Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category


Journalist, Middle East media expert Duffy dies at 46

After the election of officers during the first student Society of Professional Journalists chapter meeting in the Middle East, one of Professor Matt Jones Duffy’s Zayed University students told him she was scared because she had never voted before.

Duffy replied as only he could: “You just got a taste of democracy. How does that feel?”

Matt Duffy attends a meet and greet after he held a symposium on the United Arab Emirate's Federal National Council elections Oct. 20, 2011 at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.

Matt Duffy attends a meet and greet after he held a symposium on the United Arab Emirate’s Federal National Council elections Oct. 20, 2011 at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.

Questions were the center of this journalism educator’s life. Duffy was 46 when he died Jan. 17 in his Roswell, Ga., home after a long battle with lung cancer. He was naturally curious, asked questions about how things work and looked at each day as a chance to write a story about the world in which we live.

Duffy worked on eight newspapers and published two more of his own, beginning with his days as a reporter and editor for The East Carolinian, the student newspaper at East Carolina University. There he wrote a series of stories about how ECU police were conducting wiretaps on university workers. The series embarrassed a nervous administration, which ultimately conceded that mistakes had been made. Duffy went on to work for the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, Boston Herald and Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal.

A second career came after he earned both a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in public communication from Georgia State University. Then Duffy moved his family to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, so that he could teach at the federal Zayed University. Duffy taught advanced reporting and media law as he would in a Western country with institutional protections. He also wrote a column on the news media, for the Dubai-based Gulf News.

In his columns, classes and public appearances, Duffy urged the Gulf states to live up to their constitutions and to international agreements on human rights that they signed to allow journalists to ask questions freely and hold public institutions accountable. On the other hand, Duffy also encouraged Gulf journalists to maintain the highest ethical standards and not take bribes when writing about government officials or business leaders.

He was a pioneering participant in social media, publishing a widely read blog on teaching and the news media in the Middle East. Duffy also urged Gulf states not to adopt draconian measures for social media, such as a law in the UAE that makes it illegal to publish a photograph of a native standing in a public place without his permission, even if that individual was acting illegally.

Duffy never lacked for courage and had the audacity to start the SPJ chapter in Abu Dhabi. In that capacity, he encouraged students to write for the student newspaper, to help organize a World Press Freedom Day event at the university in 2012 and to pursue careers in journalism despite a cultural bias against journalism as a profession, especially for women (ZU’s study body is about 95 percent female).

Accordingly, three of his students would go on to work for The National, the English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi. Several more would complete internships at CNN’s Abu Dhabi bureau, at Sky News Arabia and the Arabic-language newspapers in Abu Dhabi. Another student had an internship at Al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar. One student later earned her master’s degree in journalism at the Newcastle University, and another is about to work on his Ph.D. in communication, also in England.

“He was an excellent teacher who refused to let his ideas about journalism and his approach to teaching journalism be dictated by where in the world he was,” said Jack Hillwig, who as assistant dean for the College of Communication and Media Sciences served as Duffy’s boss at ZU. “To Matt, journalism was always the gathering and presentation of facts in an objective way. It was not public relations or opinions. He was a consummate journalism educator who jumped into the world of Middle East media with both feet.”

The UAE government served Duffy with a deportation notice in the summer of 2012, likely because of his commitment to press freedom. Despite the intercession of ZU’s president and provost, Duffy and his family had to move back to Atlanta that summer, and he spent the rest of his life teaching journalism and media law in Georgia — at Georgia State, Berry College and Kennesaw State.

A native of Richmond, Virginia who grew up in eastern North Carolina, Duffy had a touch of entrepreneurial spirit. With his brother Greg Jones, Duffy first published a tabloid about ECU football and then The Independent news magazine in Greenville, North Carolina, in the 1990s.

“We were like a couple of kids running a newspaper,” Jones said of The Independent. “We paid reporters by letting them fill up their cars on our Amoco cards. We were just silly. The paper barely made cost each month.”

In another business adventure, Duffy started a profitable language and grammar website called Oxford Editing. He also was active in international journalism organizations, including the Arab-U.S. Association of Communication Educators and Freedom House.

