Posts Tagged ‘SPJ International Community’


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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Stand up and Have Solidarity for Women in Journalism

I’m a firm believer that journalism, and particularly freelance journalism, is the best job in the world. There’s not a day that I don’t love it and feel lucky. (Barring transcription time. Still hell.)

But recent events, especially the appalling murder of Kim Wall, have shed light on a couple of little acknowledged truths about the industry. Firstly, that there is an abundance of incredible female freelancers roaming the earth telling important stories. Second, that the unprofessional practices endemic in this industry are disproportionately affecting those women.

My friends in other sectors are endlessly shocked by the conditions many of us consider normal. There’s the low pay – see this depressing chart of standard rates set by prominent publications. We regularly take jobs without contracts or expenses. Editors commission work, receive it and then ignore emails. They dangle commissions without committing. “We’ll take a look at a draft.” Some pay ridiculously late, or never.

Rubbish pay and casual exploitation are miserable for everyone. But it’s particularly pernicious for women who by the virtue of their gender are vulnerable to threats while working that doesn’t even cross the minds of most men. On a recent hostile environment training course, I asked the instructor for advice on jumping out of a moving car. A friend asked what to do if you are pulled and dragged by your ponytail. The instructor was taken aback. But many women know and fear those things. They happen; they’ve happened.

Journalism doesn’t come with safety guarantees. Kim’s murder demonstrates the horrible truth that men will attack women anywhere in the world at any time. And female journalists must not be denied work because of the perception that they are vulnerable. But it is beyond time we enforce better protection for freelancers.

Because you haven’t got a firm commission, or a contract, or expenses, you hire the cheapest fixer who hasn’t been vetted by other colleagues. You stay in the dodgy guesthouse with the weird men loitering around the reception. You skip the car and driver and take a rickshaw after dark. It’s that or walking away from the assignment with zero profit. You’re not in this for the money but you need to make a living.

There are plenty of other reasons the industry needs to treat freelancers better. Basic decency is one. News organizations depend on them now that foreign bureaus have been slashed. But the risks to women are an important consideration.

I wonder if they are not being considered because it is still so often men who drive decision making. I’m delighted that so many of my colleagues in the freelance world are women, but have to wonder why my editors are almost exclusively male. Are staff jobs not going to women? If so, why?

The old boys’ club persists. In Southeast Asia, where I’m based, it has particularly creepy characteristics. This region is a notorious Never Never Land for men and some of them work in this industry.

Women, especially those just starting out, are not always welcome and often undermined. When I was an editor, I politely rejected several pitches from an older male freelancer whose oeuvre included a colorful dispatch from a teen nightclub where he literally ranked girls out of 10 as they walked by. So he wrote a lewd blog about me and sent it to seemingly everybody in the city including my boss.

The only way to change the industry is to demand it. Ask for proper compensation for your work. The worst an editor can say is no and a lot of the time they’ll say yes.  Stand up for other women in the industry. Hire them; commission them; take their concerns seriously. Sadly, the only really negative response to a request for expenses for a risky assignment I’ve had was from a female editor.

Don’t underestimate small acts of solidarity. A few years ago, when I was the target of some particularly noxious sexist gossip, I got an email from a female journalist I didn’t really know but whose work I greatly admired. “Don’t let the old men get you down!” she wrote. It made all the difference.

Poppy McPherson is a British journalist who has been based in Southeast Asia for the past five years, primarily covering Myanmar and Bangladesh as well as Cambodia and the Philippines. Her reporting and photos have been published by the Guardian, Guardian Cities, TIME, Foreign Policy, IRIN and others. Check it out here. Her first book, on the Rohingya crisis, will be out with I.B Tauris in 2018. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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Have the Courage to Be Transparent and Embrace Your Personal Moments

Photo by Andrea Pritchard.

It has been said when you make a photo, you take a piece of the soul. As well, you give a part of yours. There are pieces of my soul scattered all over the earth. Indeed it’s what makes me whole.

A photograph can be a powerful witness and an eloquent voice for those who have none. Pictures inform, educate, enlighten, captivate and spur governments into action. They are historical documents and poignant reminders of our human frailties. They’re our life’s work, our legacy.

However, a “shoot the messenger” mentality toward the media is escalating. So often now journalists are targets. We are NOT the enemy and this dangerous rhetoric must stop. Somehow we need to enlighten the public to the importance of real documentary journalism. We preach to the choir at workshops, but society needs to hear us most of all. Many don’t realize what they are losing. A free press is a crucial part of the First Amendment, a watchdog of governments and a voice for the powerless.

