Posts Tagged ‘Coalition for Women in Journalism’


Freelance Journalists: Team Up!

I grew up without a tv at home. Instead, I read newspapers and I created scrapbooks full of articles. My interests were broad: royal families, wars, and American elections. The scrapbooks piled up, barely being touched because there was always new news. Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

This time last year I moved to Istanbul, where I got the opportunity to start to work as a freelance journalist for the Dutch financial daily. I finally had the chance to make my dream come true. An extra bonus was being in my favorite city. I was full of energy and the first months went very smoothly. There was a referendum to report on. There was news, always. (And there was great Turkish food, always.)

Soon I woke up from the dream. I landed with both feet on the ground. I was frustrated with my progress. I got fed up with bureaucratic paperwork. I didn’t seem to find a good tone of voice towards my editors. I wasn’t enjoying creating new stories.

Starting to cover the financial beat without having experience as a financial reporter in Turkey was not easy. And that’s an understatement. Although I was educated to be a journalist and worked in one of the Dutch journalism schools for five years, I felt I had to start from scratch. I had to knock, no I had to burn the dust off my pen.

Last October I started to write this blog. By then I was hoping to write a very positive story about my booming journalism career in Turkey. But while there was a huge news flow around me, I was fighting my own battles. In my former job at the university, I got used to intensive teamwork. I was always surrounded by a new generation of enthusiastic young future journalists and motivated colleagues. There was never a day that I would work on my own. There were always calls, messages, emails. Now it was silent.

But in that silence, I found my own voice. ‘Don’t compare, do it your own way’. I kept telling myself.

I reached out to the Coalition for Women in Journalism and I was impressed by their hands-on mentality. Within a week I found myself having coffee with one of the founders of the Coalition. She encouraged me to not only focus on stories that editors want, but also on the stories that I wanted to make. “Don’t become a robot”, she told me. “At the end of the day, producing a lot of stories will not make you happy.” By focusing on research articles, while keeping a solid beat in reporting news stories, I re-found my passion for journalism.

Mentorship became a crucial part of my journalism career. Especially as a freelancer, it’s good to be held accountable. Not only by your editors and the public but by a mentor who keeps an eye on your progress. Also, a mentor is able to see your qualities even when you have a blurred vision. “Focus on developing your skills. Your brain will be happy when you work hard”, she encouraged me. Now, four months, and many motivational speeches later, I find myself in a better place. I established a routine, although it’s still a daily challenge because you can’t schedule journalism.

When I worked as a lecturer, I used to tell my students that, if they were talented, worked hard and had a solid network, they would succeed. I now learned that I should replace ‘talented’ with ‘being passioned’. Because passion, not talent, comes naturally. It comes from within. Talent comes from hard work, from putting an alarm in the morning and not snooze your way through the day. From keeping deadlines and promises. ‘Nothing will work unless you do’ became one of my favorite quotes of Maya Angelou.

Being a freelance journalist will not allow you to slow down. To keep you sane, you need to establish strong teams around you. At home. Local and international journalists. Family and friends. Former colleagues. These teams not only support me but moreover, they keep me balanced. The Coalition for Women in Journalism became important to me as a female journalist: I feel part of a team, even though we are scattered all over the world.

‘Ah, you’re still here’ is usually the first response of my male Dutch colleagues when they see me in Istanbul. Yes, I’m still here. And I’m here to stay. Because, although the scrapbook got replaced by screenshots, my passion for journalism is more alive than ever.

Ans Boersma is a freelance journalist, based in Istanbul. She mainly works as Turkey correspondent for Het Financieele Dagblad, the Dutch financial daily. She previously worked as a journalism lecturer at Ede University (the Netherlands). With a background in cultural anthropology, she gave courses about intercultural communication, media and diversity and international journalism. She is a member of the Coalition for Women in Journalism. You can follow her on Twitter to stay updated with her work.

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Mentors Played a Huge Role in Bringing Me Where I Am Today

Writing was always one of my passions, and the idea of covering stories was one of my earliest dreams. My father’s diplomatic career took us to many different countries. So, Pakistan, ostensibly home, always fascinated me and when we moved back I was keen on joining a newspaper and diving into a country I hadn’t lived in for some time.

