“I hope to be continuing to try new things. I think there’s a lot to be done in the space of visual storytelling, the tools that we have to tell stories visually are not quite perfect and they can always be improved. I think that there’s an opportunity there for better tools.”
Douglas Arellanes, an American technologist, broadcaster, software developer, and professor at Anglo-American University (AAU), has been living in Prague, Czech Republic, for 27 years. He is also a co-founder of the Czech nonprofit institute “Sourcefabric” and has been its member for eight years.
Arellanes grew up in California, United States and has always been interested in media. He wanted to become a reporter since the age of 13 but was quickly fired from his first job at the radio station. “It was a really boring job. One day, the first video game just happened and I decided to try it. But, somehow, I managed to get the computer into a mode that it only played the commercial for three days straight and no one could figure out how to get it to work again,” Arellanes said.
In high school, he started working in telemarketing where he learned TV broadcasting. After he went to the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he got involved in a local newspaper that won many awards. “The area that interested me was the area that combined computers with reporting for informational graphics, so I did that,” Arellanes said.
During his internship at the Los Angeles Times newspaper, he received a letter from his friends in Prague inviting him to help in designing a newly-established English newspaper in the Czech Republic. Their invitation kick-started Arellanes career in Prague in 1992.
One of Arellanes’ greatest career achievement was translating the book “Economics of Good and Evil” by Tomáš Sedláček from Czech to English which experienced high sales worldwide. “It’s a really fun book to read,” he said. “I enjoy when someone is able to get his or her ideas across really clearly and entertainingly. For me, that was like a labor of love.” He has also translated for several prime ministers and various publications of the Czech government. One of the projects he led for Sourcefabric, with West Africa Democracy Radio, won the special distinction of the 2011 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.
Arellanes expressed the thrill of experimenting in his field of work. “I like to see what will work and what won’t. You try something out and it works and you show other people how to do it and then becomes a regular established thing,” Arellanes said. However, having to continuously persuade sponsors to be more bold and liberal in their financial donations is the least exciting aspect of his job. Arellanes expressed, “I don’t like having to scrounge for money. Not many people like to make risky decisions related to technology, so, oftentimes, they are very timid. It does not make my job easier to try to find money to do these things.”
Arellanes is also a long-term moderator at Radio 1 in Prague. Given the increased popularity of podcasts nowadays, he thinks that we live in a very interesting time with the radio. “There are more people creating radio now than have ever created a radio in its entire history, there are more things to listen to now than there have ever been and I think that’s very exciting and I would expect some of that to continue,” he said.
To illustrate, Arellanes raised the topic of blogging. “There are not so many personal bloggers anymore, they’re focused on one thing or another. I would expect podcasting to go that way and the big players to start getting involved in the distribution of podcasts,” Arellanes explained.
Other forms of technology are progressing alongside the radio. Arellanes believes that, eventually, voice controls will be installed into automobiles because that is where the vast
majority of radio is consumed.
“What I try to tell my students is to be human. The way we’re going to compete against these robots is to be human. When we play a playlist of songs, you have to have a feeling that there is a human on the other side of the wire.”
AAU has established its very own radio station, which is also a course he teaches, called “Sound Bricks Radio”. “I am really encouraged that students start to feel like it’s their own. People are coming in and doing their show because they feel like it and that’s outstanding. As long as students feel like it’s theirs, then it will survive and thrive.”
After Arellanes left Sourcefabric, he started working in a new company. “I left Sourcefabric to have my own startup so that’s what I’m working on now, a new company called Mural that makes tools for visual storytelling.”
In the future, Arellanes will continue trying new things. He believes that there is a lot to be done in the space of visual storytelling. “The tools that we have to tell stories visually are not quite perfect and they can always be improved.”
His advice to journalism students is very simple: experiment more and try new forms of
journalism. Coding, for example, will make familiarize you with the process of developing
software that will help in the creation of new products. Arellanes believes that the stories we want to tell will require technical skills and a better understanding of the target audience. “Don’t be afraid to do things on your own. Keep trying, keep failing. You have to learn from the failures. Those few things that are going to succeed are going to succeed in a big way.”