We are challenged in our work not only to examine issues and expose problems, but also to find poetry in everyday lives. Greatness is not found in a title or awards on your wall. It’s when you treat the janitor with the same dignity as the chief. When you look past the disfigured amputee and photograph beauty – the real kind.  

Back in the day, there were frequent tales of inequality and female faces were few on photography staffs and even less on international news stories. It’s encouraging now when students view past generations as trailblazers and realize they can confront anything that would deter them.

There are still serious issues to address. But most women that have produced amazing reportage for decades were completely focused – we just did the work. And in the process, I hope it proved the point that every eye brings another piece of the puzzle to complete a story. It’s less about gender, race, ethnicity, religion – it’s our life experiences that provide perspective to view the world in all its complexity.

Diversity in journalism is fundamental. This profession is now offering more support for safety in the field. There is dialogue about equality that will hopefully enhance balance and fairness for all. It is also critical to address the “aftershocks” of emotional trauma, which many hide because they have been told it’s a sign of weakness.

Empathy – a small word with epic meaning. We’ve seen throughout history how selective compassion breeds hate. It’s the source of all the “isms”: Racism, Sexism, Terrorism, Speciesism. It begins when one group deems others unworthy of mercy. In my humble opinion, if ALL life interwoven on this planet we share is not equal to the same level of compassion we wish for ourselves, it becomes the foundation for abuse. And when we turn away from oppression, our silence becomes complicity.  

Pulitzers validate the importance of the story – they do not belong to us, we simply accept them for the people in the pictures. We’re just a link. It’s crucial to check ego at the door – it’s not about making great photos, it’s about the narrative of others.

When you look past the poverty, there is an eloquence of soul. Many times in tragic situations, people teach us it’s not what you hold in your hand that matters, it’s the qualities you hold inside.

Advice for emerging journalists: Each of us leaves behind what we’ve done on this odd and magnificent journey. Photojournalists are storytellers; we just “write” with light.

  1. Follow your heart and trust your gut.
  2. Keep the inquisitive eyes of a child.
  3. Tread lightly and with purpose.
  4. Take risks for what matters.
  5. Cherish “Wow” moments.
  6. Immerse yourself in the photo world – internships, workshops, lectures, and engaging with photographers whose work you admire.
  7. Most of all remember: it’s not about us – it’s the people in front of our cameras that matter. They need to trust us, which takes time.
  8. Content and moments are what reach viewers on a universal emotional level and make them connect. If you truly care, your pictures can speak volumes.
  9. Value yourself and embrace femininity. You don’t need to be a “hamburger woman” to produce powerful storytelling. Someone once actually used that term and admitted he expected me to fit a preconceived mold.
  10. My greatest obstacle has been a lack of self-confidence. Even now, fretting about missed moments is painful. They are gone for eternity.
  11. And an overdose of empathy has certainly helped create images that resonate with viewers but makes your own heart break more intensely. Be gentle with your own spirit.

A couple more things to remember:

1. You can’t run in high heels.

2. Have the courage to get intimate in your work. As the great photojournalist Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Close enough doesn’t always mean standing in the flames or gunfire – even more difficult can be breaking the barrier of intimacy. It’s a different kind of courage, to stay with a story even when it’s ripping your heart to shreds.

3. Relationships matter. My greatest riches are the relationships that remain long after the story is over and the camera put down. During the war, rebels in Sierra Leone had a nasty habit of cutting off the limbs of civilians, even children, to intimidate the population and control blood diamond trade. I spent four years documenting the saga of a group in the U.S. for prosthetics. It’s impossible to become that involved in people’s lives and not become friends. They assimilated into American life, lived as an extended family, then all were adopted. A charming little girl named Memuna is now with a family in DC. One of the greatest honors of my life was when they asked me to be her godmother since they said my pictures were the reason they found her.  Whenever I say I’ve lost my entire family she quickly reminds me I do indeed have a family – them.

4.Your personal moment’s matters. After the fourth Pulitzer announcement I called and asked the nurses to yell in my mom’s ear in her end stage of Alzheimer’s.  Later I had the opportunity to tell her myself and she said, “Wow, get out!” It registered and that little lucid moment meant the world; readers or students taking the time to message, or even write letters about photos that moved them; my aunt saying my dad would have been so proud of me. He died when I was six. Friends that stayed by my side during the dark times. It’s easy to be there for parties when you are on top of your profession, and much harder to continue to hold a heart that is breaking. It’s the personal moments, not awards or recognition that are most meaningful.

