Journalist of the month: Sanara Santos

May 31, 2024 in Journalist of the Month
Sanara holding a mic and speaking in front of a camera.

Growing up in Favela da Ilha, São Paulo, Sanara Santos witnessed mainstream media outlets regularly overlook her community. Hers is a peripheral community, or a marginalized area lacking in essential infrastructure and resources.

“Peripheral communities are like news deserts, lacking not just information but also health, education and infrastructure.” Favelas and quilombos are examples of peripheral communities in Brazil.

Santos, who is a Black trans woman, discovered that she had an interest in journalism after she was interviewed about her relationship with money for a documentary with Enois, an organization dedicated to boosting diversity in Brazilian media. “When I saw other young people doing journalism, I knew this was something possible for me to be a part of,” she recalled.

The following year, Santos enrolled into Enois’ journalism school. The first story she published was about food in Brazil’s peripheral communities. 

Inspired, she would go on to work for Enois, where today she is the organization’s training director. In this role she has become a leading advocate for diversity in Brazilian media, uplifting her community through the power of journalism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, she created a diversity toolkit to help Brazilian media improve representation in their newsrooms.

I spoke with Santos about her experiences promoting diversity in newsrooms, the challenges and successes that come with it, and more:

How has growing up in São Paulo shaped your experience as a reporter? 

When I joined Enois, I realized the core issue was the lack of information in peripheral communities, so I decided to bring information to these areas.

People now send me questions, and I provide them with accurate information. I have become a reference point in my community. 

Bringing information [to these communities] also [can positively impact] public policies [...] and communication within these areas. It’s not like a distant person on television delivering information, but someone within their communities who shares the same experiences. Journalism in peripheral communities is about making information accessible, and that’s what I do.

As a Black trans woman, what has your experience in journalism been like?

Journalism has lost credibility in many ways, partly due to the overwhelming whiteness and its ties to authoritarianism and fascism. This is especially challenging for Black women and transgender journalists in gaining credibility. The environment is very aggressive, often placing us in positions of fear and inferiority because of racism. 

Telling the truth is fundamental, so we have to increase our respect for marginalized bodies, which is challenging given that bodies like mine haven’t been seen as credible. Black women are often scrutinized, undermining their credibility. The work of bell hooks has been helping with that.

What successes have you experienced while trying to increase diversity in the media? 

Our success lies in the network we’ve built with peripheral organizations that work with Enois. We support them, making community journalism possible, impacting their territories and facilitating public policies. These organizations now produce more content and [have been able to] improve their infrastructure.

What is the state of diversity in Brazilian newsrooms today?

Our research maps diversity in newsrooms. Many leadership roles in local and peripheral journalism initiatives are held by Black women. Despite having limited resources, Black women leaders are growing in number and impact. Most journalism initiatives are concentrated in São Paulo, where political power and financial resources are centralized.

How do you stay motivated and inspired in your work, especially when encountering setbacks?

Activism at Enois makes me feel happy and alive. Listening to stories in our network motivates me. Seeing our latest guide about the right to quality food in peripheral communities, and regions of the country working together on the same projects fills me with confidence.

Attending our training would motivate you, too. You’d see people facing challenges, and reporters producing dedicated journalism to solve them. We have no choice but to keep doing what we are doing.

What do you believe are the most critical steps newsrooms can take to create more inclusive environments and “decolonize” their reporting? 

First, identify, examine and map out where diversity is needed in these three pillars: management, culture and production. 

With management, do you have editors and team members from different backgrounds? For culture, you should have guidelines for conduct and measures for understanding how people feel. In production, ensure you have diversity in data sources and formats. Who are you trying to reach? Who are you writing to? It’s essential to actively reach people in peripheral communities. 

How has IJNet helped your career?

I began working with IJNet some time ago. I talked with IJNet about [my diversity toolkit], which allowed me to understand what Enois is doing differently from traditional journalism. It also made me think about new ways to give access to [our approach], spreading the work further.

IJNet was like a school for me. It allowed me to revisit decolonized journalism beyond just the concept [...] And how we could have good practices about it, connecting us with other new ways of doing journalism, more diversely. 

This partnership placed me in an international ecosystem of news production with other journalists, allowing me to participate in training and exchange knowledge, ideas and practices. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Photo courtesy of Santos.