In conversations about teaching, Duffy often said: “A professor must profess something.” As for Duffy himself, he professed three things: freedom, truth and independent thought. His students were inspired by his courageous and innovative teaching methods. One of his students, Ashley Zoerner, spoke for many others in her Facebook encomium.

Matt Duffy attends the World Press Freedom Day conference at Zayed University on May 3, 2012. Two months later, he was deported.

Matt Duffy attends the World Press Freedom Day conference at Zayed University on May 3, 2012. Two months later, he was deported.

“I know that I join countless others in saying that he really was my favorite teacher during my time at Georgia State University,” she wrote. “As associate editor for the newspaper, The Signal, he proofread my stories before print and was so helpful in guiding me and my passion for the written word. I would tell my mom, ‘I have this teacher who may be the most genuinely happy person I’ve ever met.’ He loved what he did and it showed, but he also just loved life.”

Legions of former students both in the United States and the UAE made similar statements on social media message boards after his death.

The journalist-educator sought out international adventures. He traveled far and wide, preferring places off the beaten path. This included trips to Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan. The Pakistan trip came while he was doing a Fulbright program in that country.

He is survived by his wife, Ann Duffy, and their two children, Lydia and Jake, as well his brother, Greg Jones. A memorial service was held at the Unity Church in Marietta, Georgia, on Jan. 22.

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Testing My Limits and Experience Helped Me Grow Professionally

The woman who gave me my first job in journalism as an intern for National Public Radio was Sue Goodwin. A producer of a national call-in talk show, she was a tornado of determination and creativity. From the first moment I met her, I found her passion and sincerity contagious.

I was still in university at the time Sue brought me to NPR and was leaning toward a career in international development or the foreign service. Growing up in the Middle East, my impression of journalists was negative. As violence would flare up, they would descend on Jerusalem, crowding the American Colony hotel bar telling loud war stories. Once the story dropped from the headlines they would disappear.

I was raised in a pacifist home and taught not to glorify violence. My earliest memories are of the first intifada in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers beating a man outside my home, a teenager throwing a rock through the window of our apartment and my father being called out of our house to remove a roadblock by a group of soldiers.

By high school, the second intifada erupted. I witnessed suicide bombings, lost one friend to a terrorist attack and a separate attack left another friend paralyzed all before the age of 18. I didn’t want to be part of a media landscape that fed off a tragedy.

My time at NPR changed my view of journalism completely. The newsroom Sue created fed off ideas that moved stories forward, sparked debate and asked tough questions. As news broke, one of the questions she would pose at editorial meetings that were beginning to run flat was: “ok, so whose voice are we not hearing?”

This was exactly what I wanted to devote my life to uncovering. I was hooked.

In the Al intisar district in Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2016.(AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

In the winter of 2008, I was preparing to cover the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, when Israeli forces pushed into Gaza. Within the space of twelve hours, I was assigned to fly to Tel Aviv. NPR’s foreign editor Loren Jenkins overlooked my relatively green credentials, valuing my knowledge of the story above all. He went to bat for me before I was even totally confident I could complete the task, handing me my first big break.

That taught me something valuable quickly: competence can get you anywhere. As long as you work hard and know what you’re doing, people will be willing to take chances on you.

In the front lobby of the Ambassador hotel in east Jerusalem I met Anne Garrels, then a senior international correspondent for NPR. Covering the Soviet Union, Afghanistan and Iraq over the course of more than two decades, Anne had paved the way for my generation of female journalists.

Hunkered down in a hotel room that first night I listened to her spin soundbites into radio gold.

Unlike the journalists I remembered from my childhood, Anne avoided the hotel lobby bars, she didn’t name-drop and brag about close scrapes or being detained. When we talked, we talked about the story.

She didn’t lecture, she thought out loud. Her chatter telegraphed the ideas and feelings of others, not her own. She also emphasized something my parents taught me: a good work ethic will win you the respect of your colleagues. Ignore everything else.

Anne became an instant role model. Back in Washington, I listened through her catalog of stories for NPR, trying to learn how she constructed narratives and pulled listeners in.

