominated by white men. While I am restating what is both hypervisible and hyper-invisibilized, I want to revisit it as a way to retain it in our political consciousness. Such starkness in whiteness and maleness has put into question the palpability of media democracy. As further recognition, I want to emphasize the gendered/racialized division of labour that journalism, and of course, other forms of media, reinforces. Ultimately, I hope these recognitions make evident the importance of transforming the structures and values of our organizing.

The gendered/racialized division of labour is especially reflected in the differentiation of media into categories of more political forms of media vs. personal forms of media. For instance, Tumblr, Twitter, and zines are often considered less reliable sources of media compared to established media outlets, because they are more personal. This begs the question: what is considered political work? Both Tumblr and Twitter have been essential tools for political organizing among queers and millennials of colour. Inasmuch as these social media platforms often serve different purposes than news platforms, they should be acknowledged for the political weight they carry.

The absence of women, people of colour and LGBTQ people in journalism should make us question the transformative potential of journalism in its current form. This is not to overlook the many white male journalists and few non-white, non-male journalists who are doing essential work, but to highlight the new paths that have emerged because the current structures have not served many groups of people. Autonomous media groups that centre particular politicized identities have been formed in response to professional journalism. Sometimes these groups emerge out of a refusal to work with certain individuals/institutions and at others times, out of a desire to transform our social relationships in our work. We can look at these groups as espousing a form of ‘strategic essentialism’, a political aligning based on identity, that recognizes different points of convergence and divergence. These groups work against a politics of inclusion in the field of journalism, particularly for the reason that structures never transform for the sake of mere inclusion.

Even in the content of mainstream and alternative journalism outlets, hierarchies can be formed through the valuing of certain discourses over others – a valuing that ultimately casts certain voices as less prominent than others. Certain issues relating to economics (government spending, austerity, class war) are still prioritized, whereas issues relating to colonialism and feminism are sectioned off, scarcely present, or rendered unconnected to issues of economics. But as Wendy Brown explains in her new book Undoing the Demos, the condition of neoliberalism has already cast all aspects of society, including non-economic parts of society (education, culture), as marketable, consumable, and measurable in capital. Thus, the divide between economic and social issues is as blurry as ever. New perspectives and voices are needed for understanding our current sociopolitical context; in alternative/activist media, where the exclusionary structures of mainstream journalism are mirrored, this means recognizing voices/perspectives outside of the usual white men speaking about class war.

The exclusionary structures in journalism are very much embedded in its labour dynamics, and unpaid internships have come to represent the epitome of this exclusionary structure. We forget in our social movements that writing is a form of labour. Many believe that ‘writing for the revolution’ should be free labour but this neglects how writing for free comes from a position of privilege. As a result of this kind of neglect, only certain individuals are enabled as journalists. In this way, these kinds of organizing structures can often affirm the status quo, particularly if we do not put our political praxis into practice in our everyday relationships. As activist-writer Yasmin Nair asserts in her essay “Make Art! Change the World! Starve!: The Fallacy of Art as Social Justice”: “We need to stop asking ourselves only: Are these projects going to change the world? Instead, we ought to ask: Are these projects fair and equitable and just in the way they treat artists as workers?” I realize that fully engaging with the issue of unpaid labour goes beyond the scope of the blog post but I want to make evident the connection between the issue of race and gender in media and the issue of unpaid labour in media. If we are hoping to make any revolutionary shifts in our organizing and society as a whole, we need to be open to transforming the structures of organizing themselves.