Natalia Rodrigues
Ashoka Fellow since 2018   |   Brazil

Natalia Rodrigues

Centro de Jornalismo Investigativo (AKA Agência Pública)
Natalia Viana is redefining independent journalism in Brazil focused on human rights. She has created a unique model of information production to guide the traditional press on transparency and human…
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This description of Natalia Rodrigues's work was prepared when Natalia Rodrigues was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018.


Natalia Viana is redefining independent journalism in Brazil focused on human rights. She has created a unique model of information production to guide the traditional press on transparency and human rights. In addition, Natalia focuses on an innovative journalism school format based on entrepreneurship, freedom, ethics and innovation to foster democratic debate and the production of quality information on key issues for society.

The New Idea

Natalia Viana is transforming journalism and media use in Brazil. She founded the first NGO in the country that focuses on investigative journalism in the field of human rights. It represents a unique model: an agency that only produces investigative journalism and is reproduced under free license by the major Brazilian portals, guiding the traditional press on issues of transparency and human rights and setting the public agenda on such discussions. Recently, she has launched the first cultural centre of journalism in Brazil. It functions as a platform for public debates and accommodates new initiatives. Natalia sees that in the new era of post-industrial journalism it is not enough to train good journalists in the traditional way - experts at producing the news only. At the centre, she forms journalists who do everything from raising funds to selection of staff and the final distribution of news.

Traditionally, the media market in Brazil is very concentrated and managed by only a few families. Also, misinformation of the public by various agents using social media grows and has a significant impact on political actions and public opinion. Natalia wants to confront these developments by strengthening a type of journalism that is intransigent in the defence of human rights, has high quality standards of investigation, pays attention on issues of public interest and enables a democratic debate. She is introducing new methods to the field. She partners with the major media to be the main multiplicator of her work. She pioneered crowdfunding in Brazil to support independent journalism coverage, and provides the audience with the choice of choosing the issues to be reported and to be part of the editorial board. Her focus on fostering investigative and independent journalism in Brazil includes micro stipends programs and incubation of new journalistic organizations. She trains and mentors journalists to become entrepreneurs and thereby spreads its values and its guidelines of high quality journalism.

Natalia envisions a richer field of journalism with more players that represent the diversity of the society, and with political impact in favour of greater equality and social justice. Her work has contributed to boost dozens of independent journalism initiatives that have emerged in recent years in Brazil and in Latin America. Apart from incubating new initiatives, she works with regional networks in order to spread her model. She also relies on the readers as supporters as well as part of the exercise of producing the news. She wants to improve her impact by partnering with other media outlets, such as TV and radios, and is investing in publishing in other languages, such as Spanish and English, focusing on international impact.

The Problem

One of the greatest challenges to be faced in the new information era is the traditional media crisis, which has a history in Latin America of concentration in the hands of small and conservative elites, leading to extreme political use of journalism (including destabilization of governments). Brazil is no exception. At the same time, there is the explosion of a new scenario in which the ease of producing and distributing content has allowed the creation of party enterprises that live by creating and disseminating false news, using them as a political instrument. Its interference in Donald Trump's election as president of the United States led the Oxford Dictionary to call the "post-truth" word of the year 2016.

In Brazil, many groups are using disinformation machinery, robots and fake news to advance conservative and human-rights guidelines that are harmful to entire populations. A study at G-Popai, a research centre at the University of São Paulo, found that in the impeachment week of former President Dilma Rousseff, three of the five most shared news stories on Facebook were fake.

The traditional press, organized in an industrial form of production, has not been able, on the one hand, to combat this tendency that disqualifies the democratic debate; and on the other, it has not been able to make relevant coverage on issues that matter, such as human rights coverage. It adds to this the lack of interest of the traditional press in investigating issues related to human rights violations, especially when committed by companies, as a consequence of the economic interests of these groups.

Two more recent consequences are the fall of the reliability of the press, as a whole, of journalism as "guardian of the truth" and even of the truth itself in terms of "opinions" that corroborate personal beliefs. This subproduct of the bubbles fueled by social networks is also the staple engine of fake news's factories, which were born out of political campaigns and spread to social interest groups like those who now want to reduce rights historically.

The Strategy

Natalia has always believed that the crisis of the media commercial model, concentrated and focused on profit, does not mean that it represents a crisis for journalism. On the contrary: it brings new possibilities, which bring it closer to the citizens. If before, in order to do good journalism, the reporter needed to be under the seal of a large vehicle, which gave him structure, equipment and equipment, today it is possible to practice good journalism based on what makes it an essential service to society: good interviews, exhaustive checking of the facts, the seduction of good text. It was with this perception that she founded Agência Pública (Public Agency) in 2011 with two arms: to produce investigative and independent journalism, and to promote independent journalism in Brazil.

In the scope of journalistic production, from the beginning Natalia sought to avoid common sense about what online journalism should be: Agência Pública does not publish news or opinion articles, only reports, the vast majority denouncing human rights violations; the texts are long, authoritative, with a careful editing process. She decided not to oppose the big press. She did the opposite: she used the power of penetration of large vehicles to disseminate the investigative journalism carried out by Agência Pública and, with this, to guide the public debate on key issues for society that are uncovered by the major press. Agência Pública works as a news agency, but produces only investigative reporting: all content is licensed under creative commons to be reproduced by anyone, from large vehicles like UOL, which is the largest news portal in Brazil, until profiles on Facebook.

