Archive for July, 2017


Overcoming the Challenges of Being a Woman in Journalism Abroad

I’ve started as a professional photojournalist in Egypt. Indeed, in 2012 I had the opportunity to have an internship at the local newspaper Egypt Independent just out of school and only one year after the Egyptian Revolution. I couldn’t wish for a better opportunity.

Nevertheless, I was terrified to live in that area as a 24-year-old single, young woman with no concrete experience in the field. I’ve followed the Arab Spring thoroughly and what struck me from the events in Cairo was the sexual assault on Lara Logan, a correspondent for the American network CBS.  

In the wake of this assault, other cases came out in the news, describing it like one of the many problems of Egypt: sexual harassment on women. Doing my best to mask that notion, I did my best to overcome my anxiety and started my first day of work on at the same time of the first anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2012.

Of course, I wasn’t alone. I was accompanied by male photographers. I knew that mass sexual assault mainly happened in crowded places, but as a photojournalist I couldn’t avoid the gathering of Tahrir Square. Two colleagues protected me from the crowd, but I could still feel hands groping me below the waist once I started to take pictures in the square.

Immediately I turned back to see who it was, but it was impossible to know who it was in the turmoil and crowds. My first day as a professional, it was very frustrating and scary. I couldn’t imagine myself working in those conditions everyday. On that day, I was lucky. It didn’t go further than “just” hands on my behind. I’ve lived and worked in Egypt for two years and half since that day. I faced situations of sexual harassment, but it never went further than touching but that itself is something already serious.

In Cairo, I’ve learned to react and never stay quiet when it happens. So did my other female friends. Some say that Egyptian men react like that to dissuade women to go down the streets and protest. Others say that it’s a social problem linked to financial issues and the frustration of men not able to get married. In Egyptian culture, it is not seen positively to have sexual relations before being wed.

I don’t know why we try to find an excuses. It’s a crime that should be punished immediately. I’ve learned to find solutions to this issue: be careful and direct in my reaction whether I am Egypt or any country. Women are typically seen as more vulnerable just because we’re doing work mainly surrounded by men, especially in a conflict zone.

What I want to say out of this testimony is that even if we feel weaker and more vulnerable, there are ways to be stronger. We should never give up and let it go. Each time a man touched me in the crowd or touched a friend, I would always scream and defend myself. We need to show all men that we are not weak prey. They will never dissuade me to do my work. This strength brought me to where I am now.

I did not let my frustration from January 25th overcome me. As the time passes, I realize that being a female photojournalist has many advantages. For example, we have more access to the intimacy of a family being a woman. A man alone would struggle to photograph the daily life of a Muslim family if the husband is not at home. For this access, I feel relief to be a woman and never wish to be a man for the work I’m doing.

Our vulnerability, we can make something about it, either by ourselves or by raising awareness around us. But the access we have as women, men can’t do anything about it and maybe this is why I feel that a story realize by a woman will always have something more intimate with more emotions than the same story made by a man.

If you look at Stéphanie Sinclair’s work, “Too Young to be Wed,” would a man be able to do the same? Same with Brenda Anne Kenneally’s work, I don’t think it will communicate the same emotions if a man was given the same task.

I’m Virginie Nguyen Hoang. I am 30 years old and I’ve been a professional photojournalist since 2012.

Virginie is as photojournalist currently based in Brussels. She studied journalism at IHECS (Brussels) as well as training in photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism (Denmark). She has previously worked for the French news agency Wostok Press, the Studio Hanslucas and became the co-founder of the Collectif HUMA. From January 2012  she settled in Egypt as a freelancer for local newspapers Egypt Independent and Mada masr. She’s received the Nikon Press Award Benelux in 2012. You can follow her work on Facebook.

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Branding Your Unique Perspective

Trishna Patel

Photo by: @Sifuentes (Instagram)

When I saw the editor’s reply to my pitch, I could feel a tiny knot form in my stomach. The anticipation, however, was short-lived. Another “No, thank you.”

But I’d expected this. Not because searching for an old winemaker in Saint Emilion or retracing my father’s ancestry in Dar Es Salaam wouldn’t make for an incredible story, but because my experiences didn’t fit the “editorial mold”.