I began my journalistic career at DAWN newspaper as a reporter and columnist, and in retrospect, had the most admirable boss and mentor, Zafar Abbas. After a great deal of experience, both negative and positive, I’ve realized how important it is to appreciate and value the mentors we have had. It’s possible that if my first job as a journalist was with a less amiable boss — of which I have had —I may not have continued in the field of journalism.

After a few years with DAWN, I was offered a stint in CNN, but left to intern with the BBC both in Islamabad and London. After getting my Masters Degree I began freelancing with BBC World from Islamabad and mainly did feature stories from Pakistan.

Soon afterward, I began work with BBC World, I was offered a position in BBC Urdu by my second mentor, Aamer Ahmed Khan. My 8-year stint with BBC Urdu was a challenging one, I was a full-time employee in a hard-nosed, bureaucratic, demanding, and heavily political environment. I had to learn new skills at breakneck speed in a language I was still struggling with, as well as formulating stories for completely different audiences in various news formats.

I got access to people and places with the backing of a renowned institution, something a freelancer would find difficult to achieve alone. I worked harder than ever before trying to prove myself in a language I had never worked in. For better or for worse, for all the negativity, harsh criticism and naysayers, I managed to make it through till I reached a point where I felt I was no longer growing. With my mentor having left a few years before, I left the BBC achieving more than many believed possible, attaining a fluency in the language that some believed unlikely given my itinerant childhood in the diplomatic sphere.

Working as a female journalist in Pakistan for over 10 years, I can say with confidence, that it is not a difficult place. I got access, at times extra attention and people were by and large respectful – I never felt any sexism while I was in the field. In fact, the added advantage was that women were more willing to talk and open up with me.

During some tough situations, I turned to people from within my organization, and outside who mentored me. Discussed my situation and pulling on their experience which helped me through challenging situations. I am eternally grateful to those individuals. However, I think what is evidently deficient in this industry, is female journalists’ support for one another. While women sympathize with one another, there isn’t enough of an institutionalized culture of supporting each other, even though sharing our experiences would help us all combat challenges that are unique to women journalists.

That is why when I was approached by the Coalition for Women in Journalism, I felt like this was an apt way to fill a huge void that exists in the media landscape in Pakistan. Previously, on an intermittent basis I would help young women who were wanting to join this field by sharing useful contacts and tips – but I always craved to do more and I am extremely happy to now be a part of this coalition, not only helping women who are in this field but also helping to create a long overdue narrative around the role, challenges and successes of women in this field that we can all benefit from.

Nosheen Abbas is a bilingual multimedia journalist and has worked with the BBC for over 8 years. She has done reports for TV, online and radio in both English and Urdu. In the past, Nosheen worked with Dawn Group of newspapers as a weekly columnist and TV correspondent.

Abbas has also worked in the Development Sector for the United Nations, Plan international, World Population Foundation, and the Commonwealth Youth Programme, on a number of youth development initiatives. She created The Pakistani Government’s first ‘Framework Policy for Adolescents’ in Pakistan.

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The Art of Asking – Coalition For Women In Journalism Launches Advice Column

These are wild times for women in journalism. On one hand, we arguably have more opportunities than ever before in history and yet, worldwide, female reporters still face countless obstacles to professional development – from wage gaps to online harassment and offline violence.

Sometimes it makes me want to give up. Most days I just scream into a pillow (try it, feels great.) But it’s important we resist and I suggest a simple practice: Ask more questions.

In an industry that feeds off our insecurities and pitches us against each other, asking for what we need can be a subversive move – whether that is advice or travel expenses.

Skeptical? Here are some benefits of asking for more:

– Dramatically improves the chances of getting what you want
– It shows you are human (you’re not all-powerful? Great, let’s be friends)
– It makes you compassionate towards the needs of others
– It challenges unrealistic (and often sexist) expectations
– It improves the standards for those who will come after you

Still, most female journalists struggle to ask for what they need; which is painfully ironic. After all, is there something more quintessentially journalistic than asking questions?

As professionals, we will not hesitate to chase down a source for months in order to get an answer. But when it’s to negotiate our salary or ask a friend for an editor’s contact info, well, that’s a different animal.

