Michael M. Santiago graduated from the multimedia, photography and design (MPD) programin 2019. As a student from an arts background, he took full advantage of Newhouse’s workshops and professional networks in the field of photography. Finishing his last credits online, Santiago began working in 2018 as an associate photographer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he is now employed as staff photographer.
“Treat school as if you are working in your chosen field and look at your professors as your editors. Take their advice and put their office hours to use.”Michael Santiago G’19
How did you obtain your current position?
After completing all necessary coursework at Newhouse in 2017, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona as News21 Fellow at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Once that was over, I moved to New York City and began freelancing for various media outlets. Then in early 2018, the managing editor at the Post-Gazette was looking to hire a new associate and she reached out to Mike Davis, the Alexia Endowed Chair for Documentary Photography, professor of practice, for a recommendation and he suggested me. After various interviews, I was hired in the spring of 2018.
What’s an average day like for you on the job?
We typically get our assignments the night before, so we are already aware of what our day for the most part will look like. About two hours before I leave for my first assignment, I like to write up a sample caption for images so that it makes filing images at an appropriate time an easy thing to do. We usually get between two and three assignments in a day, but there are days when breaking news happens and you have to rush to cover that. Or we cover an assignment for another photographer who is sent to cover the breaking news if they are closer. If there is some down time, I spend it driving around the city looking to photograph feature images or possibly anything that would make a good story for the paper to publish.
How do you feel Newhouse prepared you for your current job?
My undergrad was in art photography at an art school, so I did not have the necessary skills to jump into journalism. Knowing that I wanted to pursue that field, I knew that I needed to continue my education. I was fortunate enough that in 2015 I won the Alexia Foundation’s student grant that allowed me to pursue that passion. At Newhouse, I learned to better come up with story ideas and how to execute them. I learned how to better write captions and what it takes to ask necessary questions of the people whose stories I was telling. At that time, multimedia and using videos as a form of storytelling was becoming an essential part of being a journalist. At Newhouse, I learned how to perfect that craft and use all the tools needed to make compelling multimedia pieces.
Did Newhouse open your eyes to new professions or aspect of your field you may have not considered when applying?
One of the great things I enjoyed at Newhouse is that all the professors gave us access to professionals in the fields we were pursuing. That in turn allowed us to learn from people who were doing the work that we wanted to do firsthand. The faculty also encouraged us to participate in various workshops that would improve our abilities, especially the Fall Workshop that is held at Newhouse every year. I participated in it my two years at the school, and it allowed me to work with some of the best journalists in the country. It also provided a space where we could show them the work that we were creating and get professional feedback. For most of us, that experience led to freelance work once we graduated from the school.
What unique features of your graduate program drew you to it in the first place?
The opportunity to work with Mike Davis, who is one of the best picture editors in the field, and Gregory Heisler, who is a master portrait photographer, were huge in my decision making.
What are some obstacles or misconceptions about your field that students ought to be aware of?
The biggest thing is how freelancing works. It is not an easy thing to do straight out of college. Unless you have spent that time not only building work that shows what you are capable of doing but also building important relationships with the editors who would be hiring you. That is why the encouragement of the faculty at Newhouse to attend workshops and events, and having them bring professionals into the school setting, is important. It lets us start that process of learning how to network.
What moments in your career have been most exciting or defining thus far?
The most exciting moment for myself was completing and successfully passing my defense and earning my master’s degree. It was something that I honestly did not think I would be able to do. I never expected to graduate from college let alone earn a master’s degree. What added a cherry on top to that feeling was being part of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette team that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. That happened three days after I completed my defense.
What advice do you have for current or incoming students?
Treat school as if you are working in your chosen field and look at your professors as your editors. Take their advice and put to use their office hours. And work as hard as you can on as many projects as you can. It’s important to begin to build up your portfolio while you have that guidance because while it will never go away, it will never be as available to you as it is when you are in school.
Check out Santiago’s work on the Post-Gazette and with the Alexia Foundation.