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Intercom: Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação

Print version ISSN 1809-5844On-line version ISSN 1980-3508

Intercom, Rev. Bras. Ciênc. Comun. vol.40 no.3 São Paulo Sept./Dec. 2017 


Narrative Hibridisms: literary resources in the contemporary great report

Renato Essenfelder1 

1Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing de São Paulo, Programa de Pós-Graduação Stricto Sensu, Mestrado Profissional em Produção Jornalística e Mercado. São Paulo – SP, Brasil


The article maps and identifies the presence of typical literary resources in a major journalistic report published by a digital native vehicle – in this case, the Brio website, specialized in longform journalism. The Pragmatic Analysis of the Journalistic Narrative method allowed us to identify the subjectivation strategies of the text, through which the reporter achieves poetic effects and induces his readers to different types and degrees of commotion. The paper analyzes a report about the environmental tragedy that occurred in Mariana (in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil) in 2016 and points out the poetic resources in use to conclude that language, structure of text and characters are the tripod on which constitutes the literary journalism practiced by Brio. This work is the result of a project carried out within the scope of the Content Production Research Group, of the Professional Master’s Program in Journalistic Production and Market of ESPM-SP.

Keywords Literary journalism; Report; Longform journalism; Narrative; Narratology


Even though the study about narrative is not even remotely new – on the contrary, the origin of this type of study dates back for the philosophers of Ancient Greece -, the application of narratology is far less common and fairly new in Brazil, as Motta (2004) reminds us.

In this article, product of the research led in the Research Group in Content Production, linked to ESPM’s Professional Master’s Program in Journalism Production and Market, we use the method of Pragmatic Analysis of the Journalistic Narrative, created by the author (MOTTA, 2007), to unveil expressive resources in use in the narrative of a great internet report. The goal of this study is to effectively identify which resources of subjectivation, usually applied to fictional literature, are being used in contemporary journalistic narratives published on the internet, in a dialogue of the new – the journalism that embodies modern technologies of information and communication – with the old: the fundamentals of the poetry art.

Motta (2005) defines the strategies of subjectivation as “resources and figures used in the journalistic language that send the reader to subjective interpretations” provoking, thus, “cathartic states of mind: surprise, astonishment, perplexity, fear, compassion, laughter, scoff, irony, etc.” (p.11 – Our translation). According to the author, the journalistic speech gets to promote “the reader’s identification with the reporting”, transforming gross facts, as it would be the case in the collapse of a dam in Mariana (in the state of Minas Gerais - MG, Brazil), into “human dramas and tragedies”.

By “subjective interpretations”, we understand the interpretations that are precisely done by the subject, that is, as we follow Benveniste’s (1991) point of view, according to whom the “subjectivity corresponds to the capacity of the speaker to propose himself as subject” (p.286 – Our translation) – they are, thus, one of a kind, product of a complex intertwining between personal experiences and social identities. In the case of the journalistic speech, the excerpts said to be subjectivation would be, therefore, those in which the author places himself as subject and evokes the constitution of another subject in dialogue with him, establishing a Me-You1 relationship.

On the other hand, narrative is understood here in a more elementary sense, attributed by Minchilo and Cabral (1989, p.1) as a “report of a certain sequence of real or fictional events”. In the Aurélio dictionary (FERREIRA, 1986 – Our translation), it is placed only as a synonym of “story”. The definition, however, is not entirely accurate. A narrative is, indeed, a story. However, there are some characteristics that make the narrative something more particular. In the scholar tradition, says Silveira (1999, p.286 – Our translation):

(...) the classification of texts includes the narration as one of the basic types of the written composition, along with the description and the dissertation. Today (...) the narrative is, at the same time, a type of text and a type of speech. Beyond being a type of marked text, the narrative is also very flexible, since it can perform different types of speech. Therefore, narrative appears in the narration itself, in the instruction, in the exposition, in the description and in the argument. The reverse, however, is not always true: There is no other type of text that can perform narration, because the narrative discourse has as intrinsic characteristic the so-called temporal juncture2 that cannot be altered, under the penalty of having the semantic content of the narrative seriously modified.

