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When I first thought about being a journalist, I thought the career could combine three things I like to do: writing (and reading), traveling and talking to people. At that time, I was touched by a deep sense that journalism could improve people's lives by helping them to see what was not openly exposed to them. Maybe influenced by the history classes about Iluminism at school, I have always thought knowledge was key for a better life. And even though one can not see its value right away, he or she may take advantage from it years ahead. I was inspired by examples such as of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, one of the first people to alert about the dangers of indiscriminated use of pesticides.
Being a professional journalist for the last eight years, I still think information changes people's lives. But I spot a new challenge to put that ideal into practice: capture people's attention. Besides the widely known process of speeding up the process of news production and the shrinking newsrooms in the digital world, competing for people's time is a crucial question.
The ever increasing number of sources of information creates a fierce competition which may prompt the extinction of some news producers. Even tough big news events keep being a sure source of audience, it is a question how to keep people's attention to what is happening in the world around them after major events.
The three recent airplane crashes in the history of Brazilian aviation are among the most remarkable facts I covered during my career and are certainly highest points in the audience of websites and TV networks. The flight Gol 1907 crashed with 154 people in the middle of the forest in September 2006. The flight TAM 3054 crashed in Congonhas airport, São Paulo, in July 2007, killing 187 people. The flight Air France 447 crashed with 228 people in the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009.
Tragedies for themselves bring people's attention. And journalists are very important when they happen because they can report facts accurately and thrive to explain their causes and consequences. But we have to face the challenge of keeping people engaged in news – preferably not only about tragic events. In my opinion, today's journalism most essential question is to redefine what is public interest information and how it is connected to people's lives. So that they can keep hoocked up to it.
The competition brought by the internet is not a threat to journalism. It might create new opportunities provided we rethink our role in a world where information, yet more accessible, is more confusing and therefore misleading.
Letícia Sorg is a former Reuters fellow at Oxford Univeristy and currently works as a reporter at Época magazine Brazil