I had the opportunity to do a vignette about a104-year-old dynamo named Miss Classie Morant who spent years caring for her sister Rozzie, bedridden with Alzheimer’s, believing family devotion is a priority. She was one of those everyday heroes who quietly lived her values in our own backyards. She taught lessons about living with principle and dying with grace. She emphasized the importance of family and those moments are fleeting that each goodbye can be the last.


We spend so much time photographing other people’s lives, sometimes we forget to live our own.

Classie greatly influenced my decision to take leave and care for my own mother and sister, both fading away with Alzheimer’s. There are always more stories to do, but you only have one family.

Others will surely deal with complicated grief and caregiver fatigue as our elderly live longer. Or endure other emotional trials – even residual damage from this career. Society and workplaces need to bring grief out of the closet and provide acceptance and support. High profile photojournalists have told me they feel the need to appear strong and mask their sorrow, depression, PTSD (which many compassionate journalists possibly have to some degree – it’s nothing to feel ashamed about, though there is still stigma. It simply means you have a beating heart). But suffering is increased by our culture’s lack of true understanding. People don’t need to be “fixed” or told to move on – or especially abandoned by friends or the workplace. I’m now editing a book so we can perhaps open a dialogue on these issues that others may feel less alone and know it’s OK to cry.

I spent most of my life roaming the world and wasn’t there for loved ones. I gave 500% heart and soul to every story, to the newspaper – to every assignment no matter how mundane to me. It meant a lot to the people who would have their picture in the paper, especially someone’s child on the Metro front, and they deserve nothing less than our best. There were unexpected, devastating professional consequences later, but there are no regrets finally making my own family priority, giving them that 500%. Most advise to keep personal issues hidden, but raw honesty is my MO. At least I was so fortunate to work for the Graham Post for 3 decades. It was a family with integrity and loyalty, and I was previously at the Miami Herald in the wild 80s.

I feel so very strongly that we spend our lives expecting people to open up their most intimate moments to our cameras. The least we can do is offer the same courage of transparency to promote a better understanding of the universal emotions we all share.

It is sad that so many talented, seasoned photographers lost positions, sometimes entire staffs were let go as corporate mentality devalues true long-form documentary photojournalism. There is even a Plan B website now. But perseverance usually prevails. Hopefully, the pendulum of quick-hit photojournalism will swing back to the depth of quality instead of the quantity of web hits.   Young journalists are indeed the future. Along with the passion for storytelling, hold tight to the values that first and foremost make you an ethical human being.

I embraced my mom as she slipped away. Hers was the first hand I held, mine the last she grasped. Within the year, my sister also died from early-onset Alzheimer’s. I did the only thing I knew to hold onto them – I documented. The eve of my sister’s funeral, my friend and coworker (my “brother” really) Michel du Cille died covering Ebola in Liberia. He was a man of great integrity and decency more impressive than even his talent – a rare breed in today’s work ethics that can be cold at times.

With our words and our deeds, we honor the brave journalists who passed before us and by never wavering from telling stories that must be told and rising up just a little bit higher in human decency. Especially in these difficult years for this profession, we need to hang onto the idealistic notion that what we do is vital, especially now, and at times offer those who feel invisible in the darkest shadows of despair – that intangible and invaluable essence – hope.  

A passage from Plato I read for Michel’s eulogy: “The souls of people, on their way to Earth-life, pass through a room full of lights; each takes a taper – often only a spark – to guide it in the dim country of this world. But some souls, by rare fortune, are detained longer – have time to grasp a handful of tapers, which they weave into a torch. These are the torch-bearers of humanity – its poets, seers, and saints, who lead and lift the race out of the darkness, toward the light. They are the law-givers, the light-bringers, way-showers, and truth-tellers, and without them, humanity would lose its way in the dark.”

Be the light. Carry that torch.

Carol Guzy is is a photojournalist that has received her fourth Pulitzer for coverage of the Haitian earthquake in 2010. Previously she was honored twice with the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for her coverage of the military intervention in Haiti and the devastating mudslide in Armero, Colombia.  She has received a third Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for her work in Kosovo. She specializes in long-term documentary human interest projects, spot news and feature stories, both domestic and international as well as local daily assignments and currently editing for book projects. She currently freelances for ZUMA and has previously worked as staff photographer for The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. You can follow her work on Facebook and Instagram.