Approaching the discussion over to the journalistic field, which can use the narrative to perfect the way of telling stories, we find the journalist and researcher Cremilda Medina, one of the pioneers of the study of journalism as dialogic and capable of socially producing meaning in Brazil. Medina sees the narrative as the capacity of a man to transform the chaos of life into units of meaning – task that, for a journalist, is key. According to her:

A simple definition of narrative is the one that understands narration as one of the human responses to chaos. Endowed with the capacity to produce meaning when narrating the world, the sapiens organizes chaos in a cosmos. What it is said to be reality constitutes another reality, the symbolic one. Without this cultural production – the narrative – the human being does not express himself/herself, does not affirm himself/herself before the disorganization and the unfeasibility of life. More than a talent for some, the possibility of narrating is a vital necessity.

(MEDINA, 2006, p.67 – Our translation).

The narrative organizes, therefore, meaningless events – at a first glance. It is important to emphasize, in the context of this article, that narrating is not, therefore, a luxury of “creative” people, as it is frequently said in the common sense. The capacity of telling a story that gives meaning to a certain event, the capacity of contextualizing feelings or events in more or less complex narratives, is vital for the human being – and it is common to all of us.

It is expected, thus, that journalists also narrate. Even though this affirmation may seem obvious at a first glance, it is necessary to say it precisely because, according to what numberless researchers already noted (MEDINA, 2006) the ethos of the journalistic field, that has truth, objectivity and impartiality as central values, try to reduce the image of journalists to machines, objectifying them, de-subjectifying them, as if that was the only way to inform society with clarity and precision. The journalist would be, therefore, a (re)transmitter of speeches and not an actor-author in the society. It is necessary to restore the notion of authorship and social mediation in journalism. To rescue, thus, the narrative dimension of journalism, because “the journalist does not disclose worlds; he builds them. He is not a machine, but a narrator: an author of the narratives of contemporaneity” (ESSENFELDER, 2016, p.45 – Our translation).

Methodology and Corpus

In recent years, a series of independent journalistic initiatives had started to arise in the national panorama, especially on the Internet, due to the low cost of distribution in this environment. Some of them were ephemeral, with a very brief life, while others, in full operation, remain successful over the years.

Amongst these experiences, it has drawn our attention the vehicles dedicated to longform journalism, which use extensive texts, worked with care, generally divided into chapters, in which are mobilized different expressive resources coming originally from literature in order to seduce the reader, appealing to his/her aesthetic sense, and at the same time, to offer contextualized information.

But what are these resources?

With the objective to identify them, in the text of a contemporary news website – Brio, released in 2014 –, this work uses the method of the Pragmatic Analysis of the Journalistic Narrative, that foresees six steps, which Motta (2007) calls movements. They are: 1) recomposition, in the case of a series of news articles and reports, of the intrigue or journalistic event; 2) identification of conflicts and the functionality of the episodes; 3) analysis of the construction of the journalistic characters (in a discursive level); 4) analysis of communicative strategies; 5) to point out the communicative relation and the “cognitive contract” between narrator and reader; e, finally, 6) to identify the meanings of moral background or of fable in the history. Motta warns for the fact that:

To study journalistic narratives is to discover the rhetorical devices used by reporters and editors capable to disclose the intentional use of linguistic and extra-linguistic resources in journalistic communication to produce effects (the effect of reality or the effect of poetry). In this sense, we affirm that journalism is an argumentative language and there is not one only journalistic style, but a journalistic rhetoric. (...) The presence of narrative resources in journalism is everywhere. Even the “heaviest” texts in the economy section, for instance, frequently resort to brief narrative interregnums with the purpose of getting the reader closer to the episodes that are being narrated, in order to “humanize” a cold text. Other times, the journalistic texts show all their narrative character, as in many news reports and in the literary journalism. In general, there are many hybridisms in genre.

(MOTTA, 2005, p.9 – Our translation).

The journalistic website from where we extracted the corpus of this analysis was selected from the survey of ESPM’s Media Lab3 with innovative initiatives in digital journalism. Out of the total, we observed the 37 listed Brazilian initiatives that were filtered filtered into the following criteria: 1) geography, because even though they are digital initiatives, we looked for initiatives that were closer to the researcher in São Paulo; 2) format, because, in some cases, the listed initiative did not fit into the genre of a news article, but experiences of collaborative journalism, such as collaborative maps, photographs or audiovisual initiatives; 3) independence, because we excluded initiatives linked to the great groups of media, such as Abril and UOL, in an attempt to better understand how smaller, faster and newer groups, born in the digital world, are currently working with the journalistic narrative.