Natalia works with more than 70 national and international representatives. The partners are also independent journalism centres in Latin America, the United States and Europe. The goal is to make the information produced available to the widest possible public, so that it may have an impact on society, as has already happened, with several human rights complaints generated from the work of the Agência Pública and investigations carried out by the Prosecution Service. Therefore, the reports are distributed to vehicles of different political inclinations. Depending on the subject covered, Natalia prioritizes the distribution to national newspapers, websites of affected regions and international partners. For social networks, she plans the posts and analyses the reach of the reports, increasing the impact and making the content reach different audiences. Her strategy of republishing aims to break with the "bubbles" existing in online communication.

To foster investigative and independent journalism in Brazil, Natalia has developed a micro-stipend program for independent reporters to carry out researches to be published by the network of public agency publishers and, since 2014, has promoted the incubation of new journalistic organizations, such as Ponte and Gênero e Número. In addition, Agência Pública maintains the first Cultural Centre for Journalism in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, focused on partnerships and innovative projects such as LABs (which seeks to produce experimental narratives linking journalism, technology and the arts and creating innovative ways of telling stories of investigative journalism), Public Conversations (biweekly interviews with professional journalists on current issues) and Residências Jornalísticas (an exchange program with foreign journalists to cover human rights violations in Brazil) to strengthen the field of independent journalism.

On the continent, Agência Pública is part and also leads the "boom" of initiatives that have profoundly transformed the way journalism is exercised. It is one of the founders of the Aliados network, a coalition of independent and investigative sites in Latin America that has the perspective of strengthening new models in journalism. The network works to strengthen and nurture a new era of the information industry at a time of paradigm shift. Natalia is constructing what will be the circulation of news in the future.

She bets on the diversity of sources of resources to maintain financial sustainability and independence. Natalia works with international foundations, public crowdfunding, NGO sponsorship of micro-stipends, and the payment of online vehicles for partnered reporting.

The scope and impact of her work is monitored through reprints, mentions and network shares of each of the reports, as well as monitoring of deeper repercussions, such as influential mentions, legal and legislative actions based on reporting. Natalia intends to deepen the analysis of the impact of her work through the implementation of a more detailed system of evaluation of the political impact of publications, including the development of a bot that reads pages of sessions of municipal, state and federal legislative chambers and forums of relevant discussion topics.

Incubations of new initiatives allow Agência Pública model to multiply and scale. The focus in the coming years will be to train groups from the North and Northeast of the country, as well as communicators from the Rio de Janeiro favelas. Since beginning of 2017, Agência Pública has teamed up with seven other organizations to create an Independent Journalism Festival to discuss the issue nationally.

In the long term, Natalia plans to work to broaden the impact of her work on independent journalism in Brazil through insertion in TVs and Radios and regionally with more partnerships and publications in English and Spanish. The idea is also to make the Festival permanent and to strengthen the network of producers of good journalism in Latin America with transnational investigations.

The Person

Natália is a journalist by heart. She worked as an investigative reporter for radio broadcasting, online platforms and print media, and she is passionate about her work. In 2010, Wikileaks asked her to coordinate the investigation about documents on Brazil that Wikileaks had received, and to sell the articles to the Brazilian media. During those months of investigation and negotiation, Natália learned a lot about how the media market works in Brazil and what she has to do to launch stories of high quality. 70 percent of the Brazilian media market is concentrated in the hands of six families and only three newspapers from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro circulate nationwide. Natália started to negociate with those newspapers and convinced two of them to cooperate with Wikileaks in the investigation and publication of the Wikileaks documents. Sometimes, the newspapers set very different focuses and gave different appraisals, that surprised Natália.

Some months later, in January 2011, Natália realised that the editorial departments would not exhaust the investigative possibilities that lied in the Wikileaks documents. The department lacked of investigative journalists, who concentrated on complex stories and would dig deeper. In March 2011 Natália founded the Agência Pública together with other women journalists and realized the last stage of publications about the Wikileaks documents. The strategies Natália developed during the time she worked on the Wikileaks investigation, she used to build up her own agency and foster independent investigative journalism.

In the mid 1990s Natália went to high school in São Paulo, and from 1997 to 2001 studied Journalism and History at the renowned Catholic University of São Paulo and the public University of São Paulo. She worked with a Brazilian journal and started her career as an investigative journalist by reporting from Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico and India. From 2004 to 2006 she worked as a radio journalist for Free Speach Radio News (USA) and Global Radio News (UK). In 2005 Natália received her first award for her investigations, and in the years after she was several times honoured. She received the important Brazilian award “Vladimir Herzog for Amnesty and Human Rights“, the award “Comunique-se“ of the print media, and the very renowned award “Gabriel Garcia Márquez“. In 2016 Natália was the most outstanding journalist of Brazil.

In 2006 Natália went to Great Britain and consolidated her career on an international level. She received a Chevening Scholarship and studied radio journalism at the University of London. She assisted at the production of the documentary “Anthrax War“ published by the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation (CBC), at the documentary “Black Money“ published by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the USA and at the documentary “Travel of a T-Shirt“ published by the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC). Natália became an expert on topics of human rights, modern slavery and environmental pollution. She strongly believes in high quality journalism as an important part of a functional democracy and in an independent media as the fourth estate, that should challenge social change through information, analysis and debate. Natália also tackled disputed topics of recent Brazilian history and wrote a book about the military-civil dictatorship, that lasted from 1964 to 1985. From 2011 on she dedicated her time entirely to the Agência Pública and worked creatively and passionate on the success of the agency.

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