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Women Feel the Emotional Weight of Telling Our Stories

Earlier this year, Source published a piece I wrote that was framed as an open letter to hiring managers. It documented my six-month journey in finding a job after being part of the massive layoffs at Fusion.

As we were nearing the end of revisions, my amazing editors, Erin Kissane and Lindsay Muscato, asked me how they could support me after publication, and we discussed how to handle negative feedback. I had read enough pieces by women to know it probably wouldn’t be easy. I was gearing up for comments about my performance, my focus on gender, my gall to publicly discuss my experience.

When it published, I was working on a two-week assignment for Poynter in South Africa teaching journalists about digital strategy. I knew it was set to publish on June 8, and I anxiously awaited for America to wake up and read what I had poured my heart into.

The likes, retweets, and comments poured in. I received exactly one negative comment: a man told me that the gender pay gap wasn’t real. I ignored him. That was it. My piece was shared in industry newsletters, on Marketplace, in a podcast.

As my story was amplified, I received more and more private messages from women who had similar experiences. After two days of comments and messages, I cried myself to sleep. I had started this conversation, but, it turns out, I wasn’t really ready to participate in it. Hearing these stories was emotionally exhausting. I was sad for these women, sad for the industry I love, and ultimately, sad for myself.

I didn’t feel like I had triumphed or that my piece was something to celebrate. I was and am still dealing with a lot of pain. I didn’t take being laid off personally; a ton of extremely talented journalists were let go at the same time. But it did hurt when they posted my job again. It hurt when organizations would use ideas from my required proposals without hiring me. It hurt when hiring managers would question my age or gender. It hurt when my applications were ignored by acquaintances in the industry. I felt frustration, rage, disappointment, and discouragement. I often felt like a failure.

I replied to every private message and almost every comment about my piece. I thanked them for reading. I apologized that they went through something similar. I advocated that we needed to fix the industry’s problems. My replies were short, because even though I had been thinking about this since November, I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t effectively comfort others because I was still comforting myself. I now know why people write memoirs years later.

I spoke about hiring at the SRCCON conference a few months after publishing my piece. It had been about nine months after I was laid off; I had just started at the Wall Street Journal. As I chatted with people during breakfast and in between sessions, I was shocked at how many people said, “I recognize you from your article about hiring!” They told me they loved my piece.

This attention was unlike anything I had received before because it wasn’t about something I was proud of. I loved talking about the work my team did; I would brag on them any chance I had. But I was at a loss of words when someone complimented a piece about what had happened to me. I mustered a superficial, “Thank you for reading. I’m so glad to see the response.” and tried to move on to another topic.

The response truly blew me away. I did not expect that much support or that much noise raised. I heard some teams were using it as they were refining their hiring processes, and if even one journalist has a better experience, it will be worth putting myself out there. But we need to go bigger, too. We need to get these stories into the hands of CEOs, executive editors, anyone that can truly make a difference.

Throughout the journalism industry, we ask women to be brave a lot, both as colleagues and as sources. We ask them to share pieces of themselves that tell important stories. We should not stop doing this; these are stories that should be told. But being the voice of many is a vulnerable experience, and we have to support women when the personal goes public.

As friends and colleagues, we must be nuanced in our responses. Unless the new job after a layoff is an absolutely perfect fit, it may be bittersweet. We must be understanding that transitions take time, a job offer does not solve everything, and change can be really hard even if it’s exciting. We must vocalize that going through a difficult time does not make you a bad journalist who isn’t cut out for an industry that can be cruel. We must co-own the heavy responsibility of these stories and advocate for change ourselves. In my case, this is the difference in putting your name on an email to HR to question policies vs. telling them to get in touch with me.

We have to do everything we can for these stories to matter so that hopefully, one day, these stories won’t exist.

