Posts Tagged ‘SPJ International’


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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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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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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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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Reflections of EIJ 2017 from a First Time International Student

Traveling has always given me great exposure to the world. I have traveled more than ten countries so far during my student life, but the most recent has been the best one.

The first international conference I have attended in September was SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim, Calif. Attending a conference like EIJ17 was my dream since 2013 when I started studying Media and Journalism at the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore Pakistan.

EIJ17 attracted thousands of the people including media and journalism studies students, researchers, scholars, media practitioners, journalism organizations, universities, marketing companies and news media outlets from throughout the world. Of course, most of them were from the United States, but there were participants from all over the world.

Traveling to the Anaheim, California, was successful because I met a lot of media professionals, research scholars and marketing managers from the media sphere.

  • There were dozens of training sessions, workshops, get together parties and individual meetings and recruitment auditions from world-renowned companies such as CNN, ABC News, CNBC, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Facebook, Google, USA Today, NBC, FOX News, ESPN and The Chicago Tribune.
  • The universities represented included Columbia Journalism School, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Arizona State University, Washington State University, University of Southern California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Boston University, Emerson College, Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources and the University of Colorado.
  • Advertising and marketing companies represented included The NewsGuild, Nexstar Media Group, Philadelphia Media Network, Quincy Media, RNN-TV, SAG-AFTRA, Samson Technologies, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Think Public Media, TopicPulse, Facebook, Google, and McClatchy.
  • The organizations, associations, and centers represented included the American Association for Cancer Research, American Heart Association, Asian Development Bank, Bloomberg, Bureau of Economic Analysis, The National Library of Medicine, RIAS Berlin Commission and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They were found all under one roof at the conference.

One of the top benefits of attending a conference like EIJ17 was that journalists and students were able to meet media studies department representatives of highly-ranked universities; and secondly, if you needed a coach and understanding of guidelines related to media and journalism field, many options were available to learn.

Even freelancing and internship opportunities, early career training, as well as professional hiring, took place at the same place within three days.

I have observed and seen the American way of reception, welcoming, organizing and executing the conferences, workshops and training programs. I have met almost 50 professionals including journalists, freelancers, media studies students, interns, marketing managers, research scholars, and most importantly, SPJ international community members and one of the local chapter individuals.

The SPJ International Community gives me a lot of energy, support, networking opportunities, exposure, ideas, and motivation. It was not just three days at a conference – it was like I learned an equal to half of my education.

I really enjoyed every moment of the conference and afterward when I visited a friend in Washington D.C. My friend Julio showed us many places around D.C.; it’s a great place and worth seeing. I must say thank you to him because we visited Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and spent time and had a great conversation with professors over white supremacy, media laws, U.S. under the Trump administration and learned much more about the MSU department.

I must say that, after this tour, I have more than 30 professional contacts including university professors, media professionals, freelancers and media students. I recommend all my friends and people who are connected to journalism and made the effort to go to EIJ17. This was especially important for individuals at the student level and mid-career level. I would say it’s equally important as your grades or degree program because in the field of media and journalism you cannot survive without networking and exposure in the field.

I would like to thank the people who made this happen and made my trip memorable and enjoyable:

  • Elle Toussi always supported me from the application process, which also included applying and receiving a visa to visit the U.S.
  • Sharon Dunten always offered me services at every step and made my day great in Anaheim while meeting new colleagues and people.
  • I also enjoyed meeting Dr. Bill Silcock from Arizona State University, Julio Cesar from American Research Institute and Dr. Jackie from Morgan State University, Baltimore.

See you next year in Baltimore, Maryland.

Muhammad Ittefaq is a graduate fellow at the Institute of Media and Communication Science, Technical University, Ilmenau in Germany. He received his first MA from the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab Lahore, Pakistan. He is a co-founder of The Educationist, an English monthly newspaper of Pakistan and the Asian Journalism Network.  His research interests are social media and public diplomacy and strategic communication, public relations, international journalism, development communication, the role of emerging and new media in strategic communication, the role of social media in the socio-political change in the world, political communication and digital diplomacy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Staying Emotionally and Mentally Strong Is Important as a Photographer, Take Breaks When You Need It

As a high school senior, in lieu of going to college, I decided to travel. With money earned through various jobs, over the next four years, I would travel to more than 30 countries, with my camera as a window into different societies and cultures. As a citizen of one of the world’s richest countries, I was disturbed by the lack of access to education, collapsing infrastructures, and limited technologies in many of the places I saw. Shocked by the disparity, I continuously asked myself, “What will make a difference?” After meeting a photojournalist in Ghana, I realized photographs can expose injustice in a way that humanizes suffering and provokes positive action by compelling people to respond. After years of working, saving, and exploring, I knew I wanted to be a photojournalist. To achieve this goal, I decided to pursue a university education to learn about the world in a different way. I returned home in 2009 to pursue a dual degree in photojournalism and Spanish in Austin at The University of Texas.