It was only as I began to push up through the ranks of journalism in my late 20s and 30s, that I encountered entrenched misogyny in the workplace. I was in my 30s when a colleague first told me “you can’t do that because you’re a woman.” I was flabbergasted and incensed. Within a week I went out and did that thing and did it well.

Today, as the head of the Baghdad bureau for the Associated Press, I see that most of the people in management positions directly above me are men.

I’m lucky however to have a troop of wise female bureau chiefs in the Middle East who I often turn to for advice. Something I think many ambitious people encounter is that drive can often land you in situations that test the limits of your skill and experience. It’s overwhelming, but I also believe it’s how you learn and advance.

I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the last two years of working for AP in Iraq without the colleagues who took time to talk me through ideas and frustrations.

Once I began covering the fight against the Islamic State group with AP, my family and friends asked how it felt to be the only woman at a base when embedding with Iraqi forces, assuming that is where my gender presented the most significant obstacle.

But in the field, no Iraqi soldier or civilian ever made me feel self-conscious. I moved seamlessly from covering combat in a Humvee packed with men to sitting with a young family in their living room, in both worlds I was equal parts human and alien.

Our job is to bear witness. Be it to bring attention to atrocities, hold the powerful accountable or amplify a voice that would otherwise go unheard. It often means meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their lives. For me, those are the hardest scenes to document and interviews to conduct.

When I was driving to the airport for my first foreign assignment nearly 10 years ago my father reminded me: “you need to be impartial, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show empathy.”

Earlier this year in western Mosul at a field hospital next to the bodies of three dead children, I thought about my father’s words as I put my notebook in my pocket and held a woman’s hand as a tourniquet was fastened to her leg.

The medic called me over to comfort her as I was the only other woman in sight. She was in pain, scared and embarrassed that her Abaya had to be lifted to stop the bleeding from a shrapnel wound. At least one of her family members had been killed in front of her and she had been separated from her children.

We made eye contact and smiled. After she was loaded onto an ambulance the medics said she would probably lose the leg, the road to the nearest hospital was too far.

That scene still haunts me. But the stark realities I witnessed then and throughout the last nine years inform my coverage of conflict. When I sit down with generals and government officials, they bring statistics with them to support the policy they’re promoting, but often end up asking me about what I saw on the ground.

The next day as I prepared to go back out to the front line, I asked myself, “ok, whose voice are we not hearing?”

Susannah George is the current head of the AP Baghdad Bureau. Her previous work includes contributions to NPR and PRI. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Barred From Studying Photojournalism Because of My Gender Didn’t Stop Me to Pursue My Dream

I grew up cornered by closed borders in a city on permanent lockdown and that was “home” to me. I rarely saw the surrounding concrete walls opening up, but when they did my hardworking middle class single mother was there taking a photo of it. Whenever we would be fortunate to travel around she would take her camera with her, creating her own photo biography.

It automatically registered in my mind, the events you don’t document, never happened and history will remember it as such.

The ongoing siege on Gaza wasn’t on the top of my list to worry about as a young woman growing up in the city. However, the older I get, the longer the list of forbidden taboos I’ve to deal with. The dos and don’ts started to get heavier and the more dreams I explore the conservative side of the culture began to weigh me down.

In a class of 50 kids, I didn’t pick and choose between wanting to be a doctor and a teacher — it had always been photojournalist, until I wrote that word on my University application and saw the resentment on the admission worker’s face.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

In so many words she told me I can’t be a photojournalist, starting with my high score that magically became a problem and ending with how much shame I’ll bring to my family by doing a “man’s job”.

It was just presumed that women were banned from specific jobs and photojournalism was one of them. I chose to quit being the low key, playing by the rules sort of student and choose my battles, being able to transfer the surroundings of my home, the occasional wars and the unseen mental injuries through the aftermath.

The argument to be a photojournalist grew within me like fire, but unlike foreign photographers’ situations, I was the local who could be the messenger for all the surviving storytellers or what we refer to as “story subject”, as my male colleagues in the field promised.