Rachel Schallom is an editor specializing in digital strategy and visual and data journalism. She’s the newsroom project manager at the Wall Street Journal. She curates a weekly newsletter highlighting interesting things happening in visual journalism. She has been an adjunct professor teaching coding for journalism students, has spoken at national and international conferences, and is involved in making journalism a more equal place for women to work. You can follow her work on Twitter, Facebook and at rachelschallom.com

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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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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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I Want to See Equality in Photojournalism, so I Hire Women

As a journalist, I often cover topics related to gender equality, but it is only recently that I’ve discovered the power of using my budget and my editorial relationships to get more women hired. As I’ve become more comfortable and confident negotiating with editors, rather than simply accepting assignments as editors propose them – I negotiate. But I’m not talking about negotiating rates for myself, which is a given. For example, if an editor accepts a pitch of mine and provides a rate, I will immediately propose that a woman photographer to join my team, provide links to her work, and ask for a photography budget. I have a long-term love affair with photography, and I am continually enraged to see how few women photographers are represented at major media outlets – 15% to be exact.

This year I decided to channel my anger into making a change in my own projects. Early in my career, I was too afraid of editors and too desperate for money to ask them for anything. But what I have realized is that often if I can make a convincing argument, editors do have flexible budgets and they will support my vision for a project. I spend a lot of time obsessing over photographers who would be ideal for specific projects, so I have a clear idea of who I want to work with and why, and editors, for the most part, respect that.

I have also started to send all my editors a link to Women Photograph, which was founded by photojournalist Daniella Zalcman and showcases some of the best women photographers around the globe.  My editors have been responsive and have hired women photographers for projects that previously would have either had no photographer or a male photographer. Now I regularly receive emails from editors asking for recommendations for women photographers working in certain regions. One of my editors at Longreads recently wrote, “Women Photograph has been such an essential resource, thank you.”

Photo by Cambria Harkey.

Sometimes the statistics on gender equality in journalism are soul-crushing because the struggle is real for women to get paid equally and to be represented equally at the highest levels of publishing. In order to fend off the weariness that comes with feeling powerless, I have tried to make small changes in my own work and to challenge myself and my editors to have more awareness of the importance of representing the world through the eyes of women.

These experiences working with women photographers have enriched my work and pushed me to take on more physically and mentally challenging stories. In August 2017, I found myself traveling from San Salvador, El Salvador to Tapachula, Mexico via bus accompanying a trans woman fleeing El Salvador alongside photographer Danielle Villasana. I had discovered Danielle’s extensive body of work on trans women online, was moved by the strength of her photos, and wrote to both her and one of my editors to propose a project. As a result, Danielle and I spent 14 days in El Salvador documenting the threats faced by trans women. On our first night there, we interviewed Marfil, a trans woman sex worker, and she told us, “Tomorrow at 3am, I am getting on a bus to flee the country.” Danielle and I looked each other in the eyes, and as if reading each other’s minds made a split-second decision to ask Marfil if we could accompany her.  We were matched in our fierce desire to tell the story, to do it justice, and we knew that we would.

Alice Driver is a long-form journalist and an international speaker who focuses on human rights, gender equality, and migration in Latin America. She is currently based in Mexico City. You can follow her work on Twitter and Instagram.

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Why Doesn’t Anyone Train Fixers?

Fixers are a vital part of the newsgathering process. They secure your access to a story, handle your logistics and act as a go-between when interviewing in a foreign language. The success of your project, as well as your personal safety, is directly placed in their hands but there is no other part of the industry where such a vital role is given to untrained, largely unverified individuals.

Writer Paul Theroux wrote “Most Travel, and certainly, the rewarding kind involves putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life” and never was this truer than in the fixer/journalist relationship. Therefore, why are there no training platforms out there, certifications or accreditations to ensure that the person you’re working with has at least a basic level of knowledge about the job, your organization’s ethical considerations or security?

The reality is that you can literally pick someone off the street, anywhere in the world and put them on the payroll if you believe they will be of use. Whilst it’s been this way ever since human travel existed is it really aligned to the modern news business with its sensibilities towards risk assessment and responsible practice? In the most base case you might be putting your personal security at risk but on a wider point, you are also jeopardizing the integrity of your work and the impact it might have on real issues.

Journalists have access to numerous training material and courses in order to go as deep into the academic or practical side as they like but to date, there is no comprehensive initiative aimed at the locals they worked with. At World Fixer we’ve tried to encourage support for a free training platform from various news outlets but the truth is that the appetite isn’t really there amongst the ones we approached. From their side, it seems that the issue isn’t really a problem but for anyone with experience on the ground this simply isn’t true.

This mentality also doesn’t take into account the growing percentage of freelance journalists who contribute to their output and may not necessarily report a lot of the issues they face. As staff jobs dwindle and the independent correspondent role balloons the industry is essentially pushing young (and established) journalists into the field to fend for themselves with little effort spent on the kinds of networks that could help them succeed.