This selective muteness is so pervasive sometimes it’s hard to identify.
But see if you can relate to any of the following. Have you ever…
… prefaced a question by saying “sorry for asking” or “this is probably a silly question but…”?
… not asked something because you thought “I should know this by now”?
… bitten your tongue because you didn’t want to “come across as difficult/ungrateful”?
… endured more than you had to for fear of being seen as “a damsel in distress”?
… thought, “I must be the only one struggling with this”?

Yeah, me too.

This needs to stop. If we want to help women journalists thrive, we must get comfortable asking for the support we deserve – whether it is borrowing a camera lens, getting feedback on a story or negotiating a decent kill fee.

That thing you’re thinking of right now? The one that feels like it would be “too much”?
I beg you, ask for it.

Don’t know who to ask? Try me! This column is meant to be a safe space for female journalists to share their predicaments – however major or mundane. Send your burning questions at dear.laura@womeninjorunalism.org and if I can’t answer them, I’ll find you someone who can.

Love,
L


Laura is an independent journalist obsessed with borders and everything that crosses them. Born in Barcelona, she writes about development, migration, and trafficking of all kinds. Her work lives on Newsweek, The Guardian, Slate, Fortune, NPR and others.

These days, she spends most of her time in East Africa and the Middle East she previously lived in Spain, France, Italy and the U.K. working towards a double major in political science and international relations as well as an MA in international journalism from City University, London.

You can read more from the Coalition’s Dear Laura on Medium.

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Mentors Teach You What Journalism Schools Don’t Teach

Journalism has come a long way, from the age of print to the digital. As the industry evolves, I have realized that we need to change our collective mindset.

It is time to embrace our individuality as more women break into the industry and the industry needs to find a way to respond to it.

When I was working in Pakistan, I had to fight many battles. I was a single Pakistani girl working in the media industry, living on my own in the city; something not many women can do in that culture. Simply to exist in that environment where women are discouraged to step out of the house and work raises eyebrows. If you work in the media, like I did, meant the barriers multiplied both from society and from your workplace. In that environment, you either listen or leave. I did none of it and tried to overcome them instead. I wanted to open the doors that were closed shut on me, and women who came after me.

As I started looking for a job, I recall, my first interview was for a well-respected mainstream news channel, the producer suggested if I wanted the job I should take off my Hijab, which I wore back then. He said I needed to “show off my features more” in order to present the news. I refused, stating that it was my decision to make and not his. Needless to say, I never got a callback but that is how my journey started.

Eventually, I found a job of my liking at another news channel but it wasn’t long before I realized that I could never have my way. My immediate boss, department head, would always take credit for all my ideas. I was expected to follow a certain pattern, always the same things to be done over in a loop, looking over and reviewing work of other colleagues, sub-menial tasks, updating the web, social media, even though I was hired as a writer. A small mistake would lead to an argumentative homily about how impactful my mistake was, even though the project I was responsible to run, was in fact, my idea. “Show me that you can do it,” my boss would tease me.

People who were hired after me got paid more than I did because they were men. Even when many of them worked under my supervision and had to work on my ideas.

The constant criticism and bantering never gave me an opportunity to learn and grow. The lack of acknowledgment of my contributions, in fact, played terribly for the company. While they were busy judging me for my age and scrutinizing my ideas, they often forgot to recognize the ones they could actually benefit from. So the loss was not mine alone. This demeaning treatment left a lasting impact on me. It took me six months to recover from the feeling of worthlessness.

Switching to a progressive newspaper was like a breath of fresh air. I was finally given chances to explore ideas, talk to people, understand the world and develop my style. This too didn’t come without hurdles. I had to prove myself, I had to prove that: Being a woman should not mean my beat should only be restricted to culture or lifestyle. It is important to understand that women journalists, opportunities are always undersized, and that needs to change. When women are not given them beat that would put them at risk, it is discrimination. ‘Risk’ a subjective notion; I wasn’t asked if I found the story risky or not, rather told that I shouldn’t be doing it for my own good. The same attitude followed for stories which required travel, adventure or anything out of the box. As long as my coverage was relevant to the “women beat” – usually the lifestyle section, women rights issue coverage, culture — they were fine.

