Freelance Journalist

March 12, 2024 (Updated )

From establishing her own magazine, Migrant Women’s Press, to challenging the narrative around immigration in the mainstream media and enabling migrant women to tell their own stories, Brazilian journalist Juliana Da Penha has always wanted diverse narratives to be heard.

Running her own magazine isn’t all that Juliana does, however; after working extensively with migrant communities in Scotland and Italy, she recently joined Greater Govanhill as their Project and Communications Coordinator, where she’s working on the Scottish Beacon, a collaborative project centred around Scotland’s local and hyperlocal independent publishers.

We caught up with Juliana in 2023 at the Student Publication Association’s National Conference to learn about a day in the life of a magazine founder, get an insider look into what it’s like to juggle two demanding jobs, and how she still finds the time to start and end the day with a workout.

What’s a typical morning like for you?

I [have gotten] into some habits that I’ve found to be good for me; for example, I like to start my day doing yoga. I wake up at maybe six or seven in the morning to do it, because I’ve found that it’s a really good practice for centering myself. I started around five years ago, and it’s a good way to start the day with a moment just for me, [in which] I care about myself, and don’t think about anything else. Then I have breakfast and I go through my to-do list — if I have prepared one. If not, I will make a to-do list.

Did you always want to be a journalist?

I considered many things, like being a vet — I love dogs and cats. I like to write and I like to speak with people, but I love listening even more. I like to listen to people’s stories. From when I was a child, I realised that people [would often] tell me stories, like at bus stops, for example, which was always really funny. People from Brazil are normally like that; we speak to people as if we’ve known them from childhood, but I realised that I was becoming a really good listener. I didn’t visualise being a journalist, but somehow I realised that these things [led to it].

Journo Resources
"Keep informed, update your skills, network more, and learn from others’ experiences, tips and advice. I started to do that and it changed my life."
Juliana Da Penha, founder of Migrant Women Press

What surprises you most about your job?

I think it’s always the people: their stories, their experiences, their challenges and how they overcome all of them. Especially because I work a lot with migrant women, who sometimes go through so many issues. I see their resilience; [so] many women [have] managed to go through so many things and do amazing things. People motivate me with the way that they turn bad things into good things and I’m inspired by that.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Replying to a lot of emails! And then I oversee what I need to do for Migrant Women Press: if I need to edit an article, do something on social media, edit our newsletter, or [look over] things that I need to discuss with the other collaborators.

And then I work on other projects as well — I’m currently working at Greater Govanhill as their Project and Communications Coordinator, where we are building a network of really exciting projects. It’s a network of collaborative journalism, involving local and hyperlocal publishers in Scotland. So I’d need to [go over] the tasks that I need to do for this project, and I work on other projects as well. Normally I try to define, for example, Tuesdays and Fridays for Greater Govanhill, and Mondays and Wednesdays, for Migrant Women Press, but sometimes it overlaps! It completely depends.

Why did you want to create Migrant Women Press?

I wanted to change the narrative around how migrant communities are portrayed in the media, especially because [their stories] are completely absent from the headlines.

That’s why I wanted to create a platform where migrant women could find out about how to live in a new country, find opportunities, figure out how to communicate in a new language, navigate the culture, and do many other things. And then I could [have them tell] their own stories from a migrant woman’s perspective, from their own experiences, because migration is a really complex topic, where there’s not one single story — there are many.

Want To Delve Into The Daily Lives Of More Journalists?

From there, I started to have other opportunities, because I’ve worked in the third sector for a while here, especially with migrant communities and projects with women on more of a community development level. I started to build a network but my aim was always to work as a journalist, or at least someone that you can feel open with to talk about your stories, and I started to find opportunities.

Before working at Greater Govanhill, I was working on a project where we were researching the sustainability of independent, native digital media in Europe; it was an international research project. Some of the skills that were required in this research were transferable to this project, and then from my other experiences — working with communities, and starting projects from scratch — I started my own press, which leads me to Migrant Women Press.

What is the best part of your job?

I love the idea that I am creating opportunities for other women, even on a small level. For example, I have collaborators who have said, “It was difficult for me to find the opportunity to publish my article in another place”. So I think the best part is having this space where they can have these opportunities — and then from that, I realised that some of them got jobs.