I believe that the kind of information you’d promote through training covers the core issues associated with a journalist’s work. These are:

Standards & Ethics in Journalism

This would provide an insight into the role of media within society and the guidelines by which it must operate in order to produce honest, reliable output. It would include commentary on issues such as professional conduct, balanced assessment, ethical content acquisition and information verification.

Interview techniques & Information Gathering

In the case of no common language, a fixer is the link between a journalist or producer and his subject. It’s important that they can lead the interview to get the right information and relay it clearly and accurately taking into account cultural references and insinuation. How many times has a journalist been in the middle of an interview and felt that they are being told what the person thinks they want to hear – not the actual facts? A solid understanding of the use of interviews and the importance of accuracy is surely invaluable? Whilst interview techniques are an advanced skill there are many guidelines that can be given to encourage the fixer to clearly understand the question and push for a relevant answer.

Outside of interview techniques is information gathering – a fixer using his/her network to source information independently. Again a firm foundation in how to conduct that effectively, ethically & then communicate it clearly are necessary skills.

Risk assessment

This section could be as much a resource as a training tool. Creating clear, downloadable templates which can be understood by those with simple English is the first aspect. The more important aspect would be to teach the fixer to understand that what might not constitute an inherent risk to them may be one for a foreign professional. There are many risks a local might not consider merely because they are surrounded by the every day and they need to open their mind a little to the idea that these are something their client would at least want to consider before going into an area. They need to understand the language of risk assessment forms and familiarise with the concerns of editors, producers, and journalists.

Costs & Budgeting

Projects and working relationships rely on accurate information related to costs and budgeting. At World Fixer around 80% of disputes are centered around misunderstanding from either side related to this. Culturally there can be some discrepancy between issues such as estimated costs and an accurate quote, hidden extras and overtime. Ultimately its something that can be solved with contracts, paper trails, and proper conversations but journalism isn’t excellent at this, especially in the heat of the moment on the ground.

Its necessary to try and educate local fixers to clearly communicate when it comes to finances and take equal responsibility to ensure its understood.

Digital Security

Digital security is not only relevant in a hostile environment setting, all media production demands that employees keep information about their project away from social media or other forms of online publications. This section would explain its importance and gives useful tips for improving digital security in all its forms, providing links to more in-depth resources currently available online.

I believe that armed with a basic understanding of the above, not only would fixers have the tools to further their skills and knowledge about the job but also give a basic grounding to new fixers looking to package their existing capabilities in a way a foreign journalist might see the value. From the journalist’s side, they could have some assurance that the person they hire understands how they work and can conduct themselves in a professional way that doesn’t compromise them or their project.

This training is well suited as an online platform, partly because it would have the potential to reach a larger section of the fixer population, it can be distributed for free and completed quickly if a journalist hires someone in a hurry. A platform could easily generate codes on completion for journalists and news desks to verify when hiring and it could be added to or updated whenever needed.

The costs for such a platform are nominal but in order to gain meaningful traction amongst the fixing population, it has to be something ‘from’ the industry, not aimed at it. By this, I mean that any product that’s made must have the endorsement of several major broadcasters and news outlets for it to be taken seriously enough for everyone to complete it. This doesn’t mean it should be mandatory but it should at least be desired and respected. Sadly, until the established industry accepts the real value in this it may only remain a beta on our laptop.

World Fixer is a database of media fixers and facilitators, with a membership of nearly 7000 globally they strive to make good fixers easier to find and improve working practices. They believe that giving these dynamic individuals a platform to connect with the industry we can raise standards and create transparency.

Mike Garrod previously worked for twenty years in documentary, current affairs and TV in the UK before setting up World Fixer. Ranging from hostile environment to factual entertainment he’s filmed in over 35 countries and worked with some of the best local professionals out there.
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Self Confidence, Empathy and a Break

When asked about what is the biggest challenge of being a female photojournalist, people generally might expect me to talk about safety. It´s true that being a journalist or a photojournalist means many times being at risk, as our profession request to be in certain places at certain moments where probably most of the people would never be. And it’s even more true that, not just as journalists but also as women, we are more vulnerable to violence, as we live in a male dominated world.

