Amanda De Souza
Amanda De Souza, School of Journalism ‘13, is a Senior Producer with Verizon Media.
Why did you decide to do a Master of Journalism?
I had originally thought about going to law school after my undergrad and I am so glad I didn’t!
I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to be creative, curious and constantly learn. Respected journalist Kathy English spoke about her journalism career in my high-school writer’s craft class. I never forgot what she said about her work being centred around telling people’s stories and people trusting you with them. Thinking back on that helped me realize I would be so much better suited in a newsroom than an office cubicle.
[The School of Journalism] is the best J-school in the country and the Master’s program is a super-competitive 25 person class. I thought if I got in, it was meant to be.
What did you see yourself pursuing when you first began the program?
I had my sights set on a career in broadcasting as an on-air reporter and eventual news anchor or host. (I bet you’ve never heard that one before!)
My MJ internship was at Canada AM and I was excited when they asked me back as a freelance producer. I knew I wanted on-air experience and had applied to newsrooms across the country from Victoria to Halifax. I ended up landing a writing job at CTV Kitchener in hopes of turning that into an on-air opportunity. What the MJ professors said about getting experience working in a small newsroom is true. I did everything from write and print scripts, run the webdesk, produce shows from the control room to eventually being on-air and shooting my own stories. It was an amazing opportunity to learn the ropes and hone my on-air skills.
Though there will always be a place in my heart for television news, I saw digital video as a space where I could tell a wider range of stories and use different formats and media to tell them.
How did you end up in your current position?
I always had my eye on HuffPost Canada. The brand was carving out a new space in Canadian media and I felt their work had an intelligent yet accessible tone, and was created with a diverse audience in mind.
I met the head of video, Sasha Nagy, for coffees here and there over the years. It took some time but a position on his team eventually came up and I was lucky to have built a relationship that got me in the door for an interview.
Can you talk a little about what your job entails day to day?
if you think of a story like a ship, a senior producer is like the captain. I steer the project’s editorial direction in tandem with my crew — other reporters, DOPs, graphic designers and animators and editors. I manage all of the logical and editorial decisions and create and guide the story from end to end.
On any given day, I am often working on stories for multiple brands at a time. They can be both editorial or branded content for outside clients. I love the diversity that brings to my role.
What is the most challenging part of your job right now? Has it changed much due to the pandemic?
Producing engaging video without anyone on our team being able to pick up a camera or be on a set is a huge shift. The pandemic has forced us to get creative with how we tell stories.
I’ve had to learn new skills like virtual directing, and learn new programs to record remote interviews, using software beyond Zoom and Skype.
Oh and also audio recording from inside my “home studio,” also known as my closet, is a big change.
What is your favourite part of your job?
There’s a really fun innovation aspect to my job where I can explore new technologies and avenues for storytelling.
One of those avenues is smart speakers. Everyday I write, produce and host the HuffPost Canada Splash. It’s a daily news briefing on Google Home and Amazon Alexa that gives you the top and trending stories from the HuffPost team in three minutes or less. It’s a fun challenge trying to expand the audience and entice them to form a new daily habit.
I’m also working on adding interactive augmented reality elements to news stories. I think about how we can bring readers and viewers into new worlds or visualize a story in a unique way. I think especially now, when we can’t be in many places outside of our own homes, this technology is more useful and attractive than ever.
What has been your biggest accomplishment as a journalist?
My biggest accomplishment has probably been the short documentary I produced for HuffPost called Run the Risk (external link) . It was shot by just myself and another team member in the city and mountains of Calgary in just 2.5 days. We told the story of Ian MacNairn, one of Canada’s most decorated ultra-marathoners, who also has Type 1 diabetes. The short doc won multiple Canadian journalism awards and was screened at festivals in Toronto, New York and in France.
A close second was a feature video I produced for HuffPost Canada’s election coverage in 2019. We visited the Testaswyak First Nation reserve in Northern Manitoba, a three-hour drive from our base in Thompson. We spoke with the local Indigenous peoples about living with a boil-water advisory and the specific issues impacting their communities that they felt go ignored election after election. It was an incredibly memorable and meaningful experience to hear from such an underreported community.
What’s one of your favourite memories from j-school?
I remember running around the city with my classmates and a camera filming our first story for Intro to Broadcasting and trying to make it look like we knew what we were doing!
I also have great memories of many fun times at the Ram or Imperial Pub with our class and running frantically to catch the Lakeshore West GO train afterwards.
Any memorable School of Journalism professors during your time at the university?
One of my favourite classes was definitely Intro to Broadcasting with Janice Neil with memorable cameos from Gary. I will never forget his instructions on lighting a subject, what he called, ‘Shawshank’ lighting.
I also appreciated learning the foundations of an iron-clad story and nut graf from Paul Knox.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
Don’t go out searching for the stories you think editors want you to write or produce. Tell stories about the issues, people and communities that matter to you. They will be more meaningful, impactful and help you stand out.
And even though there are a zillion ways to reach someone these days, get comfortable with picking up the phone. It’s a lot harder for someone to say no when they can hear your voice (pleading with them!) on the other end.