After this process of selection, we met Brio, specialized in great news articles of recognized quality, published in the free platform Medium. About Brio, Deak summarizes:

A platform with more than 20 independent journalists, some of them with Pulitzer and Esso prizes, that bet on the reader as financing form: they do not accept advertisements; they sell single stories or monthly signatures. Out of each purchase, the website gets 45% and the journalist authors get 55%. Great news articles, from the most incredible places on the planet, are part of the collection. They also have the watchdog section, with investigative reports sponsored by foundations and distributed without cost. One of them is about BNDES. With five months of existence, they won the CNT Bio prize of journalism for the Internet, in November of 2015.

(2016, online – Our translation).

After a first reading of all the news articles published at Brio until the month of June 2016, we selected the report A morte do caboclo d’água4, by Maria Paola de Salvo and Karla Mendes5 (Figure 1). The text is one of the rare cases of great news article of the so-called independent media that approaches a hot subject of the national news, the case of the collapse of Samarco’s dam in Mariana (MG) in November 2015, that resulted in the biggest environmental catastrophe of the country’s history. The choice of this news article also enables other researchers to compare the text to narratives of traditional (informative) vehicles published at the time of the tragedy - movement that will not be performed in this study, because it is not our initial scope.

Source: Brio website.

Figure 1 Initial page of the news article A morte do caboclo d’água 

Narrativity in A morte do caboclo d’água

As Motta (2007) suggests, the movements of Pragmatic Analysis in Journalistic Narrative must be adapted according to the context of the work in scope. In the case of the present study, we initially identified that the first suggested movement, recomposition, was unnecessary in the context of a holistic great linear report which content was already presented in a complete way at the time of this analysis.

We will start, therefore, by the second movement, that is the identification of conflicts and functionality of episodes. It is around the conflict that the other plot elements are organized, what creates the status of core of the narrative, according to Motta (2007). The affirmation is also valid not only for literature, but also for journalism, in which narratives are essentially presentations and unfolding of conflicts: crimes, ruptures, disputes, unexpected transformations.

Following that, we proceed with the third movement, analysis of the construction of the journalistic characters, observing the frequency in which they appear and how they are presented. The last analytical movement that is valid for us to apply in the scope of this study is the fourth on Motta’s list: the analysis of communicative strategies. In this stage, the analyst seeks to identify rhetoric devices used to produce definitive effects of meaning. Motta (2005) suggests a distinction between objectivation strategies and subjectivation strategies in the classification of these devices. Given the degree of detailing and extension of this stage, it will only be applied to the first part of the report A morte do caboclo d’água to avoid that the study would be too long.

The objectivation strategies deal with resources that lead the reader to believe that the narrated facts are real. In journalism, this effect can be produced in many ways, as the detailed description of environments and characters, identification of data regarding places or periods empirically verifiable, reproduction of speeches in the direct speech (as if the journalist wasn’t a part of the story), accurate reproduction of ciphers and varied greatness, use of numbers and statistics in general, document citation, among others.

On the other hand, the subjectivation strategies linked to the poetic effects that the text builds, creating different emotions on the reader. According to Motta:

As effects of reality, the resources of journalistic rhetoric induce readers, listeners and viewers to many types and degrees of commotion. These resources are used in headlines and titles as well as in the texts, either in illustrations and cartoons or in photography and television images. They are in the lexical choices, in the use of prospective verbs, verbs of feeling, negative verbs, verbs of advice, of warning, etc.; in the use of affective adjectives, potential adjectives or possession adjectives; in the use of stigmatized nouns such as terrorists, radicals, thugs, etc. They are in exclamations, questions, comparisons, emphasis, repetitions and suspension points, more common in the news than we think. They are in the figures of speech (metaphor, synecdoche, synonym, hyperbole). They are in the irony and parody, that open fields of meaning. They are in implicit content, in adverb implicatures such as “only”, again”, “yet”, common in headlines. They are in the presuppositions and in many others linguistic and extra-linguistic resources that are used in the verbal and audiovisual journalistic language. It is impossible to number or classify them due to their abundance on the news.