But challenges come in a wider spectrum. This isn’t an easy job. It isn’t an easy life. It is complicated to get your work published, to build a network, to get assignments. Journalism is a very beautiful passion inside a very competitive industry, and it requires from the journalists, more often than not, a daily struggle to make it financially sustainable. And specially working in long-term projects, sometimes there is no other option than rely on self-funding.

As if all these, let´s call them, “external obstacles” were not enough, sometimes one more is added into the equation: a lack of self-confidence. Having doubts about your abilities is a condition that can be experienced by both genders, but there is something I have recently observed.

In several occasions in conversation with my female friends – some working in the field of journalism and some with careers in a variety of sectors as well, a common concern always comes out in the talk: the feeling that, as women, we have to prove more than men that we are capable of the work we are doing.

And this starts from the hackneyed – but sadly still common — situation where a woman has to prove that she is not there because of a pretty face but because of her capacities, and lasts to the inner feeling that you have to demonstrate intensely, even to yourself, that you are good enough in what you are doing.

As the world has been dominated by men, women have been raised, even in most equal societies, with the inner feeling of self-questioning.

The time when women started getting out from the roles that society expected from them and adopting “typically men professions” are not so far ago. These brave women had to prove to the world that they were “as good as men” to do their jobs. This feeling still remains. And even if we are lucky enough to belong to societies where gender-equality laws are enforced, women have to live with the certainty that they will be questioned.

Self judgment has been imposed, making us believing that we are never skilled enough, qualified, experienced or legitimized to do what we are doing. And most of the times this feeling comes unconsciously. I have seen in several occasions female colleagues doubting if they are doing right in a way that I´ve never seen male colleagues.

And that is, after all, insecurity and self-distrust. So do not doubt yourself. Do not doubt what you are capable of. This profession has already enough to make it not easy, so do not be your own barrier. If you are where you are, it is because you are doing something right. Trust yourself, your capacities, your attributes and your virtues.

Journalism, and especially photojournalism, has always been considered a profession for men. What is needed to do this job has always been measured through the abilities typically attributed to men: strength, fortitude, courage…

The image of a lonely an adventurous guy has always been associated with a journalist, and was far away from what it was expected from a woman. But fortunately, these virtues are changing and other values, such as empathy or sensitivity, are starting to be considered as essential for being a journalist.

During my career as a freelance photojournalist, I have learned about how important sensitivity is. We have been taught that getting emotional during an interview is unprofessional. Yes, it might be considered that way for some. But when you are in front of a person who opens up a painful episode of his/her life, sharing their suffering with you, I find almost impossible not to get emotional.  

Empathy and sensitivity have been considered typically female attributes (what does not mean at all that men cannot feel empathy or been sensitive), and that’s probably the reason why both characteristics have been usually seen as a sign of weakness. They are not. They are actually a strength, a magnificent gift.

If you develop your journalistic work based on empathy and emotions, do not try to stop it, because it is a great virtue. Journalists should not be afraid of getting touched by the people they work with or to get involved into their lives.

Commitment is seen as a must to develop long-term projects, and in my opinion, commitment to a story cannot be separated from commitment to the people to whom that story belongs.

Don’t underestimate your feelings. Never. But as important as to let them out it is to let them go. And this is a lesson I am learning now: to take a break whenever your body asks for it. You cannot work 24/7, especially when you are working in high-dramatic stories.

The idea that as journalists we are mere observers of history and that we do not feel anything I think is simply not true, and again, is a consequence of seeing the profession from a macho-I-can-handle-everything point of view.

As witnesses of suffering, the suffering remains on us. So getting that break is not just necessary, but healthy. Sometimes it would be enough with a one-week holiday on the beach or a weekend in the mountains or in a spa, but other times you might need a disconnection: a physical and emotional disconnection.

It does not mean that you care less about the people your work is about. Listen to yourself, take care of yourself. Love yourself. And if you need to make some distance for a while, just do it, because only when you feel strong enough you would be able to do a useful work.

Elena del Estal is a Spanish freelance photographer and journalist based in India from 2013 to 2016 where she has worked in different stories about health care, the eradication of polio in India in 2014-2015, and women’s rights violations. Her photography work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, CNNPhotos, Narrative.ly, Revista 5W, El País and El Mundo among others. As a writer, she is a frequent contributor to El Confidencial and Público, Spanish Media. 

She was selected 30 Under 30: Women Photographers, Photo Boite in 2017. She attended the Eddie Adams Workshop XXVIII 2015 and was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2015 and 2017.

You can follow her work on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and her website elenadelestal.com

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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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