I failed in studying photojournalism, I was barred from having the opportunity based on my gender and I had to switch lanes and become a self taught photographer. That’s when Google became my best friend and my camera experiments became more regular.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

While the hardship of becoming a woman photojournalist in Gaza seemed to be growing, the actual local people on the ground were the most understanding to the nature of my work, after all I was translating their everyday struggle into photographs.


Within the first couple of years of my career, I learned how to listen so carefully, give proper attention to the storytellers I’ve met and be quiet until I’m unnoticeable.

I disobeyed the traditions but showed respect to those who believed in it, until the heavy bombing on the city made me realize that my first big story as a photographer is going to be the war on home.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

In war photojournalism, the various rules are constantly changing as some might save your life and others might cause the death of others. Being around civilians with a camera could possibly put them in more danger if the camera was viewed as a possible threat.

My confusion while covering my first war wasn’t focused on the bloodshed scene I was photographing, but also the family I was leaving behind. Not knowing if I’ll be going back home to dust and ashes.

Even though I worked with some of the best international photo editors, none were able to advise me on how to balance this job. The harsh taboos still categorized me as a “rebel” where all I wanted is to do my job, which I wasn’t better or worse at because I’m a woman but I had more access because of the same taboos that seemed to call to limit me.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.


More unseen stories were coming to the surface within my conservative community. I didn’t seek shelter in civilians’ houses, yet those were the places I was asked to come in to in hope that I’ll deliver their story to the public. My message wasn’t much different than my colleagues, but the delivery was.

Till one rainy morning during the first Gaza war back in 2008 and 2009, while I was wandering in the Northern areas of Gaza strip, a colleague of mine offered “peace”.

He expressed how it’s not any one person’s call to “allow” me to be a photojournalist but it’s more of the common norm in our society. We seemed like we began a new chapter as colleagues and so I asked if I may join the group while moving in the North. He smiled warmly and nodded yes.

I got into the armed jeep with three other local photojournalists I knew. We drove for few minutes before the expected airstrikes resumed. As we parked aside everyone got out including me.

However, the scene wasn’t anything I’m used to. The dust covered everything within my sight and the whistling sound was getting louder. I finally realized the airstrike was targeting our location so I ran towards the jeep as the rest did but as I arrived late, the passenger side door was closed.

I knocked to get it open but my “big brother” sort of colleague looked at me as he shut his door and said: “I don’t have time for you.”

Within seconds, the jeep took off and I drowned into confusion. The airstrike continued so I decided to take the only option and walk through the back allies hoping I’ll make it alive.

A few hours later, as I reunited with other photographers at a nearby hospital, I learnt this was a lesson for me to never cross the line with my male colleagues. Ten years later I must admit it was a successful lesson but not in the way it was intended, despite being a local.

Only that day that I found the answers to several questions I’ve often wondered about, specifically why would photojournalism be a man’s job? Well, it’s not. Why can’t women cover war zones? That’s a myth.

Lastly, why was I abandoned by my own people amid airstrikes just for being a woman photographer? It doesn’t even matter.

On the first day of the war, I remember thinking to myself, I’ll cover it for a week then go back home. When I became my own team I shifted the focus from my personal surroundings and put it on what counts the most and that’s the history being made moment by moment, in war zones.

Photojournalists, men and women, don’t heal wounds and don’t fix what’s broken but they do their job of delivering the truthful story as it is and those stories that inspired my unwelcome pretense in the male dominated field could only be found in the darkest corners of the city.

Women’s perseverance isn’t unheard of, and the resilience of war survivors and victims is also a well known quality spread among those who are affected. So if anything, the unpaved paths women journalists and photographers have to take often make us realize the common grounds we have with these regions and establish a better stage for the news we deliver to be heard, seen and felt.

Eman Mohammed is an award winning photojournalist and TED fellow, currently based in Washington DC. She is a Palestinian refugee, born in Saudi Arabia and educated in Gaza City,Palestine where she started her photojournalism career at the age of 19. Her work was published in The Guardian, Le Monde, VICE, Washington post, Geo International, Mother Jones, and Haartez. You can follow her work on Twitter, Facebook and her website.

