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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Chicas Poderosas explains how design thinking can help you become a better digital journalist




This article is part of the series, "Innovators in Latin American Journalism," published by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, with the help of Open Society Foundations' Program on Independent Journalism.


By Mariana Santos*, CEO of Chicas Poderosas

The goal with this article is to explain how can Design Thinking can help you become a better digital journalist, with a business mindset and collaborative skills. This has helped me a lot, and I hope it helps you, too.

Mariana Santos (Courtesy)

Since the inception of Chicas Poderosas back in 2013 in Chile, while I was an ICFJ Knight fellow, the first insight I got while attending the Hacks & Hackers chapter in Santiago is that they were having a hard time attracting women journalists to the event. It hopes to be a matchmaking event for journalists and developers, providing a space for the co-creation of digital journalistic projects to empower access to data for the public at-large. Well, if we women are not showing up, we’ll miss the boat.

This was an A-ha moment: we need to create a safe space for women to get involved and learn more about technology, using it in their newsrooms. One way or another, we are inside a digital society and we need to know how to move and use the platforms and methodologies in order to be able to work in collaboration, and dare to innovate in journalism.

Later on, in 2015, I became a Knight Fellow at Stanford University in California and had the opportunity to spend most of my time at the D.School (Institute of Design) where I was a fellow under the guidance of Justin Ferrell. The goal there was to introduce a journalistic entrepreneurial problem we’d look into solving. Diving into the methodology of Human-Centered Design, I could clearly define:

1- my target audience

2- learn and understand what their needs were

3- brainstorm in collaboration with very bright minds from the D.School on how to achieve that

4- prototype to be able to fail fast and learn from what did not work

5- iterate and adapt my solutions until they matched the needs

The entire design thinking methodology starts with understanding our audience. Do you really know who your target audience is, what their needs are and what ecosystem they live in? Well, this is the first question we need to ask in order to understand what the problems really are, using data and analysis of their needs, rather than “I think they need x.” Data can play a huge role in helping to address core issues.

It is a huge lesson of humility and a need to give up our journalistic assumptions and rather put on our anthropological glasses on and observe, a lot!

For a long time (maybe since 2010), The Guardian has invested in deeply understanding their readers in order to keep itself meaningful and a differential in the market.

I must admit that it is quite hard to implement this innovative approach in legacy media companies, and that in order to try something new, you will find a lot of reluctance from administrators who are naturally afraid to fail.

Allowing oneself to fail is crucial to innovation; while keeping a high standard of journalistic delivery, we MUST try new formats for storytelling, monetization and searching for gaps in the market. There is no hope in continuing to think that the advertising model that once worked out nicely for print will turn out the same way for digital. With ever-growing online platforms, the advertising market has deeply changed as well, finding other places where they can invest their $ (Facebook, Google Ads, etc.). So, we need to be more creative here and dare more in order to stay in the game.

Independent news organizations, thinking globally but investing in local journalism, daring to do things that big corporations won’t, is the differential in which we can invest. Nowadays, it’s not the biggest who will win the market, but those who can better adapt to the ever-changing environment. Technology is key to connecting with our audiences.

This year at Chicas Poderosas we have launched an accelerator for women-led independent news organizations. These journalists may have never needed to know about business development, different possibilities for monetization, trying out uncommon business models, budgeting for the year or anticipating partnerships for collaborative development of ideas/projects. We believe that journalists now not only need to be extremely agile with technology, but also need to have an entrepreneurial mindset, to try out new approaches not fearing the possibility of failing, learn to prototype, test, pivot.

Journalism is still at the core of democracy, but it has been threatened by the amount of different platforms and channels for information sharing. As Cecilia Oliveira from Fogo Cruzado says, “There is no fake news, there are either lies or there is news.” The question here is that all of those cross the same paths, and the audience can naturally get confused, manipulated and lose their trust in what they read online.

Well, I see in this crisis a huge opportunity for those who dare to tap into that problem, to be something different, not because they want to, but because their market is in deep need of a trustworthy source of information.


*Mariana Santos is the founder and CEO of Chicas Poderosas, “a non-profit organization that aims to bring more women into technology.” The organization works with storytellers across Latin America for training in entrepreneurship, business, innovation and design thinking.

“Human values are at the heart of our collaborative approach, and we focus on creating transformative learning experiences,” as the mission of the D.School at Stanford University explains. “In a time when there is hunger for innovation everywhere, our primary responsibility is to help prepare a generation of students to rise with the challenges of our world. Our deliberate mash-up of industry, academia and real-world problems is the key to our continuing evolution.”

Chicas Poderosas uses this methodology that brings together: human centered design + business training to have the entrepreneurial mindset, and above all collaboration, as keys to success in our extremely demanding times.



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