Traditionally, travel articles published in major publications serve as a step-by-step guide, oftentimes providing the reader with a fool-proof, risk-free experience. In other words, a reader must be able to retrace your exact steps and (if they so chose) mirror your recommended itinerary.

But therein lied the problem, or perhaps the opportunity I was searching for. My adventures have always been fueled by my desire to immerse myself in different cultures and get hopelessly lost in translation. The uncertainty of mustering up the courage to share a drink with locals or wandering off the beaten path is what inspires me as a journalist.

French Adventure Trishna Patel

Photo by: @trishlist (Instagram)

In sharing my travels, I found that people wanted to hear less about the names of hotels and restaurants but actually craved stories about the colorful personalities and surprises I’d encountered along the way.

I’d connected with an audience that had an appetite for aspirational content; stories and photographs that would not ostracize people because they were unique to one person; but would entertain, inspire, and resonate with others, particularly women.

My perspective had value.

Truly believing those four words was a turning point for me. I realized that what I said, how I said it, and why, mattered more than a byline; that I could also inform and engage with fellow-travelers independent from a publication.

Writers often ask how I got started in freelance travel writing. Though, there’s no one way to do it, here are 3 general takeaways based on my experience:

  1. Develop a unique narrative: Social media branding is to editorial as entrepreneurship is to society. It is the great equalizer. You’re not the Creative Director at Conde Nast? Or a travel editor at National Geographic? That’s okay. What matters is committing to your own discernible identity, voice, and aesthetic.
  2. Refine and repeat: The best in this business aren’t those who travel the most, but those that are original in their storytelling. Believe it or not, I was assigned a project simply because of my disdain for avocado toast (and the hipster sham that it is).

Own your authentic point of view, whatever that may be, and share it with the world. Be consistent, take notice of what’s working and who’s responding. Then do it again. And again.

  1. Never blow out anyone’s candle to make yours brighter.”Early on in my career, I was given an opportunity that I believe would’ve changed my life, only to have it taken away by an editor. The politics behind the situation left me feeling helpless and I began to compare myself with other colleagues, most of whom were women that I cared for and respected.

I quickly learned that drawing comparisons is unproductive, unattractive and irrelevant, especially given the capricious nature of our industry. Social media may make it easier to have “FOMO” but it’s also created an infinite space to share what makes each of us extraordinary.

So let go of what you can’t control, work hard, and find what lights your candle because there’s room for all of us to shine.

Trishna Patel is a cultural curator and photographer specializing in travel and the human experience. A former Los Angeles Times video journalist, she now works as a branding expert– writing and crafting social narratives for some of the travel industry’s biggest brands. She is also the Founder of @She_Only_Lives_Once, a travel brand empowering women to explore solo in pursuit of adventure and self-discovery.S.O.L.O.’s contributor program, combined with her personal blog, The Trishlist and both their social platforms, connects a network of 20K+ travelers, storytellers, and tourism insiders from around the world. Keep up with Trishna’s latest exploits on Instagram @trishlist and @she_only_lives_once.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Get Paid What You’re Worth: Disrupting a Broken Industry

As journalists, we are not supposed to talk about our political affiliations, religious beliefs, share any strong personal opinions. These are the rules. These rules have emerged since the U.S. positioned itself as a global beacon of free press for the rest of the world to envy.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, few people envy American journalists these days. The president of the United States openly, regularly attacks the press. He also makes sexist remarks about women and pursues anti-immigrant policies.

In a world where the government is not ensuring equal pay for men and women as they do in other countries and the newsrooms struggle to stay afloat, why are the U.S. journalists not fighting for their rights?

I was born in the Soviet Union, in an environment that could hardly called conducive to activism, confronting the status quo or even embracing ideals of outspoken feminism. But somewhere along the way in my career as a female financial journalist, I began to notice things.

My newsroom experience and the stories I was telling my friends were not the same as my male colleagues’.  My starting salary was not the same as theirs, and this was true across continents and newsrooms. After years in the industry, I knew I was still not paid the same for doing the same work. It was an institutional pay gap.

Then I realized this experience was not limited to me.

The Wall Street Journal reporters are still waiting for a response to their March 28 letter demanding equality in the workplace. The latest independent analysis found that “a significant gender pay gap in every location, in every quarter, and within the largest job single category: reporter.”

