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News Hound

News Hound

He was bitten by the news bug very early in life. And soon he was
covering the last days of the Franco dictatorship and the booming days of the Brazilian
and South American dictatorships as well as the wars in Guatemala and Nicaragua. He made
it in the best Brazilian publications including Jornal do Brasil and Veja magazine.
Today Rosental Alves teaches reporting in Texas to a new generation of American
journalists.
By André Lessa

Rosental Alves is a journalist, a veteran foreign correspondent, and a professor at the
University of Texas. He is the only Brazilian titular professor at this institution where
he teaches two classes, International Reporting and Reporting on the World Wide Web. Born
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1951, Alves was 16 and still in high school, when he was
inspired by his cousin, who was a reporter, to be a journalist.

"I used to buy four or five different newspapers every morning and would try to
find the same story that was covered by all these papers and I used to compare them,"
he says. Thus, Alves started developing a technique. As he was going over the newspapers
one day, he found a little ad for an extension course in journalism at night. Though he
was too young, he persisted and was accepted. Alves graduated from this course and with
his diploma in hand, applied for a job at one of the main dailies in Rio, O Jornal,
where his cousin worked.

The editor of the paper refused to hire him, since he was so young, but allowed him to
accompany his cousin at work. Alves bought a suit and started following his cousin on
assignment. Soon after, he began collecting news himself. Around the same time he also
interned at the Meridional news agency, which together with O Jornal and weekly
magazine O Cruzeiro was part of the Diários Associados, a national media
conglomerate, that would soon start to crumble.

It was then 1968, a very tense year in Brazil. The military had overturned the civilian
government in 1964, but in 1968 the repression intensified and there were protests in
every large city in the country. A dangerous, but busy time for reporters. Following a few
months at O Jornal and Meridional news agency, Alves decided to move to Vitória,
the capital city of the state of Espírito Santo, where his brother lived. Alves’ family
is from Vitória, his brother had been living there alone, and Alves wanted to move away
from his parents’ home. In Vitória, which is a much smaller city than Rio, Alves finished
high school, while at the same time he worked as a journalist.

For three years Alves worked there as reporter, photographer, editor, and in radio, and
in magazines. In fact, he worked a lot more than he studied. "School was secondary
for me," he says. As there were no journalism schools in Vitória at that time, Alves
moved back to Rio to attend journalism school. The profession had just been regulated ( in
1969) and Alves feared he would be discriminated if he did not have a degree. So in 1971,
he began studying at a private university in Rio. In 1972, Alves landed a job at Rádio
Tupi and in the following year went to Rádio Jornal do Brasil. This was the start of a
23-year career.

He was still in college when the Federal University in Niterói, a city across the bay
from Rio, recruited Alves to teach a class on radio reporting. At first, Alves told them
that he could not do it because he was a student himself, but they could not find anyone
else qualified to do the job. So, at the age of 21, Alves began teaching at the university
in Niterói.

The next year, Alves began teaching at another university, and by 1973, he was also
writing for the Jornal do Brasil ( JB) newspaper, by then arguably the most
respected Brazilian newspaper. In 1975, Alves went to Spain to study at the Official
School of Radio and TV in Madrid. From there Alves kept writing for the JB and
sending stories to the JB radio.

"Those were interesting days, it was the end of the Franco dictatorship in
Spain," he says. After that short stay in Madrid, Alves returned to Brazil and
continued to teach and work for JB. In 1978, the journalists quit his jobs and went
back to Madrid. Alves knew that the JB did not have a correspondent in Spain, and
told them he was going to take a course there. He wanted that correspondent position. As
he arrived in Spain, he began his free-lance career from the very first day. From the
airport in Madrid, he went to the UPI office and sent JB his first story from Spain
about the murder of a general, who had been killed by terrorists. He worked until 1 a.m.,
before he realized he did not have a place to stay.

Alves was able to live well as a free lance reporter for one year. He worked in Spain
and Portugal. Eventually, he was hired again by JB. "My plan worked out,"
he says. As soon as he was rehired, he was sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1979,
Argentina was going through a very violent period. Alves stayed in Buenos Aires for three
years, until the end of the Falkland Islands war. During these three years, Alves covered
not only Argentina but all of the Southern South America.

Military dictatorships were the norm in those days. Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay,
Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Chile all had military regimes. Alves covered them all. He
traveled a lot. In two years, the journalist covered 5 coups in Bolivia. Around that time,
Alves married an ex-student. This was a very short-lived marriage that lasted only two
months.

