The Ajuri Agency is a project that is underway in Manaus, Brazil, capital of Amazonas state.
The general director of the team is Jéssica Botelho, journalist and researcher. Her teammates are Polyandra Batista, who has experience in technology and design; Agda Sales, who works in public relations for the agency; and Nathane Dovale, a journalist who plays a critical part in the fact-checking effort by going beyond the data sources.
What is the problem they want to solve? The public debate influenced by inaccurate information, unverified data, partial statements and false news.
Today we share with you the conversation with the Ajuri Agency team, from São Paulo:
Why is it important at this moment to talk about the Amazon?
Jessica Botelho: We live in a country of enormous geographical dimensions and there are many realities within the same country. The people of Brazil do not know their own country. The regions are very different, especially the northern region, due to geographical and biological issues. The Amazon passed through a historical process of enterprises and attempts of occupation that did not work. Not only is the landscape different, the story is different, too, and Brazil must know it. It is showing what we can produce in the Amazon.
Why specifically do a fact-checking project?
J.B: First, there is a lot of information that we do not yet have. There is a lot of misinformation, many myths, and an imaginary idea of what the Amazon is. For example, it is common for people to ask if there are alligators on the streets, as if it were the same reality in the whole region.
And secondly, it’s about innovation. An important theme is that there are many researchers using data that are mismatched or that is not organized. For example, when we talk about deforestation, there is no place where you can find information on that topic, for example data showing what year the region experienced its greatest deforestation, and if the Amazon still can be saved.
How have you been participating in the New Ventures Lab?
J.B: It’s inspiring. We can not find another event that offers so much transmission of knowledge.
The NVL indicates a path. If we were to do this process alone, we would not know where to start, nor the importance of having a lawyer or an investor. This process has helped us to understand the way and to transform our realities.
In the North of the country it is more difficult to be part of an initiative like the NVL. Most events related to digital journalism are concentrated in the Southeast region. Just the fact that Mariana Santos, the founder of Chicas Poderosas, managed to organize a Design Sprint in Manaus is very significant. (Learn more about our Design Sprint in Manaus).
One of the project’s concerns has been the risks of doing local fact-checking. How do you to face these situations?
J.B: We have changed the focus of the project a bit. We will not get too focused on a speech or political character because it can be dangerous. We are thinking about doing fact-checking about the environment and that means several things. For example, there are cultural questions or information about populations other than the Indians. The Amazon has a very significant population of black people, habitants from the riverside, extractivists who subsist by collecting fruit and fishing, people from the Northeastern region.
What strategy has worked for you as a team?
J.B: Empathy. In a leadership position, we reflect a lot on how we would like to be treated. If we have to do something, we help each other. We are always very aligned with things that work for the team so that we do not put too much weight on a single person.
How has it been to be a woman who leads a project?
J.B: It’s difficult. First of all, the thing that bothers us most is a condescending tone. We hear, “Oh how cute, how beautiful.” We always are asked in which media each one has worked. We know that we are new, that we don’t have much experience. In this sense, we see a very great support from women. But it’s still a big challenge. It seems that we have to be perfect and prove that we are good at what we do, just because we are new and a woman.
That project for me was a confirmation of my self-esteem. I have been preparing for this for several years, doing various things to have a background to lead this project. I used to doubt this a lot and I thought, “I will not give a damn.” And nowadays I realize it will work, I have a lot of people supporting us.
So our biggest tip for anyone who wants to start their own project is to trust themselves. Take chances and look for things to do.
At what stage is Ajuri Agency in its development?
J.B: We are still trying to raise money to continue participating in the New Ventures Lab. We are doing a financial campaign at Vaquinha to continue participating in the NVL. We are in contact with Gustavo Faleiros, editor of InfoAmazonia, who gave us some tips and indicated ways for us to start checking and finding financing opportunities. One of the main challenges is to have a big enough budget to establish a permanent team and hire more journalists, to create a strong institutional (digital and legal) protection against attacks to gain visibility and overcome the bubbles of the Internet.
Why is it important to have a mentor like Gustavo Faleiros?
J.B: Because he already knows the obstacles faced by an entrepreneur.” In addition to the information, he has a lot of data. He has gone through the entire process of creating a zero initiative, going after investors and leading according to the affinities of the people who are in the team.
He has a vision and notion of the importance of talking about the Amazon. The regional question of identity is a very important factor.