Meet Mariana Santos

Profiles of Knight International Journalism Fellows

Over the next two weeks, we will be profiling the projects of several Knight International Journalism Fellows.

Mariana Santos is a motion designer and visual storyteller at The Guardian, and beginning in April 2013, she will running outreach and events designed to connect more illustrators and artists with journalists and newsrooms in Latin America to create more compelling audiovisual storytelling for online journalism. She will also be leading an effort to involve women in technology work in newsrooms and civic media projects in Latin America. (You can read her advice to data visualization teams over at Computer Arts.) We spoke with her about her plans for the next year.

Charting the Fellowship

Q. How did you decide on the project(s) you’re working on during the fellowship? What needs are your projects meeting?

Latin America newsrooms in general are advancing enormously in the field of investigative journalism, and setting up huge databases with valuable information that the readers/users could profit immensely. The part that I think could do with a bit of improvement and empowering is the storytelling side: how to package the content into a compelling, immersive, engaging, and easy-to-use narrative. This is why I decided to pick digital visual storytelling — be it animated narratives or interactive features — where we can have powerful data visualizations within a human context. Another question that I picked to work on, and that think deserves special attention is “How can we bring more women into technology in news?” I think women are an essential asset in the tech environment in newsrooms and we have an extreme lack of them. I’d like to try to change that!

Plans for the Fellowship

Q. Could you give us a behind-the-scenes tour of the projects you’re working on?

I’ll coordinate, when possible, with the other fellows in the organization of big events such as media parties. When I’m acting alone in Costa Rica for example, I’ll be teaming up with La Nación trying to bring together the great examples of digital journalistic practices from across Costa Rica and neighboring countries, bringing in experts and motivators to create a spirit of innovation, and inviting teams to try new tools and approaches in news storytelling.

I’m also planning hands-on bootcamps with girls and women in tech environments to build products and projects for newsrooms — we will bring in successful women in tech to share their experiences, and to engage and motivate other women in the same environments. In each of these bootcamps, we will work on real problems and needs to be solved and create a hacker-friendly environments where women can solve problems and be actively part of digital development and process.

Finally, I’ll be focusing a lot in the design side of storytelling and user engagement, for that reason I would love Latin countries to take advantage of the visual heritage they have already pre-established, but are not yet taking full advantage of. To accomplish this, I want to create a network of visual thinkers, designers, and illustrators and bring them inside newsrooms to try to reinvent the state of infographics and illustration to include more mobile and moving animations.

Q. What challenges are you facing?

I’ll face the lack of women in tech environments, where there is a pre-established male environment, so the question is how to break in and establish the idea that woman are needed and great assets to this kind of work. I’ll also face the challenge of different speeds of work across projects, the short amount of time to do so many projects.

As it’s my first time in these countries, I’ll don’t have a preexisting personal network — so I have to believe in the power of engagement, build trust, and meet the right people willing to commit to innovation while I’m there.

I believe I’ll also face lots of bureaucracy, but that’s something I am pretty used to and am willing to fight back.

Looking ahead

Q. What will success look like for this work?

When I leave this space, if there are women working in technology and engaging others to do the same, and if there are networks of designers and illustrators working in newsrooms and creating stories after I’m gone, this will be a success for me!

I am so happy and honored to be part of this amazing cast of innovators, hands-on workers, and motivators, and I will do my best to keep up with their work!





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