(2005, p.10-11 – Our translation).

The last two analytical movements conceived by Motta will not be applied on this research (to point out the communicative relation and the “cognitive contract” between narrator and receiver and identifying meanings with a moral or fable-like background in the story) because it is not our research focus. This type of exclusion is authorized beforehand by Motta, to whom the researcher must adjust the method to their necessities in the context of the research.

Although the work of classification of objectivation strategies had been performed in the context of the study developed by the Research Group in Content Production, we will not deal with these strategies here. We consider that these strategies are already sufficiently known and that there is abundant literature about them, therefore, we will concentrate in what is less cited in the literature of the area: the subjectivation strategies in the journalistic text.

From the studies of Düren (2013 – Our translation), that also worked with Motta’s method, we arrive to the following table model, whose topics will be detailed ahead:

Table 1 Communicative strategies in A morte do caboclo a’dgua 

Categories of subjectivation expressions Reproduction of the excerpt of the report
Detailed description ...
Figures of speech ...
Verbs of subjective expression ...
Emphasis/intensity ...

Source: Author’s research.

About the subjectivation strategies we chose, therefore, we have:

  1. – Detailed description: In this case, the author describes in detail situations or characters through aspects that are not empirically verifiable, because they are subjective, and little did they seem to add to the understanding of the fact as a fact, as a historical occurrence. It is the case, for example, of the passage where a character is described as having “youthful appearance reinforced by the sunglasses worn as a tiara”.

  2. – Figures of speech: By definition, they are figures of expression used by authors to expand the expressive possibilities in the text, used, many times, to describe sensations and perceptions hardly expressed by the denotative function of the language. The most common are metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, euphemism, irony, ellipsis, pleonasm and onomatopoeia, but there are many other possibilities.

  3. – Verbs of subjective expression: According to Motta, amongst the numberless resources which the reporters use to express their subjectivity in the journalistic narrative, there is the “use of prospective verbs, verbs of feeling, negative verbs, verbs of advice, verbs of warning, etc.” (2005, p.12 – Our translation). We choose to group these possibilities under the label “verbs of subjective expression”, aware that the journalistic text is filled with expressive possibilities in this field. The abundant use of reporting verbs in the journalistic speech also reinforces the importance of a detailed look on this category of analysis.

  4. – Emphasis/intensity: In this topic, we list the passages of the corpus where the author enhances the dramatic appeal in a moment of history through expressions such as adjectives, using punctuation (exclamations, ellipses…) or specific figures of speech.

Before proceeding to this analysis, however, we will make, according to what we previously explained, the identification of conflict and the characterization of the characters in A morte do caboclo d’água.

Conflicts and characters in A morte do caboclo d’água

The journalistic narratives, as in all others, are endowed with a conflicting event in its core, an event of atypical and dramatic character. The notion of conflict is expressed in the concept of news itself. In literature, and in dramatical arts in general, the conflict is understood as “basic determinant of dramatical action, which develops due to the opposition and struggle between different forces; dramatical conflict” (FERREIRA, 1986 – Our translation).

The conflict(s) in A morte do caboclo d’água oppose(s) many forces. In a first reading, we identify a central conflict: men versus nature. It is about the story of how simple caboclos of a small town in the countryside of Minas Gerais react to the nature’s fury: a flooding of water and mud that sweeps entire territories, uncontained and inescapable. A second analysis, however, reveals the concomitant occurrence of a second conflict, that is men versus corporation. As the text advances, we see how the greed of the mining company Samarco not only contributed for the accident but it facilitated it.

Let us think about the news report as a literary genre. If A morte do caboclo d’água was a novel – understood as short fictional narration –, it would speak about men fighting against nature and also about men fighting against (or suffering with) the greed of corporations. In the interior of this narrative, however, we would also see many smaller conflicts in progress, which would keep the interest of the reader. The sub conflicts of this report are regarding two situations: 1) the struggle of families to save themselves and their belongings, and 2) the struggle of the residents to warn neighbors and friends about the dam’s collapse.

As in a literary work, the narrative of the report moves between these axes - that is, from conflict to conflict - not in a straight line, but in a spiral, that covers many dimensions repeatedly. The following diagram illustrates this process in A morte do caboclo d’água.

Source: Author’s research.