I was always told I have a long way to go and learn a lot; which was true, journalism is a process of never-ending learning, but that process requires mentorship, and guidance, not rigid criticism and abandonment. Imagine the time it may take to overcome the trauma of discrimination; the weight of constant rejection, the taunts that undermine your work. Now imagine doing that while being a woman in a conservative society. That’s a lot to take. And it takes time to take it all in. So I took my time.

Publications that still run on a hierarchical system, have little space for improvisation and excelling. Such newsrooms are restricted because you always have to go by the book. If anything goes wrong you call the editor and ask for an exact solution. This kind of manager-subordinate relationship it needs to be buried. We need to embrace an ecosystem where fresh ideas of young journalists and expertise of the old and experienced can combine and thrive. A system that nurtures independent journalists and embraces the diversity that women journalists bring.

With the right guidance and trust, the journalistic process can be a fruitful one and the right guidance is exactly what lacks in the journalistic market, at least for women.

With a mentor, the capacity for self-construction increases drastically. I didn’t know how important a mentor is until I got one. Mentors teach you what journalism schools don’t teach. The courses don’t teach you how to deal with a situation, how to contact sources and how to get rid of the desk job you don’t want.

I must regard my first mentor, Luavut Zahid who said “do not let anyone tell you, you can’t do a story. Just go and get it done.”

I was delighted when I first read about The Coalition of Women in Journalism, my first thought was, finally! I was not the only one who considered that mentorship was a needed.

I applied for an internship in the summer and was delighted when I got it. I was thrilled to move to New York to help with some amazing research that the Coalition has been working on. This experience thought be incredible, both groomed me in a technical capacity but also shattered so many misconceptions I have had about “women in the West”

Before coming to New York I used to think that women in the west have it easy and maybe now I will have it easy too. My ideas were shattered as I uncovered more and more about the women in the west when I met these women in the west through the program and discussed my ideas with them. Newsflash, women in the West don’t have it easy either. That shatters me, because if the developed world doesn’t have it then who does. I learned heartbreakingly, the dilemmas of solid and talented women who were being undermined by their male counterparts. I realized that actually gender discrimination is a global epidemic, and not restricted to our shanty backward world.

In time, it occurred to me how important it was the work that I did with the Coalition for Women in Journalism, assisting a diverse group of women from all backgrounds and colors who work everyday strengthen this ecosystem of support. These wonderful journalists who work with the Coalition as mentors are mostly freelance journalists as mentors from so many places, who sacrifice their time to help a colleague. How beautiful is that? It is a miracle if you really think about it. It soothes all the pain I have carried on my – reasonably young – back. The pain and trauma I gathered along my early career that taught me all the wrong things by the men who mistreated me and women who did not stand by my side. Ladies at the Coalition for Women in Journalism give me confidence that I will have people looking out for me as I stride forward.

On the internships, I learned so much about myself. Working closely with the founder Kiran Nazish, I learned a tremendous number of new skills — I can now take phone interviews, translate flummox jargon from long research papers into sensible language, send emails and bite my Halal sandwich all at once. I learned for the first time that I was the master of my dreams, that no goals are beyond my limits, that while there are rocks on the way, those rocks can be taken out. Of course, you better build some muscle for that and the Coalition for Women in Journalism allows us to do that. Most of all, I learned that women will be equal when not some, but all women are stronger. And that it takes courage to acknowledge that.

Annam Lodhi is a journalist based in the UAE. She has worked in television and print in Pakistan. Annam was also the first inaugural intern at the Coalition for Women in Journalism. Given her commitment, she later joined the Coalition as an assistant, editorial researcher. You can follow her work on Twitter.

The Coalition for Women in Journalism is the first global support network for women journalists of all backgrounds. We work in several countries, and offer help to journalists in multiple languages. The network of individuals and organizations bring together the experience and mentorship necessary to help women navigate the industry. You can visit the website, womeninjournalism.org to learn more.

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Elevating the Status of Women in Journalism Through Mentorship

The last few years have been especially visible for the conversation around women in journalism, their presence in newsrooms and in the field is being noticed, the number of graduates from J-schools has risen as have women reporting from the ground as foreign correspondents and freelancers.