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From the Midwest to the Middle East

Alex_Kay_PotterI knew I wanted to be a photojournalist after organic chemistry lab my Sophomore year of university, soon after being accepted to the nursing program. What I was studying at the time seemed so intangible and unrelated to what I set out to do – what use did I have for building mini-models or charts of the immune response pathway, and what did that have to do with how much I cared about other people? I’d always been one for discovery and adventure, but also one for reconciliation and building bridges.

While I loved traveling to new places, learning new languages and about other cultures, I cared just as much about fixing a fight between family members or being there for a friend who was down. Photojournalism to me, through the eyes of photographers I looked up to like Jonas Bendikson, Alex Webb, Lindsey Addario, Ron Haviv, Ed Ou, Carolyn Drake, and Susan Meiselas, seemed like the perfect career, a combination of the forces that drove me.

After I graduated in 2011, the photo industry wasn’t in great shape. So I finished my degree in nursing, as the daughter of a practical farming family in the Midwest should, and proceeded to do almost nothing with it. I was stubborn, I wanted to be a photojournalist, so I moved to the Middle East. This is the first quality I believe all photojournalists, but women in particular, should possess – a drive that manifests as stubbornness to drown out the critical voices saying that it’s impossible to achieve what you set out to do (however ambiguously the criticism is disguised).

Obstacles aren’t always in the form of colleague criticism or editor rejection: financial struggles are one thing the photo industry rarely talks about: how to make it in this media climate, not being able to photograph only what you enjoy, having to take commercial or other assignments to pay the bills. Photography is increasingly a career for the privileged: and while there are increasingly more grants, it is difficult to not have a “side hustle”and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Many people teach, hold workshops, edit others’ portfolios, or do commercial work to supplement what they love to do. In the last year I’ve gravitated back towards nursing in between assignments. And I don’t think photojournalists should feel bad about having to do something outside just photography – if anything, it supplements your reporting.

The last thing I feel like photojournalists need, maybe because I’m feeling it now, is to know when to take a breath. You can’t always be producing work, you grow in the in-between times (some advice I really needed at the time from Diana Markosian. When you’ve hit your limit physically or emotionally, your work suffers. Taking time, giving yourself space, not pushing at full speed for years on end – this will help develop your storytelling voice in the long run. It took me this year to learn that.

Alex Potter is a photographer and journalist from the Midwest working mostly in the Middle East. Her work explores conflict and trust, loss and isolation within communities and relationships. Alex aims to bridge the gap between the foreign and familiar by creating thought-provoking and emotional images. Potter recently received the Pulitzer Center’s grant to return to the Middle East to photograph families whose lives have been disrupted by ongoing conflict. Her work has been published in The New York TimesHarper’s,and The Washington Post, among others, has done work recently in Yemen that focuses on Yemeni civilians and identity during instability and fighting. You can follow her on Twitter and her website to stay updated on her work.

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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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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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French Female Pioneer is My Role Model in Journalism

My role model is a woman that died 67 years ago.

First French war correspondent and investigative journalist Andree Viollis started her career during the first World War, she traveled to Afghanistan in the 20’s and extensively to Indochina to expose the dark side of the French colonization. She covered the war in Ireland, the Spanish civil war and World War II.  What an incredibly adventurous life. She was well-known and respected. Always the first to interview the powerful leaders of Europe. As famous then was Albert Londres, who is a myth for all young French journalists.

Two years before dying at 80 years old, Viollis was still travelling to South Africa to write stories about segregation there. She even planned to cover at 80, the war in Korea that had just began. She was a mother and a practicing journalist throughout her lifetime, even when quite old! This is everything we are told that is not quite possible when you are a woman. Sadly, very few people remember her and her name is almost completely forgotten.

And in good old paternalistic France, that’s very unfortunate. Young French female journalists need to know her. Working in dangerous zones or being a war journalist for a woman is, in fact,  an old story, “not something we should always prove we are entitled or competent enough for…”

I wish I heard about her earlier in my career, especially ten years ago. I was working for a French production house where the boss was openly discriminating women. “No females on the frontline,” he used to say. Younger and less experienced male staff would be sent to the best assignments from Ivory Coast to the West bank. I stayed and struggled for three years because it was still an exciting organization to work in and the team was wonderful. Also, because I was a young and stupid, I suppose.