Figure 2 Spiral narrative regarding conflicts of A morte do caboclo d’água 

We observe a spiral structure, in which the narrator, of the “selectively omniscient” type, selects some characters to describe not only exterior facts, but also the internal universe of the character, their feelings, sensations etc., goes back and forth into the narrative, coming and going from conflict to conflict, in an unexpected way to the reader.

The experience of the news journalism, on the other hand, is linear: From point A to point B the narrator, omniscient and impartial, proceeds without further ado. In terms of the classic structure of an information pyramid, it is considered that in the case of informative journalism, the structure of the text is given in order of importance of information.

But in A morte do caboclo d’água we cannot speak in pyramid – nor inverted, nor normal. Clearly, the text starts with a series of small events and information without crucial importance: the routine of a truck driver that just started to work at Samarco. Next, but still in the Act 1, there’s already a climax: The collapse of the dam and, consequently, the environmental tragedy in Mariana (MG). Next, in Act 2, they talk about the struggle of the residents of the region against the imminent destruction. In Act 3, we have a historical digression about Samarco and their predatory mining strategy in the region. In Act 4, the “day after” of the community: weeks of cleaning and calculating losses. Finally, in Act 5, a general balance of the tragedy, the “day after” for Samarco’s employees and the inquiries in progress about the case. The narrative, as we can see, goes back and forth in time and space, avoiding linearity.

In addition, dispersed in Act 2 and Act 5, there is a curious anecdote about a monstrous statue that exists in the region, known as “water caboclo” (a monster who supposedly would kill people and animals in the neighborhood, a type of boogeyman), that becomes a metaphor, in the text, for what we can understand as Samarco’s greed or as a force of nature that, after being provoked, reacts sweeping the village away, being indifferent to anything.

In the following table, we have in detail the stories in each act, including the subtitles used in them and the extension in characters with space in each one of them. In total, the text has impressive 103.453 characters - the equivalent of about 40 pages in Word typed according to the norms of ABNT. Without any doubts, a long-format report – in the literary context, we could categorize the narrative of this extension as a novel.

Table 2 Division of stories per Act in A morte do caboclo d’agua 

Act Story Subtitles Extension (characters with spaces)
Act 1 The collapse of the dam; incredulous first reactions. The ground shakes.
A crisis reunion at the bar.
Act 2 The fight for the survival and to warn people about the tragedy. Caboclo’s talk.
“It was not God’s work.”
Act 3 A historical digression: the arrival of Samarco in the region. Bureaucratic and suspicious issues regarding other environmental issues of the company. The Before. 22.481
Act 4 The Day after the tragedy in the community. Cleaning. Calculating losses. Burial of the bones.
What the mud stole.
Act 5 The day after the tragedy for the workers at Samarco. Investigations. History of specific environmental licenses of the collapsed dam. Tragedy in many acts.
Laws of physics.
I don’t want the mud.

Source: Author’s research.

As we can see, the last Act is the longest of all, which dialogues with the importance it is given to the last act of any artistic work (romances, novels, movies, plays). In the last act, there is a summary of all actions (and omissions) that led to the tragedy and yet a follow-up of all investigations about the case and their probable consequences, either criminal, environmental, economic and social.

Observing this general structure, we see that it does not fit into in the paradigm of the inverted pyramid: Even though there is a climax in the first act (the collapse of the dam), the following acts also have their dramatic apogees and none of them are shown in the first lines of the analyzed segments. Neither we can easily fit such morphology in the logic of a normal pyramid, according to which the climax is next to the closing of the text. In fact, the position of the narrative apex is sometimes located in the initial parts, and in other times in the final excerpts of the text – in full freedom of composition, as it also occurs in literature. In this sense, it is interesting to see that the great report in question ends with a highly poetic ending, evoking to what is similar to a popular poem and recurring to the metaphor of the “water caboclo” statue to wrap an inconclusive ending. As follows:

At the entrance of the city of Barra Longa, the mud competes with the sculpture of the Water Caboclo. While they wait to see who wins the battle for the city, the inhabitants protest to have their Barra Longa back. On the last December 5th, Toninho Papagaio’s mother, Maria Lopes do Carmo, 82 years old, known as Dona Maria Papagaio, although blind and on a wheelchair, protested the way she could, with the following poster on her chest:

I want the Barra of my children

I want the Barra of my grandchildren

I want the Barra of my great-grandchildren

I want my Barra Longa

I want Barra

I don’t want the mud.6

(MENDES; SALVO, 2016 – Our translation, highlights made by the authors)

However, it is not only in the morphology that this great report flirts with literature. Regarding the characters of the story, we have, in a similar way, a clear concern in enriching the introduction of the people narrated, surpassing the strict limits of an informative journalism, that generally describe their characters only by name, last name, occupation, and, sometimes, age.

