Lisandra Paraguassu on exclusively reporting Brazil trying to repair image as Amazon burns
Last week, Reuters exclusively reported that Brazil’s government launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade the international community of its environmental credentials following global outcry over deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon. President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration distributed a 12-page document to foreign embassies in an attempt to diminish criticism of Brazil’s environmental record. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, correspondent Lisandra Paraguassu gives a behind-the-scene look at how she reported the story.
Q: How did you score this exclusive?
A: I started shooting messages to some faithful sources in the area asking if they knew what the government was doing to try to deal with the image crisis, the deforestation, and fires in the Amazon region. Some of them told me about a document they received the day before and I was able to get a hold of a copy.
Q: What types of reporting were involved?
A: I’ve been covering foreign affairs for quite some time now and have built some good sources. It involved talking to sources and finding the right one that could help with this.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: The Amazon fires, the international crisis caused by it, and the response from the Brazilian government put the country on the verge of being transformed into an international pariah. The actions taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs showed that, even though Brazil did not admit it, they knew it was losing ground in this narrative. But the story shows that the Brazilian government still thinks everything will be fixed with a public relations offensive.
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: Journalism is the art of telling stories—stories that sometimes the world might not want to hear, but that have to be told. When we do that, from a seemingly small thing such a hole in a sidewalk that makes life difficult for the people who live there, to a change-the-world report such as the one our colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did in Myanmar, we are making the world a little better.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: My beat is politics, especially the Brazilian central government. It is a difficult beat at the best of times, but it’s an especially difficult one these days when we are dealing with a government that is upfront in its attacks on professional journalism. What is fulfilling about it is the feeling that we are doing the right thing and telling the stories people need to know, with responsibility, impartiality and professionalism.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: I had many rewarding moments, some more personal, some because I saw practical results. A few years ago, I wrote a story about child labor in Brazil that led to changes in government policy. Another great moment – and very difficult at the same time – happened when I was the first and, for many days, the only Brazilian reporter during Nepal’s 2015 earthquake. It was very difficult to work in a country suffering through so much and, at the same time, working with so many difficulties. My first story I sent by SMS, 10 in a sequence, since we had no internet and calls were impossible to complete. However, working in Brazil today may be one of biggest challenges I have had to face.
Q: Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A: Well, I would have liked to be a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, but since medicine was never my calling, it was never really an option. So no, I cannot imagine being anything else but a journalist.