The Wall Street Journal journalists are not alone either. The pay gap between male and female journalists in the U.S. evolved somewhat since the 1970s, but then all progress pretty much froze around the 1990s when women’s salaries stayed at 80-85 percent of male journalists’ salaries. A recent Poynter survey found the news business is also unfair to journalists with children.

The women at the top news organizations who bring us the stories of the rich and famous, the financial scandals and inequality gaps are consistently underpaid themselves. At Dow Jones, women with up to 10 years of years of experience are paid six percent less on average than male journalists with up to five years of experience. Seems fair, right?

This is an industry-wide problem, not limited to one organization or media establishment. Once you start looking, examples are everywhere: the pay gap, who gets promoted to the most senior roles, whose voices are heard and whose are overlooked.

Surely there has been some progress. And many of these challenges are not limited to women: minorities, both men and women, face tremendous obstacles that should not be compared or contrasted. What’s important is to recognize them and not to pretend that we as a global society, as humans on Earth, are “over it”. We are not.

We still have a lot of work beyond the pay gap: we have to learn how to promote and support women in the workplace, how to cover stories like rape that don’t blame survivors, how to allow women to thrive at the highest levels of their organizations, how to quote and incorporate more female voices in stories and cultivate these new sources rather than turn to a handful of trusted “guys” over and over again.

This is not rocket science: all it takes is being aware and taking the time to educate, inspire others, start doing something.

For me it meant launching a media platform that is dedicated to women as news consumers, a platform that puts female readers first and focus on stories they are most interested in. I launched ellaletter.com with the hope of featuring more female voices, welcoming female journalists and offering a platform for more nuanced, smart storytelling. My goal is to recruit the best female (and male) reporters and offer them a competitive market salary they deserve.

What’s important is not to stay complacent or choose the safe, comfortable option in a corporate environment. It’s always more comfortable not to rock the boat, speak up or buckle down and negotiate a higher salary.

As a woman, a journalist and a first-generation immigrant whose family came to the United States in the late 1990s, I see Trump era as a particular kind of triple threat: to women, to the freedom of speech and to a new generation of immigrants and their families eager to enter the United States in pursuit of better opportunities. The initial outrage after 2016 election has subsided and hasn’t translated into consistent political activism or more women running for office.

With the democratic institutions and the news industry fighting their own battles for survival, nobody is going to fight for equal pay on our behalf. We can no longer afford to accept anything that makes us feel uncomfortable or unfair as “normal”.

It may make take a serious conversation with your boss or a job change. Or, in countries like Iceland, it took a legislative decision requiring companies to prove men and women are paid the same.

Silence, complacency or hoping for the best are no longer enough.

Daria Solovieva is a Russian-American journalist based in Dubai. She is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and has written for leading publications around the world, including the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Fast Company, USA Today, International Business Times, and Bloomberg News. She was featured as Achieving Business Woman of 2017 in Entrepreneur Middle East magazine in May. You can follow Solovieva on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn to stay updated on her work.

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How a Network of Females in the Journalism Community Helps Me Do My Job Better

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my time in the journalism community and if I have what it takes to hang on. It’s a tough time to be a journalist for all the obvious reasons — ad sales declining, cutbacks in newsrooms, and of course our president’s never-ending hatred of everything we do. But I realize it’s also an important time to be a journalist. Now, more than ever, finding the truth matters. I mean, it really matters. The work we produce, what we uncover, will impact the way this country moves forward. The problem, though, at least for me, is finding a way to wade through all the mud, all the gook that is the bad pay and unsustainable lifestyle, while still doing important work.

I’ve come to a conclusion: I can do this if I have people to lean on. Sure, I have family and friends that are always going to be there for me. But that’s not the kind of support I am talking about. I am talking about having support from other people in this industry who will go to bat for you. I’ve found that group of people — all of them young women like myself — and with their advice and guidance, I can produce my very best journalism. And it’s a mutual support, of course. We all promote each other’s work on social media. We talk about things like navigating delicate sourcing relationships and dealing with unbearable bosses. Most importantly, though, we can talk about things that no one else likes to talk about in the newsroom. We talk about things like unfair freelance contracts and how to negotiate them, misogyny in the workplace, and making sure our voices are heard in editor meetings.