A lengthy survey of the news article indicates the existence of 78 sources of information cited in the text – out of these, ten are unidentified, attending only by generic assignments such as “Samarco’s representative”, “an employee of the mine”, “Renato’s colleague”.

Among the main characters of this report, however, we see a very diverse treatment. The ten sources that are used more in the news (with three in a tie for the tenth place, in number of citations in the text), considering the sum of their five acts, are indicated in the table below:

Table 3 Characters and mentions in A morte do caboclo d’dgua 

Source Assignment Mentions
Antonio Eusébio do Carmo, also known as Toninho Papagaio. Taxi driver. 35
Public Ministry of Minas Gerais. Public Ministry of Minas Gerais (MP-MG). 24
Renato. Truck driver of a contractor that works for Samarco. 22
Copam. State Council for Environmental Policies in MG. 16
Feam. State Foundation for the Environment of MG. 14
Vale/Vale do Rio Doce. Mining company. 12
Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto. Public Prosecutor. 11
Fernando José Carneiro Magalhães. Barra Longa’s Mayor. 9
Alberto Fonseca. Associate professor and researcher of the environmental and mineral area of the Federal University of Ouro Preto. 8
Rômulo Gonçalves. Resident of Barra Longa, in the intersection of Gualaxo and Carmo rivers, and bar owner. 7
Sônia Lana. Milk producer. 7
virgílio Romualdo, also known as Gilim. Owner of Barra Longa’s gas station. 7

Source: Author’s research.

In addition to the cited sources, it is interesting to notice that the “water caboclo” himself, described as a “monstrous figure, a mixture between a human and a gorilla, that would inhabit the waters of [the river] Carmo” is cited ten times in the report, what would place this inanimate object or rather, this myth of local folklore in the eighth position among the cited sources, in case we considered the entity a source. This indicates the strength of this metaphor in the text, present since its title. The resource to the metaphor, in this degree of intensity, is, without a doubt, another approximation of the report to literature.

Another notable characteristic: from the three most cited sources, two are personal (and common people, without status of formal “authorities”) and the other one is a recognized institution, MP-MG. It is given much more importance to the “common” sources, people that probably never talked to a journalist before. It is interesting to notice that, while a public attorney is cited 11 times, a mayor, nine times, and a specialist (professor in the field of environment and mining at UFOP), eight times, the taxi driver Toninho Papagaio is mentioned nothing less than 35 times in the text – that also quotes his mother and sister as supporting sources.

In the general calculation, we not only see more attention given to the “anonymous” sources but also that they are much more numerous than the official sources of the report – such as specialists, mayors, executives and attorneys.

We consider, therefore, that the treatment given to the characters, from their selection until their presentation and edition in the report, approaches the great report to the classic practices of literature.

Strategies of objectivation and subjectivation

After the reading and analysis of the news report, we selected Act 1 to perform a thorough review categorizing the strategies of objectivation and subjectivation used by the authors, according to the proposition in Table 1, displayed below. The result shows an intricate net of narrative resources in movement, much more complex than what commonly is expected from a journalistic text, characterized, as affirms Lage (2003), by the wish for clarity, rapidity and simplicity.

The analysis showed the use of 177 different narrative strategies in the first Act of the text, being 67 strategies of subjectivation and 110 strategies of objectivation. It is interesting to notice that in the composition of the text, the strategies get intertwined as if they were a complex fabric. It is not about, therefore, observing moments in which the authors employ subjectivity resources in the journalistic text, moments of a certain literary preciousness. The subjectivity resources are ingrained in the structure narrative itself, appearing at the beginning, in the middle and in the end of the news report.