"It was a mistake. I dreamt of having a family, but my wife hated Buenos Aires.
She left me and headed back to Brazil," he says. In 1982, Alves moved to Mexico city,
still as a JB international correspondent. The war in El Salvador had just started
and Alves was responsible for Mexico and Central America. Soon after, the
"Contras" conflict broke out in Nicaragua.

For the next two and a half years, Alves again traveled, covering the conflicts in that
part of the world, specially, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In 1984, JB had a
"terrible" editorial change. "That was a short, but very sad period for the
paper," Alves says. He was called back to Brazil then, and as soon as he arrived he
resigned from the JB. 

The journalist then went to work as an assistant editor for Veja, Brazil’s
largest weekly magazine. While at Veja, Alves covered the entertainment beat with
special emphasis on Globo TV network, Brazil’s virtual TV monopoly. Alves tried to cover
the business side of television, trying to avoid the tabloidish way this area had always
been covered. After six months, however, Alves went back to his "natural
habitat," politics and economy at Veja.

A year later, in 1985, more changes took place at JB and resulted in Alves’
return to that company. Once again, the journalist went to Buenos Aires. This time, Alves
witnessed the trial of the military officials who were accused of civil rights violations.
"A complete different Buenos Aires. The same generals I saw as leaders before were
now defendants in this Latin American Nuremberg," he recalls.

At that time, Alves shared an office with William Montalbano, a Los Angeles Times reporter
who encouraged Alves to apply for the prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, a
mid-career scholarship for journalists. Alves was the first Brazilian to be accepted and
he spent one year at Harvard studying American politics, particularly the election system.
Alves had been promised the bureau chief position by JB, once he finished the
fellowship. As promised, Alves moved in 1988 to Washington, DC, where he stayed for two
years. He covered mostly the U.S., but also traveled a few times to El Salvador to cover
the ongoing war there.

In 1989, in a trip to Rio, Alves met his future wife, Cláudia, "I used my
frequent-flier miles to see her in Rio once a month for six months," he says.
Cláudia is 12 years younger than Alves. After having spent so much time in Brazil with
Cláudia, Alves was offered an editor position at JB. He accepted it. In 1990, the
journalist moved back to Rio. He edited the metro section and the two weekly magazines of
the paper. Alves did that for about a year and then he was promoted to executive editor of
the paper.

In 1992, he moved to Brasília, Brazil’s capital, and there he lived for one and a half
years. That was when President Fernando Collor de Mello was being impeached, the first
time a president had ever been impeached in Brazil. The media played a major role in the
process, bringing the story to the forefront and investigating allegations of corruption.
Eventually, Alves was promoted again. He became a director of JB.

It was then that the itinerant newsman saw something that would change his life, an ad
for a position at the University of Texas. Alves had been to Austin while he was a
correspondent in DC and he liked the city. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation had
donated $1,000,000 for the creation of the International Journalism Chair. Two hundred
people applied and Alves was selected. "The most exciting job in journalism is the
foreign correspondent’s job, and there is very little in journalism schools dedicated to
it," he says. So, he came to Austin with a plan for his International Reporting
class, which he’s been teaching since the summer of 1996.

Alves took his family into consideration when he decided to move to Austin. Austin is a
safer city to raise his three daughters. Rio is a very big city, with big city problems.
However, he doesn’t think he will stay here for many years, his wife wants to go back to
Brazil.

Alves likes his university job. "The best thing about teaching is learning,"
he says. Academia has given Alves a great opportunity to think critically about
journalism. He finds it hard to do it while working so intensely as a correspondent.
"Journalism is a very intuitive profession, one thinks very little about it, it is
very automatic. That is why this is a good opportunity for me to think about
journalism," he observes.

As always, Alves is keeping himself very busy. Besides teaching two classes;
International Reporting and Reporting on the Web, traveling to conferences both in the
States and in Latin America, he still finds time and energy to write a weekly column at O
Globo, JB’s main competitor in Rio. He writes commentaries about the relations
between the U.S. and Latin America. The students of journalism at the University of Texas
have so much to learn from this seasoned journalist and professor. Alves’ experience is a
valuable asset for the university. He is in love with his profession, and his love is sure
to inspire many of his students.

You can contact the author, André Lessa, at lessa@mail.utexas.edu 

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