We are a really small, voluntary organisation, but it’s good to know that even these small things for their CV can help them to find other opportunities. And especially because I work with marginalised women who can’t [always] work, or can’t do other things; but then being a volunteer, writing their articles, and contributing [to the publication], helps them stand [up], and then keep going.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

To be honest, I think it has to be being invited to speak at the SPA National Conference 2023 and see that the work I’m doing is meaningful; for example, I can speak with students and inspire them to start their own magazine.

I also come from a background where people don’t have opportunities to study, that I had. In my family, there are not many people that managed to study and follow a career, because of many social issues, so I’m really proud that I managed to get here and represent them.

When I came [to Britain] I managed to study at Glasgow University, and when I graduated I cried because my great-grandmother was not able to read or write, but she always said “you need to study”. I’m proud to be here today and to have had an opportunity to start my career, because I know that for many women like me, it’s really difficult — and [we should] celebrate every single step because it’s important.

A selection of pieces published by Migrant Women Press (Image Credit: Screenshot)

And with journalism in general, it can be really challenging to have opportunities in the media industry. It’s really challenging for women like me in this industry; so I’m proud of trying to bring some diversity somehow, with my work, or with my words.

What would you do differently if you were starting your career again?

Don’t be too insecure, or too shy, because when I was younger, I was really shy and so I used to miss out on opportunities. I think it was part of my journey, so I don’t regret anything; I embrace it, because at the end of the day, it’s how I got here.

Also, watch out for thinking in just one way, because I realised that there are really few opportunities for full-time employment as a journalist and many people think it is the only way. Rather than just thinking about applying for one [specific] job, create your own! It’s a more complicated journey to be freelance, or to start your own magazine, but my advice is to open your mind to many opportunities: not only here in the UK, but around the world. Get in touch, communicate, and collaborate, and from there more opportunities may arise.

What advice do you have to journalists who want to start their own project or publication?

Get as much information as you can. If you’re starting a project now, think about how you can make it sustainable because when I started Migrant Women Press, I just had my passion for stories – and then I realised there are so many other things to figure out. So keep informed, keep training to update your skills, network more, and learn from others’ experiences, because people with other projects can share many tips and advice. I started to do that and it changed my life, because people are really happy to share, and then from them, you can learn a lot.

Now, there are more opportunities to work on your own or to work remotely. That can be nice, but on the other hand, you need to try to find ways to work with people and meet; for example, my contract with Greater Govanhill is remote, but I go when I can to the community newsroom.

Journo Resources
"I would like the industry to be more inclusive, [for] everyone who wants to working in this industry to find their space and their voice."
Juliana Da Penha, founder of Migrant Women Press

What is the thing you’d most like to change about the industry?

I would like it to be more inclusive. I would like everyone who has something to share, has a passion, and wants to work in this industry, to find their space and their voice. I would like the industry to be a place where there are opportunities for everyone, and where there are more funds for independent journalism and to sustain people that start their own projects — which are really difficult to maintain.

I was upset by gal-dem closing down, as I was really inspired by what they were doing. It’s really difficult to maintain a project; I want Migrant Women Press to be more sustainable and collaborative, but I realised from gal-dem’s experience, it’s not easy.

What do you do to unwind after a long day?

You’ll laugh at me, but I like to go to the gym. It makes me feel better, because working in the journalism industry isn’t easy; the stories are tough, and we can be overwhelmed by news, so you need to find ways to destress to continue. I like to do things that will help my mind to settle. I also love to cook; it’s something that I’ve always loved, since I was a child. I try different recipes. And I love to eat as well!

Then I will relax with my husband, or speak with my family in Brazil, and maybe sometimes I read something. I just started to read an interesting book about abolishing borders [Against Borders: The Case for Abolition by Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke de Noronha]. The authors say that borders, rather than doing what governments pretend they do, just divide communities — and so they advocate for abolishing them, which is really interesting.

Talia Andrea
Talia Andrea

Currently in her final year studying Comparative Literature at university, Talia Andrea also writes events and music journalism. She is editor-in-chief at Strand Magazine and was awarded highly-commended for Best Project or Initiative at the Student Publication Association National Conference 2023. Talia has also recently launched FEMMESTIVAL, an all-female music festival which premiered in October 2023.

Header image courtesy of Juliana Da Penha