In quantitative terms, the strategies researched appear with the following frequency, according to what Table 4 shows:

Table 4 Occurrences of objectivation and subjectivation strategies 

Subjectivation strategies
Detailed description 11
Figure of speech 20
Verbs of feeling 12
Emphasis/Intensity 24
Objectivation strategies
Quotations between quotation marks or dashes 21
Functional description and didacticism 10
Statistics and numbers 17
Names 12
Institutions 5
Places 27
Dates, schedules, etc. 18
Total 177

Source: Author’s research.

The ways in which these resources are presented are so diverse as the resources itself in the Portuguese language. In the following table, we identify all the occurrences of subjectivation strategies in the report A morte do caboclo d’água.

Table 5 Segments with subjectivation strategies 

Detailed description Emphasis/Intensity Figures of speech Verbs of subjective expression
the man with white, shoulder-length hair The ground shakes without knowing if he would come back home alive Was excited
youthful appearance reinforced by the sunglasses worn as a tiara feels the ground shaking muddy soup thought Toninho
the valley of destroyed hills the schedule is heavy Samarco was safe, colleagues guarantee
a man who talked too much and a natural storyteller, as he desperate everyone is mute lives alone
meeting spot for authorities during the week and for young people and families on weekends. For the love of God! chunks of mountain Find it strange
with his cellphone in hand even when she has time to act. would go down swallowing everything Renato fears
Without saying a word How come? How did the dam collapse? looks around and doesn’t see anything The panic is installed
wandering around the square indicative of the severity of the problem the water already tore apart only the distressed warnings of colleagues
A type of improvised crisis center is formed in the external area of bar do Nô, an outdoors space by the river filled with tables and chairs reserved for people interested in having small talk and having fun Runs away without destination the mud wouldn’t settle for less. will sweep Barra Longa away
He still collected a number of contacts of clients from the time he sold meat door to door in that region The mud starts to devour the region, burying cars, houses, orchards, hen houses, gardens, photographs, memories and lives insist on going down
they immediately came to mind It is almost unimaginable, but try to visualize this and tranquilizes himself
leaking violently and uncontrollably into the nature It was over. didn’t even fright the children
The biggest environmental disaster in the history of Brazil was happening at that moment local heroes terrified
was living a tragedy the mud licks the entrance of the village
The mud was running without mercy. half a word already said too much
a lot of mud to just simply park at that district a tsunami of mud was expelled by the dam
in a desperate tone. memories and lives
an unrecognizable Bento Rodrigues The habitual birds of the region were slowly replaced by helicopters from the police and the media
completely buried by a sea of mud simply park
a gigantic volume of waste a sea of mud invades
lost his house to the mud Toninho Papagaio
ripped didn’t even fright the children
If the water already tore this place apart, the mud wouldn’t settle for less.

Source - Author’s research.

Out of the four categories that we chose to identify and analyze, the most recurrent was the category called “emphasis/intensity”. The second most used strategy was the appeal for figure of speech. Amongst them, metaphors are the most used. They appear in excerpts such as “muddy soup”, “mountain chunks”, the mud that goes down “swallowing everything” or “mud sea”. The metaphor is an important mark of the news article, because it sets the tone of entire text, since the title, that refers to a local myth.

Final considerations

We intend, with this study, to identify and to map some of the main strategies in dialogue with literature, which the contemporary journalism has used – especially in vehicles that are presented as innovative, case of the awarded website Brio, created in 2014.

We could notice, after extensive analysis of the news report A morte do caboclo d’água, that the resources of subjective expression, typically artistic, most used by the authors in question were figures of speech, specially metaphors, and expressions that enhance the dramatical intensity of the narrated facts, especially adjectives and modal adverbs.

It is interesting to notice that the literary resources are organically disposed in the narrative and not artificially inserted, as a localized literary preciousness. Said in another way, the journalistic-literary text is performed since the conception stage of the journalistic agenda until the final edition of the text. It is a project that comprises all the news report, and not a resource for edition or writing added afterwards.

We also noticed that the structure, dismembered in episodes marked by certain elementary conflicts, is not so linear as the news text, but spiraled or elliptical. The narrator goes back and forth in the presentation of conflicts in the history, as a novel, presenting different dramatic centers and then intersecting them in unpredictable ways.