Eventually, in 2007 I won a prestigious award known as the Albert Londres prize for a documentary about the murder of a French NGO employees in Sri Lanka. I then left the production company.

As a freelancer, I never again was openly exposed to this kind of discrimination. The downside to that is the insecurity that comes with being independent.

The lesson I’ve learned in my career so far is to find a new employer when you are told, “this is not a story for women.”

Anne Poiret is a filmmaker and investigative broadcast journalist based in Paris. In 2007 she won the prestigious Albert Londres Prize in France for her film shot in Sri Lanka “Muttur: a Crime Against Humanitarians”. Her work with Welcome to Refugeestan (2016) on refugee camps all over the world was selected in European documentary festivals. Her latest film, The Envoy: Inside Syria Peace Negotiations focuses on the work of Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria. Stay updated on Anne and her work on Twitter @Annepoiret.

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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Media Coverage of Asylum Does Not Have to be a Part of Its Humanitarian Aspect

A month ago I attended the Nobel Peace Conference in Germany. We were talking about the political situation in the world and the asylum that has become the top priority of the countries of the world. I remember specifically the story of a Syrian refugee who came out of the Syrian regime in a prisoner exchange deal, telling us her story and the death of her husband under torture.

It is a humanitarian story that summarizes the definition of asylum within some lines.

The media presentation of any asylum case should not aim to make a scoop with what is contained in documents and exclude talking about the humanitarian portion.

In the coverage of asylum news, the picture may differ from the publication of any other news. The life of the refugee and the consequences of publication are more important than the scope, that many media sources seek to do it throughout the Arab region, not only Jordan.

In one way or another, I had to remove this garment, “the journalist’s obsession with the scope,” to start following the cases in depth, highlighting the consequences in the refugee camps as a result of war, asylum and displacement rather than trying to shed light on the consequences of economic and political asylum on Jordan. We are talking about human stories that have suffered and are still suffering as a result of this asylum.

It is a complex crisis that cannot consider one part without the others.

In addition to the importance of maintaining the security of the refugee and the confidentiality of sources of information in light of the policies that intimidated the refugees from the “slander” which the government has repeatedly denied.

Although the issue of asylum has become an important part of the priorities of many female human rights defenders; several violations have been deliberately or unintentionally inflicted on the refugees as a result of political agendas that have paid for them, media coverage has continued to talk about the political and economic consequences of asylum.

Writing my story in asylum is not easy in the presence of a societal culture enshrined by the government and others by placing the Syrian asylum as the “cradle” of the country’s economic, political and social crises. Which means colliding not only with the government and organizations but also by fighting a hate speech that policies have contributed in one way or another to strengthen it. Both citizens and refugees have become victims.

The most important thing to be done by a journalist who deals with asylum issues with its human dimensions, is to clash with the very old and obsolete accusation which is the saying: She is the owner of foreign agendas.

I had faced this in the beginning of my media coverage for asylum news.

The question is have some of the headlines in the provocative media played a role in promoting hate speech towards refugees?

What happened in the follow-up to the file of asylum media was addressing the official letters related to the file of the Syrian refugees and publishing it without any analysis or considering other points of view, which clearly supported increasing the hate speech towards the refugees and changed the public opinion of continuing opening of the border to the Syrian refugees.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold: first, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold. First, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side. Second, it is to focus on negative, not humanitarian, issues of refugees (such as crime and high unemployment).

Unfortunately, some websites and journalists do not comply with the legal text in the publications. Article 7 of the Jordanian Publications Law stipulates that the print and the journalist must not spread hatred among the people, and all those on the land of the Kingdom. Except as provided for in article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for the prohibition of any “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

As a result of many press and media coverage of asylum news that has been in the context of a systematic or nonsystematic “hate speech” that results from a lack of knowledge of human rights and criteria for covering asylum news by choosing terminology that avoids falling into the quagmire of hate speech.

