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American Studies

Mariana Des Forges

Mariana Des Forges is a freelance radio producer and documentary maker for the BBC. She graduated from Manchester with a BA in American Studies in 2015.

Here, she talks about what she does and how she got there following her time at Manchester.

On telling stories for a living

I currently work for the BBC in London. At the moment, I work on the BBC World Service flagship programme Outlook, which tells extraordinary personal stories to 75 million listeners worldwide.

Mariana Des Forges

Sometimes, I will produce interviews with our presenters and sometimes I will be on air myself. I also make long-form documentaries for the network as well as BBC Radio 4.

This means every day is different! I've had days in Broadcasting House trying to solve a 50-year-old mystery for a comedy programme, and other days I've found myself in Mumbai interviewing India's drag queens for a documentary.

The best thing about my work is that I get to speak to the most fascinating people in the world with the most incredible stories. And, because of the nature of documentary making, you really get to know people and learn about the human experience in ways you never could imagine.

Whenever I have dinner with friends they always get me to re-tell the stories of the people I've spoken to that week - getting to hear and then tell such interesting stories is definitely the best part of the job!

On gaining experience at Manchester

When I was at Manchester, I was very involved with student radio – Fuse FM was the perfect opportunity to get into it. It's such a cool and easy-going station with great connections in the city, and there were lots of opportunities to learn from people who already worked on there, so I learnt all my beginner skills there!

The Media Club at Manchester is also great. It ran so many great course days to learn skills, as well as talks to find out just how to get into the media and into radio. If you want to work in this area, I certainly recommend joining.

Even now, I'm still in the Facebook group for the club, and I get updates on job and work experience opportunities. Getting into radio and the media can seem impenetrable, but the Media Club is a great window into the industry and can help you learn a lot before you start applying for jobs.

On expanding my horizons as a student

Being at Manchester really helped open up the world to me. It's such a big university with a diverse population, all in this big exciting city, and it pushes you to become more independent, resilient and self-confident.

The opportunity to study abroad was also really invaluable for helping strengthen those skills. For my job, I sometimes have to throw myself into situations that are unfamiliar (and sometimes a bit peculiar!) to get the best out of a story, often in countries and places I've never been.

This can be quite daunting, so without the experience of living and studying abroad in America, I think I would have found the nature of this job much more intimidating!

On life after Manchester

I went straight on to do a master's in Radio at Goldsmiths in London. When I was there, I won the Charles Parker Prize for the very first radio feature I ever made (mad!) and the prize for that was a two-week internship at BBC Radio 4's documentary department.

BBC World Service - Outlook

It was my dream to be there, so I really did everything I could to impress them by having constant ideas and being up for doing whatever they needed.

I ended up pitching an idea for the programme The Untold, a documentary programme that follows someone's story in real time, about a fellow Manchester student who'd set up his own African streetwear clothing brand, Mojo Kojo, which they miraculously entrusted me to make! You can listen to that episode on the BBC iPlayer.

It was broadcast in June 2017, and from there I moved to the World Service to work on Outlook, where I'm the youngest producer in the department, and to working for an independent production company that makes programmes for networks like the BBC, Audible and ABC Australia. A pretty quick trajectory when I think about it!

On advice for budding radio producers

I've always been really open about how passionate I am about radio. Even in job interviews I sigh and say 'I just really love it!', which I think employers really like - radio people love people who love radio!

So, do try to get as much experience as you can that can demonstrate that, because then you'll also have the skills they are looking for to accompany that passion. Also, expect to work for free before you finally get a paid job - no-one works in radio for the money!

Also, as the media industry can be a lot about 'who you know' to get those first opportunities, it's important to go to networking events and ask people if you can take them for coffee and ask for their advice.

I also think that it isn't really enough to be proficient in one area now. If you want to work in radio, I really recommend learning some video editing skills too, as everything now is digital and online - this will make you extra valuable and make you stand out from others at interviews.

Lastly, have lots of ideas! People with ideas are the most valuable thing in this business.

On my future plans

I want to keep making radio documentaries! It's always been what I've wanted to do with my life ever since I was young, and it offers such a great opportunity to meet people and learn about the world.

It can also offer a great opportunity for travel, so at the minute I'm working on programme ideas that allow me to travel to parts of the world I've always wanted to see!