Pencil sharpenings
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Every week we ask a leading figure in digital news about their work, their career and what it takes to be a journalist in the 21st century.

This week we're hearing from Fusion's Mariana Santos, who leads the outlet's interactive and animation team, about her role, working at Fusion, and the skills she thinks trainee journalists should focus on today.

mariana santos q&a

What is your job title and what does that mean?

I am director of interactive and animation, which means I overview all the interactive storytelling projects – and data visualisation, be it interactive, static or in motion.

I have a team of extremely talented journalists: Victor Abarca as a infographic artist and illustrator; Miguel Costa as UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) designer; Kit Cross, interactive developer; Simon Ducroquet, infographic animator, 3D, VR; Olman Hernandez as a film producer and VR; Roberto Rodriguez, as interactive developer.

We do all the visual side of stories that can come from editorial teams at Fusion: investigations, voices, pop and culture, etc. We work mainly for the digital side, including all the social media channels – specifically Snapchat – though we collaborate with TV producers when needed.

How did you get started in journalism/the industry?

My first job in journalism was an internship in the summer of 2010 at the Guardian in London, with Alastair Dant, my friend, mentor and professor on data visualisation. He really kicked off my career and taught me all the specifications of how to work with data in journalism, opening up the magic that happens when developers, designers and journalists work together to tell stories.

After having some interviews I finally got the yes, and my first project was sitting side-by-side with Alastair to tell the story of Wikileaks in data visualisation. It was the beginning of something amazing, that I never let go.

What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?

Meeting my team. My team is the force that drives my everyday life. They are the talent, the inspiration, the force behind what we produce at Fusion. I believe it's all about the people, so my first wish is to hear their dreams and visions, and how we can better apply all the passion and talent to stories, trying to bring all the angles we can bring to tell each story, delivering each one of them with love and care.

Then I look forward to connecting with the team of editors, exchanging ideas and planning how we will change the world together. I still deeply believe in the power of news to address change and get community informed, connected and caring about the world we live in. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work in news, in a very compassionate and daring company – Fusion – which is trying in different ways to address the very fast-changing pace of digital media.

What does a normal day look like for you? In emoji.

mariana santos emoji

What three tools or apps do you use the most for work?

Slack for internal communication among teams, email all the time, paper and pencil to sketch ideas directly from head to hand ;)

What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now?

Development. I believe if a journalist knows some technological languages it will help immensely in the communication with the team. I would also focus on design and aesthetics and, most of all, user experience in digital storytelling and interactives.

On the journalism side, I would like to learn how to use the design thinking approach to develop empathy research when interviewing.

What skills do you think are important to your role?

A sense of leadership and having a clear definition on where the team is heading, and how to get there. Making sure everyone in the team knows their role, their value and what is expected from them. The power to motivate the team to be engaged and committed to the work we put out.The commitment to my company, vision and mission. I think passion and thinking big are super important too.

What has your current job taught you about the industry?

That digital media changes at the speed of light, that we need to be bold and not fear failure as that's part of the learning, that we need to experiment and dare to do things in a way that hasn't been done before. It's all about the people, and we need to believe in what we are doing and in ourselves to be able to go forward in a solid way.

What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?

Bring all you've got, don't build expectations, live the moment and let's rock and roll.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

You have more power than you think!

Next week we'll be hearing from Ramaa Sharma, head of social media at BBC World Service.

In the meantime, check out our previous Q&As with, among others, Greg Barber, director of digital news projects at the Washington Post, and Mitra Kalita, managing editor for editorial strategy at the LA Times.

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