NPR Fellowship – Let the adventure begin!

At Chicas Poderosas we search for challenges and love finding spaces where creativity, teamwork and professionalism are mixed.

During this year we partnered with NPR to make real one of the first Dow Jones grants, thanks to Raju Narisetti, Senior Vice President, at Strategy NewsCorp. With this initiative we sent two women journalists from Latin America to two of the best digital storytelling newsrooms in the world.

For one month Maria Paula Martinez, journalist and professor at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, was part of NPR visual team, with Brian Boyer as her mentor.

As part of this experience, Maria Paula participated in the creation of projects such as Post-Katrina New Orleans Smaller, But Population Growth Rates Back On Track, where she learned how digital tools can be used effectively on journalism, in a collaborative and dynamic way. These are some of the insights learned as part of this experience.

How was the experience working with Maria Paula Martinez as part of your team?

Brian Boyer: Having Maria Paula Martinez with us was awesome. One of the biggest projects she worked on was a research we did around the effects of hurricane Katrina on population, in the area around New Orleans. So it was the 10th anniversary this year and she worked on that quite a bit. The process for any story we would like to start is to think about things in terms of our audience. Is sort of asking who is our audience, what do they care about, what are their needs and then we talk about what kind of stories can we make. In the Katrina piece that she worked on we were really investigating data, so we had a bunch of data and her and her team were making a lot of different maps just to see what patterns we could see.

What do you think are the needs for Latin America newsrooms?

Brian Boyer: One problem that is common is that we need to be doing more reporting based on evidence, instead just calling a source or having someone telling us something. Going to the data and ask ourselves what is really there. So, starting your reporting and figuring out based on what we know about the world, based on evidence. And to get there you need data analysis skills and be able to understand it, be able to interpret it, be able to communicate what you’ve learn from that analysis. It’s an incredible and powerful tool that is been used a lot more these days but is certainly not been use enough. Outsite of journalism, there is a hole field now called data science. It its data journalism too. The ability to interview data, to find patterns. This is what finance company are doing, online data companies are doing. Everybody is doing that. The newsrooms need to catch up.

When you integrate more women to the newsroom, did you find any difference?

Brian Boyer: In the past I have work on teams that were only men but for me the big difference is about having a group people with different ways to approach the world. Someone who is a mother looks as a world differently. To me it’s about having a diversity of opinion and having representation of the world that we’re in. Our ideal team will directly reflect the demographics of the world we’re covering. We do pretty well on the balance between men and women. Although we could have more women engineers and definitely have more people of color.

How are you working on that?

Brian Boyer: We just tried something recently. A lot of newsrooms, especially NPR, are build from interns, people who start young and they stick around. This place is special. So what we are trying to do lately is increase the fairness of our intern hiring process, reducing the effect of privileges that certain people have. For example, the people who write good cover letters are people who have been coach, people who had other people on their lives who tell them how to apply for a job and not everyone have that privilege. So we told people “hey here is a job and here is how we want you to apply, here is what we want you to write.” We ask ourselves how can we help bring them up to the same level of those who had coaching. Another thing is that when you interview somebody you ask a lot of question and there are some people that are really good answering question quickly, they are very well spoken, who represent themselves very well. And there are other people frankly who don’t. And that doesn’t mean they are not smart, it doesn’t mean they’re not able to work in teams. So what we are doing is rather simply. We give them the list of all the question before the interview, so no one is surprised and they have some time to break down some answers. With little tricks like that we want to improve our process.

Do you have any latin america on your team right now?

Brian Boyer: We do not. We have an Open News Fellow who have been with us over a year. She’s from Brazil. But we mostly hire people from the U.S, which is a problem.

Lot of the agenda is related with Latin Americans too. If you include more latinos in the newsroom would that make a difference on the way you cover?

Brian Boyer: Absolutely. It’s something that NPR as an organization is trying to do. But the only way we can get there is by having people with experiences that can talk about.


How is a normal day at NPR?

Brian Boyer: We have our five minutes meeting every day, we have several chat rooms open for projects, we have weekly meeting where we get together and look at something that inspired us. We have frequent reviews to know how far we have gone that week. All this process are about creating more communication. Because communication can be hard, even if is face to face you still have to create a lot of opportunities where people can talk to each other. But yes, as Maria Paula said NPR newsroom is a quiet place. We use a lot our chat because we also have remote teams and we want to include them on the conversations.

When you start a project what is your process to organize everything?

Brian Boyer: We follow a process similar to SCRUM. The idea is about constant communication and having everything written down but really prioritizing what we have to do. And constantly been in contact with the people we’re working with, constantly being showing our work. The other really super important thing is always to keep our audience first. We use a lot of user testing and, as we are building a project, we sometimes go to the cafeteria and show what we’re doing to get a feedback.


Maria Paula with the NPR visuals team (super happy)

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