Voices of Brazil: ninja journalist Bruno Torturra, who runs an alternative press collective (The Guardian)

‘I want the people of the world to hear a different narrative from the World Cup; from a point of view of people on the street, not the stadiums or the press,’ says Bruno Torturra, leader of the Mídia Ninja collective of citizen journalists

Luke Bainbridge

The Observer, Sunday 26 January 2014

Ninja journalist Bruno Torturra sitting on the floorBruno Torturra: ‘In the casas it was brilliant to see young people putting into practice their ambition for a utopian cultural economic system.’ Photograph: Marcos Villas Boas

It is hard to imagine anyone who looks less like a Japanese assassin, but Bruno Torturra is a leader of the self-styled Mídia Ninja collective, which emerged as an alternative to the mainstream Brazilian press during the protests last summer.

The group arrived as a loose collective of citizen journalists who, spurred by advances in digital media that put the powers of reporting and distribution in their hands, reported and live-streamed hours of footage from protests in different cities.

Armed with smartphones and digital cameras, they were determined to tell what they saw as the true narrative of news that was being distorted. They quickly grew in popularity with those similarly disenchanted and frustrated with the coverage of the protests by traditional media, while polarising opinion among established commentators. And they hit the national headlines when they filmed a police infiltrator throwing a Molotov cocktail at a protest during Pope Francis’s trip to Brazil in July 2013.

The first seeds of Mídia Ninja were sown in 2012 when Torturra, then a journalist for Trip magazine, wrote a piece on the music and social collective Fora Do Eixo (FDE). Members live in shared casas, with their own alternative economy. “I found them fascinating,” says Torturra, when we meet in his local café in São Paulo. “I thought it was brilliant to see so many young people living together and putting into practice their ambition for a utopian cultural economic system.”

A few months later Torturra was covering a march to legalise marijuana. “The police really cracked down on the protesters. I was beaten and inhaled tear gas,” he says. “I wrote a huge article on my blog and the next morning everyone was sharing it on Facebook.”

The blog got a bigger reception than anything Torturra had written in nine years at TripPablo Capilé from Fora Do Eixo called Torturra and suggested they talk about working together. With other FDE members Rafael Vilela and Felipe Altenfelder they began streaming events under the name Post TV, building an increasing following until last summer, when Torturra wrote a more defined manifesto and they became Mídia Ninja.

At the height of the protests they had several thousand independent citizen journalists. The extent to which they polarised opinion was clear when they were invited on to a Brazilian talk show and Torturra and Capilé were given a grilling from an invited panel of established journalists, and to many came out on top.

Torturra is aware that there’s a huge appetite around the world to find out more about the complex situation in Brazil, which will only be heightened in the next 12 months. “We have huge potential for this year,” he says. “It is the year of Brazil. Even we don’t know exactly what is happening right now. The World Cup is a horrible idea. I think the government now realises that, but it’s too late to stop it. The cost is so huge. It’s proven to be a lie that the World Cup brings better infrastructure and leaves a legacy. The only legacy is more expensive stadiums and a lot of public money gone to the toilet.

“We’re in a really good position to cover it in a different way, not only for Brazil but the world,” he says. “I’m planning to make Mídia Ninja a stream in English and Spanish as well, so people of the world can hear a different narrative from the World Cup; from a point of view of people on the street, not the stadiums or the press. We’re not interested in the football. That will be over-covered by other people.”