Finally, it is important to notice that the characters are written in a more elaborate manner. Just remember that the most cited person in the text, a taxi driver that the authors refer to as “Toninho Papagaio”, appears no less than 35 times. It is more than the triple of the official source most cited nominally, the public attorney Carlos Eduardo Ferreira Pinto. Moreover, added to the citation volume is also a qualitative preoccupation. Toninho is not only “a taxi driver”, but, amongst different mentions, somebody “with white, shoulder-length hair, a youthful appearance reinforced by the sunglasses worn as a tiara” (MENDES; SALVO, 2016 – Our translation). There is an intimacy of the narrators with the character, that in turn creates an intimacy of the reader with Toninho, uncommon fact in a cold and wishfully objective testimony in the daily news.

Language, structure and characters are, according to this research, the tripod upon which this journalistic-literary text was constituted. It is important to mention that the literary resources used in the text not only attend an aesthetical objective, making the reading more pleasurable, but also work as resources for authentication, creators of the effect of reality. The descriptions apparently without symbolic function, as the “youthful appearance” of Toninho, are, according to Barthes (1984), powerful expressive instruments to naturalize the reader into the narrative universe. That is they help to carry the reader inside that universe at the same time they make the reader deposit additional trust in the investigation of the reporter, who could not know about the “youthful appearance” if he was not there personally, face to face with the character.

Literature in the journalism, then, seems to fulfill an aesthetic function and a function that seems paradoxical at first sight: to naturalize universes and to legalize speeches, which is of utmost importance for journalism. However, so that such function is performed, it is clear that the composition must be balanced and well made, otherwise the inverse effect will occur: the mushy or forced text, implausible, can generate a distance from the reader, breaking the bond of trust between the audience and the media.

In the meeting between journalism and literature, both in search of an update facing 21st century demands, both systems become more complex, as Soster (2011, 2012) evidenced in his analysis of journalistic contents in periodicals and magazines. For the author, literature transforms the New Journalism into a more complex genre when it adds to it more elaborate figures of speech, complete dialogues, an explicit subjectivity from the author, sources of information in the shape of literary characters and frequently a narrator who puts himself as a witness of the narrated events.

1Many authors have been currently discussing the concept of subjectivity, seeking to avoid simplistic interpretations that associate it simply to notions of identity and singularity, for example. For a more profound notion about this theme, we suggest Costa e Galli Fonseca (2008) and Miranda (2000).

2The authors William Labov and Joshua Waletzky created the concept that the narrative is basically the succession of at least two facts connected by a temporal juncture. The juncture is an element, although not formally identifiable, capable of temporally ordering the events of the narrative. In a narrative, the alteration of a temporal order of their elements takes necessarily the creation of a new narrative – hence the existence of the temporal juncture as a sorting element. For example, in “João danced with Maria and broke his foot”, we have a micro narrative, because the reordering of the events for “João broke his foot and danced with Maria” alters the meaning of the original narrative, producing a new story. In this case, it is not about a narrative, but mere description, since it is possible to affirm equally, without distortion of meaning, that “dancing with Maria, João broke his foot”. For more information regarding temporal juncture and its narrative role, see Labov (1997).

3The complete list is available at <>. Accessed on: Feb. 2nd, 2017.

4Translating to English: The death of the water caboclo. The title uses the death of a mythical creature (o caboclo d’água, the water caboclo) as a metaphor for the environmental catastrophe which took place in the region. The water caboclo is a mythical monster who supposedly would kill people and animals in the neighborhood, a type of boogeyman.

6In Portuguese, the poem makes a word play with the words Barra and Barro – the latter meaning “mud”.


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Received: February 13, 2017; Accepted: July 21, 2017

Renato Essenfelder

Renato Essenfelder holds a PhD in Communication Sciences from the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP), a master’s degree in Portuguese by the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Professor of Journalism at the Superior School of Advertising and Marketing of São Paulo (ESPM-SP) since 2011, he has also been a faculty member of the Professional Master’s in Journalism from the same institution since 2016, where he coordinates the Research Group in Content Production. He develops researches in the areas of journalistic narratives, reporting and editing of texts, cyberjournalism, social networks and fake news, and ethics. He is a columnist for Portal Estadão and a guest editor of the journal Cadernos de Cidadania of the Commerce Social Service of São Paulo (Sesc-SP), since 2010. Email:

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