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Agência Pública is a women-led investigative journalism agency from Brazil, founded in 2011 by three Brazilian journalists, with the aim to run independent investigations.

The agency is funded by donations and grants, and its reports are published under the Creative Commons license.

The work of Pública is mostly focused on issues around the Amazon, mega events such as the World Cup, and Brazilian politics. This year, Agência Pública will be running a fellowship for international journalists covering human rights violations around the Olympics in Rio. The winners of the fellowship will be announced on 20 May.

Luiza Bodenmueller, who used to work for Pública, says the agency always takes the side of the victim, an approach that stems from its focus on public interest. But what sets it apart from most other newsrooms is that over half of the staff are women – the ratio of women to men is 3:2.

We spoke to Natalia Viana, its co-founder, to discuss the advantages and challenges of the agency's approach to investigative journalism.

Viana started her career in journalism as a reporter at a major Brazilian left-wing magazine called Caros Amigos. She then completed a masters course in London, and worked as a freelance journalist. She always preferred to work on longform and in-depth investigations, and published three books on human rights issues in Brazil.

When the Wikileaks scandal broke, Viana and the newly-founded Agência Pública worked with Wikileaks to bring the documents to Brazil, and co-ordinated their publication in the Brazilian media.

Their work with the leaked documents and their previous experience helped the Pública team realise there was a high demand for investigative journalism tackling the issues around human rights in Brazil.

According to Viana, the gender make-up of the Pública team can be used to great advantage, and helps the agency find a different angle on the stories they cover. In some cases, it can help them talk to people a male reporter would not be able to approach.

The feminine identity of Pública was not intentional, said Viana. It happened almost by accident, as she realised that the colleagues she was working with to found Pública were all women.

The feminine identity of Pública was a hurdle in the beginning – at first, they were referred to as 'the so-called investigative journalism agency'

But their gender does influence the topics they choose to cover. Viana and her colleagues believe that women see the society and its problems differently, taking an interest in different stories than men would.

Illegal abortion, which Pública has covered extensively, is one such example. Viana is convinced that a male reporter would not be able to talk to the women who got illegal abortions, because they would not open up to a man like they would to a woman.

"Those women know that they have acted against the law, but in our culture it is easier for them to talk to a woman, because they anticipate a certain level of understanding, of solidarity."

“I believe that women can better empathise with the people they interview,” she added. The macho culture can push men to overlook women, and female reporters can use it to their advantage, as Agência Pública noticed in 2015, when the team covered the political dissent in Angola.

They conducted interviews with young women fighting the regime – and were surprised to see that no journalist had approached them before.

Being a woman can make investigative reporting more dangerous – going to places like Mozambique, or the centre of the Amazon is risky for anyone, and even more so for women.

But on the other hand, it can also be an advantage for a well-known investigative journalism agency. For example, when Pública was investigating the imprisonment of political dissidents in Angola, the local officials, who did not want to let journalists film in Angola, had to come up with a different way to stop the Pública reporters from filming without censoring them outright, which Viana thinks was partly motivated by the fact that they were women.

Women’s issues and feminist identity were never the focus of Pública’s work. But, as Viana pointed out, the agency is still led by women, and even though they now count men among their staff too, most of their employees are female. Viana is not surprised that women are more likely to get on board with the agency's work – “I think that women tend to be more open for innovation, more adventurous,” she said.

Both the men and women of Pública have produced award-winning reports since the launch, and Viana added that the agency's male journalists are a key part of its work.

As women are beginning to speak out, they show a different perspective on the problems the society faces

The feminine identity of Pública was a hurdle in the beginning – at first, they were referred to as “the so-called investigative journalism agency”. But as the team established a good reputation for themselves, the sarcastic remarks disappeared.

Having spent many years working with Brazilian media, Viana believes the culture around it is changing, and there is a demand for more feminist reporting in Brazil these days because the core values of the society have shifted.

As women are beginning to speak out, they show a different perspective on the problems the society faces, and that men are unable to see. The parental leave policy is a good example – in Brazil, men only get four days of paternity leave, while women get 120 days off work. Is it any wonder that mothers are the ones to stay at home with the children, and not the fathers?

Viana is convinced that one of the reasons Brazilians are talking more about such issues is the change in the way the media reports on them.

Of course, men still occupy the majority of the managerial positions in the media, and it affects their work. Viana lists the prominent magazine Veja as one such example. When it published a profile of Marcela Temer, the new first lady of Brazil, it focused exclusively on her beauty, her love of her home, and her quiet manners.

“It is such a stereotypically male view of a woman. I am sure that in this case all the editorial decisions were taken by men, even if the reporter was female," said Viana.

Viana does not identify as a feminist. “My feminist friends always get angry about that,” she laughs, but she enjoys working with her female colleagues, and thinks that, as women, they have a better understanding within their team because they have similar experiences, and a better understanding of the problems they talk about – like gender discrimination or violence. The feminist identity of Agência Pública is a natural product of their work.

Daria Sukharchuk is a freelance journalist from Moscow, currently based in Berlin, where she is doing an internship at data-driven agency Journalism++. She writes about human rights and migration in a freelance capacity. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Medium.

Update: The article was updated to clarify that, as the Pública team expanded, the gender make-up of the team is now 3:2 women to men.

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