Monthly Archives: October 2012

My top 5 shocks in London after one month

Since the headline is self explanatory, let’s go for it.

1) The English are not cold people.

At least my classmates are not. Many people told me they had no local friends despite living here for years and years. It is true none of them had to sit in class being the only one who doesn’t have English as first language. But I still feel very fortunate to share common ground with so many people from a different culture. A few classmates were also in shock when I told them most foreigners think of them being as cold as the Germans. “That’s exactly why we make fun of the Germans, we are not like them!”, one of them said. They are sometimes rude, disgusting, loud and offensive. Just like us.

2) People take their masters at a very young age

At almost 31, I am the oldest in class. Many people here take their MAs (Master of Arts) right after graduation. In Brazil there are people who do that, but they are surely not the majority. There are 21-year-olds in my class! Boy, do I feel aging. Maybe that is why my great classmates are not cold people. Life hasn’t let them down enough just yet.

3) British is not necessarily English

I have only one friend who has nothing to do with journalism. We met during the Olympics. She is a businesswoman and community organizer. Some time ago I asked if she was English. She said she was British. I asked where she was born. She answered London. Why not English? She said her father is from England, but her mother is from India. That makes her mixed-race. If anyone with the same roots gave such an answer in Brazil we would laugh. But in the UK many people care more deeply about their origins than we do. To us Brazilians that’s the thrill and the threat of being a modern nation.

4) Some services really suck

I bought a laptop here two months ago. It broke down. Took it to the repair shop. They promised to fix it in 10 days. Three weeks after that, after my insistence, they told me they had LOST it. They gave me another one, though. After I paid 50 pounds more. On the first weekend I was supposed to use the internet for free at my accommodation, they changed the entire system and left us without any access. Some things might have worked perfectly in London a few years ago or during the Olympics. So far that wasn’t the case for me.

5) Someone was raped in the building I live

I could almost see Ricky Gervais coming in and shouting “there has been a rape up there” (just like in an episode of the British series The Office). Unfortunately this had nothing to do with comedy. A guy on the 5th floor was taken into custody and released under bail TO COME BACK to the place I live after he allegedly raped a girl in his room a week ago. Police were here for hours after the incident. We don’t know whether the girl lives here or not. I heard many of the victims of this abominable crime usually know their attackers. That sounds different from what happens in Brazil.

Most people would never link these things to London. Not all is great, not all is terrible. It is just what it is. In the end these shocks are there to say people, no matter where they come from, might have some particularities, but they are not that different after all.

The Brazilian media is NOT booming

The New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post… I could go on and on with international organizations willing to have a more solid presence in Brazil. It took me less than a month to hear two professors and a few locals say the media is doing really great back home, as if it were following the winds of the widespread economic development there. But it just isn’t like that. Once relevant publications are about to disappear and the market is limited to four or five big cities to report on. No Eldorado in sight.

After 10 years of reasonable economic growth, Brazilians buy more meat, more clothes, more electronic devices. But that list has never included newspapers, magazines or online subscriptions. Those have little power to influence the 40 million people who joined the middle class in the last decade. It might be a surprise for someone used to the British model, but the improved income for a few media companies there has little to do with readers.

Thanks to advertisement, media has managed to do a little better than it did in the 80’ies, when inflation could be more than 100% a month (sometimes the double of that). It is also managing to sell without depending on book and music collections sold as an extra, as they did in the 90’ies. Even so, all major media in Brazil, including the profitable ones, fired a lot of people in the last year or so. Sales figures haven’t changed much (I will mention some below, but truth is it is difficult to trust them).

I suspect the reason is they wanted to profit even more. That has been the mindset in many media outlets there: they use the word synergy so you don’t have to use the verbs fire (up to 20% of the workforce) and shut down (as it is likely to happen to Jornal da Tarde, a kind of paid for London Evening Standard).

Online media has done better than the papers, readerwise. But it still lacks a model from which it can profit and buy intelligence. The same issue you can see everywhere else. The ones bold enough to implement paywalls have to do it in very modest fashion, after a lot of explaining. After all, no one would pay for information in Latin America’s powerhouse. And the biggest onlines are basically owned by traditional media companies.

Does that sound like a boom? Thought so.

Brazil has about 80 million internet users. That is a gigantic market, more than the entire population of Great Britain. But the educational and cultural gaps are so big that it might take a generation for Brazilians to be really interested in media products. The biggest selling paper of the country puts out 290,000 copies a day. Online editors go bananas when one of their pieces gets 500,000 clicks. Not as thrilling as some like to say it is.

People have led tough lives for most of the times and now they want some quality time, something more than breaking even every month. They just aren’t going to waste time on journalistic material they can get for free whenever they feel it is really important. It rarely is.

Someone once said Brazil is not for beginners. Using the recent economic growth to explain the media there is one of the common mistakes made abroad. It just doesn’t work that way.