The value of organizations that supported women journalists, and have long been there, like the IWMF that was founded in 1990 (yes, they have been around that long) and Women Media Centre that was launched in 2005, saw new meaning, and only recently taken seriously. Women in journalism and those who supported them started getting wider cross generation recognition which was something incredibly new. Women initiated avenues to help each other through social media, the several Binders and other FB groups. More funding came in, scholarships and grants offered opportunities to women and newsrooms started reflecting over their age old discriminatory attitudes towards women colleagues.

In 2017, it seems a hopeful future for women in journalism, if the conversations and support continues. The hope is that perhaps women will be able to be treated equally in the mainstream. That perhaps women will be able to claim an equal ground with their male counterparts in the industry. That perhaps the noise we are making today, will work this time. 

This hope is not new. We have seen many such phases and made many such noises. Each time there is a new theme. In the last century, it was the new recognition for women who started covering male beats, then later it was the women journalists who started covering wars, the world war II coverage by female reporters was especially remarkable and recognized by some avenues. The first top editorial positions were given to women. Women, or at least some women, felt liberated. They felt they had a voice now and they were using it wildly. 

But when you look closely, today, still thousands of women journalists remain struggling; they are fighting different kinds of discriminations some systematic, some perceptive and some deliberate and designed. The opportunities that are available are tendered to the ones who already excel, grants and fellowship are offered to those women who fit one or the other profile. This makes them struggle to be in the right circles, show face at the right conferences, be friends with the right people. So much of their energy and wisdom that can be spent doing reporting, refining their skills, is instead spent trying to make their way up. It’s exhausting. 

I formed the Coalition for Women in Journalism, for the colleagues who often feel they are stuck mid career. The program, that came after years of reflection and inquiry, offers short and long term mentorships to women who have spent a few years working as freelancers or staff reporters and feel they could use an expert’s ear. Through mentorships we hope to offer an opportunity to women colleagues to refine their skills as reporters, to be able to discuss personal and intimate feelings about discrimination, or handle a situation where they feel trapped. We also try to offer support as much support as we can, to women who are stuck in crises situations, or are dealing with mild or severe trauma either on the job, or while balancing their work and personal lives. 

I believe that women could have made much more progress over the century and a half we have made our contributions to journalism, had we worked along male colleagues more efficiently. After all, many if not most women have only made progress, with the advice and support of male mentors and friends. Therefore, the coalition has a #HeForShe program in which we . Though majority of mentors with the coalition are still women, that is fulfill the need of the type of applications we get. But in certain arena where our male colleagues can help, we invite them to support us in the endeavor. 

We are extremely thrilled to partner with the SPJ International Community, an institution that has for a long time, helped journalists network and find support. In that we both – the Coalition and the International Community hope to combine our efforts to make breakthroughs to elevate the status and experiences of women in journalism.

I formed the Coalition for Women in Journalism, for the colleagues who often feel they are stuck mid career. It was over a coffee with one of my mentors, whom I looked up to with awe. She told me that in over a two decade long career as a successful journalist that brought her several awards, she never had a mentor. She recalled how she made her way up in a male dominated newsroom. That women had been always doing it on their own was shocking, and it requires a lot to maneuver and I wanted to create a system where they could count on each other.

The program, that came after years of reflection and inquiry, offers short and long term mentorships to women who have spent a few years working as freelancers or staff reporters and feel they could use an expert’s ear. Through mentorships we hope to offer an opportunity to women colleagues to refine their skills as reporters, to be able to discuss personal and intimate feelings about discrimination, or handle a situation where they feel trapped. We also try to offer support as much support as we can, to women who are stuck in crises situations, or are dealing with mild or severe trauma either on the job, or while balancing their work and personal lives. 

I believe that women could have made much more progress over the century and a half we have made our contributions to journalism, had we worked along male colleagues more efficiently. After all, many if not most women have only made progress, with the advice and support of male mentors and friends. Therefore, the coalition has a #HeForShe program in which we let our male colleagues help us in the program, through mentorships and advice. Though majority of mentors with the coalition are still women, that is fulfill the need of the type of applications we get. But in certain arena where our male colleagues can help, we invite them to support us in the endeavor. 

Kiran Nazish is the co-founder and director of the Coalition for Women in Journalism. The Coalition will be contributing to the SPJ Blog every first Wednesday of the month discussing topic that involve women in journalism.

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