The importance of female journalists knowing about the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and belief in them is important for following this file, which can not be cut off from it. Its consequences are not known or notable for some of us because you are shedding light on the right of living for a person who the life imposed him a painful reality.

As part of the coverage of the media coverage of asylum in its humanitarian dimensions, we find that the one who is keen on this dimension in media coverage in Jordan are female journalists specializing in human rights (Nadine Nimri, Rania Sarayra and Samar Haddadin, for example).

In the end, we have the right to defend the rights in our writing because it is in defense of our rights in this life. We must live away from political agendas, away from beliefs and customs, and even from what is being traded (security and safety).

And yes, there is a price and there are consequences for everyone who seeks to highlight the importance of preserving and establishing these rights, but life in dignity and defending these rights is always worth standing up to anyone who violates them only to have power.

So, I begin working with this platform #PressFreedomMatters to promote the role of female journalists in activating the fourth authority (the media) in combating the violation of these rights and ensuring the continuation of their work without any legal or political threats or obstacles.

—–

Hebatulahayat Obeidat began her career as a radio journalist for Albalad. She spent eight years in Jordan where she conducted training on election coverage, news writing and debates in Jordan, Yemen and Libya. She is a producer and presenter for the news and radio program on political and human rights. She is a member of The Regional Alliance for Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  Her contribution above was translated from Arabic to English.

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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Breaking the Silence, Empowering Female Journalists Worldwide

“There are two groups of people that are more vulnerable during riots and marches: female police officers and female journalists.”

Last month I was in Washington D.C. getting various forms of training. During a seminar those words were directed to me from the in-house expert. The goal was to train us, the journalists, to be safe during civil unrest, marches and riots, but what left me shocked was that the expert gave me the “it is what it is” attitude. It happens. Women are more susceptible to attacks than others in these circumstances. But what are we doing to shift that attitude and ensure the safety of not just female journalists, but all journalists?

If you are a journalist going abroad on an assignment, it is so important to be prepared and proactive in any situation that may present itself. As a woman, the rules of engagement change and the reality is you can be left completely vulnerable.

There are dangers we face that most likely our male counterparts may not experience. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists held a panel discussion with journalists on their experiences reporting on the front lines, dealing with sexualized violence, and countering gender-related threats and restrictions.

Returning from my time in the Middle East in 2014 and earlier this year interviewing refugees, there were some unfortunate obstacles I faced that left me to reassess my safety in my work.

But I’m not alone.

Just last week, I read about award-winning Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima and her struggle to gain justice after 17 years where she was abducted, tortured and raped following her report on violence at a maximum-security prison involving state officials and paramilitary groups. The painful and prolonged court system in Colombia hasn’t stopped Bedoya to fight tirelessly against and she even started a campaign in 2009, “now is not the time to remain silent”. She stands up for women and has gained strength in her fight against injustice in her case and for women in similar circumstances.

There is also Shakeela Ibrahimkhel of Afghanistan, who had to end her 10 year career at one of the country’s leading news channels to seek asylum in Germany. The continued violence, threats and harassment from the Taliban has led some 100 Afghan women to seek refuge outside of the country.

The threats don’t stop there. Just days ago the Nepal Press Freedom reported an incident of a death threat towards Sushma Paudel after  a status on Facebook. The threat against Poudel from a Canadian resident was over a story the journalist had filed.

These acts of violence, the lack of safety and the overall status of female journalists globally is alarming. Doing a simple Google search for “threats against female journalists” right now and in .51 seconds, there are about 2,820,000 results!

Although my experiences abroad do not compare to the harrowing female correspondents, freelancers and even fixers abroad, I do believe what is happening to women in our line of work should raise a red flag.

In order to understand, empower and give a voice the women around the world doing amazing work, the Society of Professional Journalists’ International Community will feature female journalists starting this month as part of a #PressFreedomMatters movement giving these women a platform to express their narrative.

Come back every Wednesday and read the stories these women have to share, the obstacles they’ve faced and how they are overcoming them.

 

If you know someone that should be featured in the weekly series, please fill out this form

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