I think one of the most important things for women in this industry to be talking about, especially women in my generation, is the fact that many of us are continuously overlooked for staff positions. I can’t tell you how many times outlets have passed by my application and hired a man either my age or slightly older who has less experience and less education. What this has taught me: Middle East conflict reporting is a man’s game. I think any woman out there working in this field will tell you that they have to work harder and longer than their male colleagues in order to prove themselves to their bosses. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Women have done this since the age of time in America. But it seems like we are in a time in history, especially in the journalism industry, where women, no matter how well we do are work, can’t get ahead. We continuously find ourselves running up against a brick wall and falling back sometimes to jobs we held when we were just out of school. (I’ve thought about applying to unpaid internships and I am 28).

To all my ladies in the industry out there, know this: There will always, always be men that are threatened by what you are doing. Sometimes that manifests itself in really destructive ways like them trolling you on social media. Other times they will call you out on live TV or treat you inappropriately on the ground in far flung places like Iraq or Afghanistan. It is always better to stand up for yourself and fight back, no matter what other people say. In the end, your reputation and your work is in your own hands. You have to claim your own future. Speaking up and back at those who treat you poorly or speak to you in either sexist or degrading ways is important. Even if those people are your superiors.

The other thing my comrades and I talk about is freelance contracts and negotiating with intimidating individuals. What we’ve come to vocalize on our many many conversations is that both women and men to stand up to their superiors and ask for what they deserve. This includes asking for proper protection and payment. I know not only freelancers but also staffers that have to continuously beg their publications for funds for simple things like drivers and fixers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember one time when I was working in Turkey, I had an editor tell me that I “didn’t deserve the perks that people at the New York Times get” because I hadn’t yet proved myself. I had asked this editor for funds to pay for things like fixers and translators while I was covering the battle against ISIS in Syria from Turkey. The email I received my editor was long and filled with reasons why I didn’t deserve protection. I’ve kept this email and periodically look back at it for inspiration.

I’ve gotten better at negotiating freelance contracts. But honestly, it gets exhausting. I’m tired. I’m tired of continuously having to ask editors to pay me the standard day rate. I’m tired of having to tell my editors that I won’t go into the line of fire unless they give me proper protection. Why do we always have to ask for things that should be considered standard? I’ve started saying “no” to publications that offer laughable payment terms. I’ve started telling editors that their demands are unrealistic. I’ve come to understand that keeping peace of mind by saying “no”, even if that means I don’t make as much money that month, is worth it.

Lastly, I talked with my female support “sisters” as I like to call them, about the need for more people in the journalism industry to talk about mental health, especially those that reporting in conflict zones. I’ve dealt with a lot of health issues in my times reporting in the Middle East, some of which I have written about on Narratively. I’ve also been diagnosed with PTSD and had to deal with that. I think these are issues that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about. There needs to be more discussion about the issues, especially mental health struggles, that both men and women face working in this field. I overcame these issues by simply relying on my family and friends, and a really good psychologist!  

I don’t claim to have everything figured out in this at times crazed journalism industry. I still struggle day to day in thinking about whether all the bad gooky stuff I mentioned above is worth it. On bad days I’ll reach out on our group’s WhatsApp thread and vent. And other days I think back to the beginning of my career as a campus editor at The Daily Cardinal at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was a full-time job. And it is where I learned how to be a reporter. It was fun. We put out a paper every day. We stayed some nights until 11 p.m., drinking skunked beer and copy editing with red colored pencils.  We did serious reporting, too. We broke stories the state papers didn’t even have on their radar. I need to remember that fun. I need to remember that despite all the BS that we have to deal with, our stories can end presidencies. That is a power, and privilege, that should be protected and nurtured.

Erin Banco is a Middle East reporter whose first book is Pipe Dreams: The Squandering of Iraq’s Oil Wealth, which will be published by Columbia Global Reports in November 2017. Banco has been covering armed conflict and human rights violations in the Middle East for six years. She covered the revolts in the region and the war in Syria. After graduating from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, she was a fellow at The New York Times and then the Middle East correspondent for International Business Times, breaking stories on the rise of the Islamic State group and on the Free Syrian Army arms program. Banco also traveled to Gaza to cover the war with Israel in the summer of 2014. More recently, Banco began covering the Islamic State group’s economy by tracking illicit oil sales in Turkey and Iraq. You can follow Banco for more of her work on her website and on Twitter at @ErinBanco.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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