About Penn State's Brazil reporting project

Penn State UniversityJune 19, 2012 

For young journalists there is no greater thrill than having their work published by editors of newspapers or websites who use it for no other reason than they think it is good — timely, lively, informative and engaging. This is the fourth consecutive year that the McClatchy news service has provided this rare opportunity for the students of the international reporting class at Penn State University, who this spring spent a week reporting, writing, filming and photographing stories in one of the world’s magical cities — Rio de Janeiro.

We chose Brazil for our reporting trip because of its transformation from a country that always seemed to have been known for its potential to one that is, at last, prized for its performance.

Brazil is the B in BRIC — Russia, India and China being the others — the acronym for the four emerging economic giants whose natural and human resources, manufacturing skills and agricultural prowess have changed the world's economy. Of the four Brazil is perhaps the least known — a continent-sized country of 190 million that still somehow feels like a lonely island of Portuguese speakers surrounded by the rest of Spanish-speaking South America. Of its great cities, Rio de Janeiro is neither its largest nor its most important, but it is the showcase of Brazil’s culture, arbiter of its style, originator of its musical and fashion tastes, and host to millions of tourists. Cariocas, as Rio natives are called, know how to throw a party.

It was here that our students found stories about the controversial musical form known as funk, often described as hip hop with a political edge; about efforts to understand and preserve the nation's slave history; about uniquely Brazilian religions that face increasing discrimination, and about the great national angst over soccer. It was here that one of our students found the very table in the very café that the iconic Bossa Nova hit "Girl From Ipanema" was written 50 years ago.

The story here is also one of Brazil's uneasy transformation from poor nation to rich nation. There are $14 million condos along the beach — Rio's real estate is now pricier than New York or London — that are only a few blocks from the poverty and violence of shantytowns that have suddenly become prime targets of development, as well as tourist attractions. South of the city, mega-suburbs are springing up, mile after mile of gated communities, office parks, Mercedes dealerships and American fast food restaurants. As Brazil is getting rich, it is also getting fat. Obesity rates are climbing to levels rivaling the U.S., and Rio has become the cosmetic surgery capital of the world.

We hope you will find a balanced and informative portrait of this fascinating city in South America's most important country. We're eager to hear any comments or criticisms you may have. Send your feedback to afb15@psu.edu.

Tony Barbieri is the Foster Professor of Writing and Editing at Penn State. He is a former managing editor of the Baltimore Sun and a longtime foreign correspondent for that newspaper.

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