As a student I pursued opportunities that not only honed my technical skills through professional experience but also shaped my ethical practices and beliefs. To this day I strive to live and work by the advice of one of my college professors and now my mentor, Donna De Cesare: “You are a human being first and a journalist second.” This belief is most evident in my years-long work with transwomen in Lima, Peru, where I developed close relationships built on trust, allowing me to photograph sensitive subject matter such as death, violence, and substance abuse. This ultimately helped me show a more accurate picture of what trans women face due to societal discrimination and stigmatization. My work in Lima was my first long-term project and it taught me a lot about storytelling. Because ethics and trust are the most important things to me, I spent the first few months simply getting to know the women I would photograph and the neighborhood where they lived and worked. I was always clear about who I was and my intentions, but I wanted to develop a two-way relationship before documenting their lives. Eventually, they opened their doors to me, and because of so much time invested, my foundation and relationship with these women are still incredibly strong.

Working on this project was also the first time I encountered really difficult situations, such as death. The first transwoman I started photographing, Tamara, passed away this year and it was a deeply painful experience. We had grown so close and even called each other “hermana,” or sister. While it felt strange to photograph this part of her life, I knew that I had to in order to show the extent of the life-threatening consequences of transphobia. Sadly, many transwomen share a similar fate throughout Latin America, with most not living beyond 35. I continue to work on this project, but it was necessary to distance myself a bit from it because it was becoming emotionally overwhelming. It’s important to be emotionally and mentally strong as a photographer documenting difficult stories, so when you feel that you need a break, take it.

I have since continued to focus on stories about human rights issues, women, identity, and health, and am currently based in Istanbul. While navigating the photojournalism industry is incredibly difficult, especially as a freelancer, there are some lessons I’ve learned along the way that has helped me tremendously. Make friends. You will have a thousand downs and hundreds of ups; it’s your friends who will help you through the hard times and be there to celebrate with you through the good times. Without the support of friends and family, this profession would be impossible. Be interested. Study and be inspired by photographers and their work, get involved with group projects, start an initiative. This profession is only as rich as you make it. Lastly, don’t give up. You will have thousands of lows and know that you’re not the only one. I try to see the low moments as the times that push me, that makes me re-examine myself and my work, that makes me say “I can do this.” The more you get through the hard times, the easier it gets. Believe in yourself and your love for people and humanity and your passion for sharing that with others. If you can feel the love for what you do and believe in that love, you’ll survive even the darkest hours.

Danielle Villasana is an independent photojournalist whose documentary work focuses on women, identity, human rights, and health. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, PRI’s The World, PBS News, ABC News, News Deeply, and Al Jazeera. She is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey, and contributes to Redux.

You can follow Villasana and her work on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and stay updated on her latest projects on her website at daniellevillasana.com.

Would you like to share your narrative or know a female journalist that would be interested? Please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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The Art of Storytelling Helped Me Explore Life and Myself

I remember gazing from my bunk bed every night in our house in Athens at my dad’s black and white pictures hanging on the corridor wall. I would stare at them until I would fall asleep. They just seemed to me so alive and beautiful and for some reason I wanted to do the same. Take pictures, travel, explore life and become a creator. (Just to be clear my father is not a photographer, but an architect).

My background has been in fine arts, specifically in painting and photography.

Documentary photography for me has been really my life’s dream and I truly have been lucky enough not to have worked in any other industry. It has taken me into worlds that I never thought that I could actually be a part of. It has given me strength, has made me face my weaknesses and has given me a mission — a mission to communicate, understand and respect different cultures, share and give a voice to those who do not have any other ways to be heard.

My interest in documentary photography and filmmaking stems from my passion in discovering untold stories and relating them in a way that will engage audiences on an intellectual and emotional level. As a journalist and creator I have travelled to numerous under-reported parts of the world and have seen first-hand the power that stories can have.

Greece, Kos island 2015
An immigrant wondering about at dawn in front of the port in the island of Kos.

Facts are important, but often they are only as powerful as the narratives they serve. Telling stories has always been the way people make sense of the world, and I firmly believe that documentary photography and filmmaking is one of the most powerful ways to tell them.

My name is Amani el Mekhlef I am 29 years old and mother of five. When I was in Syria I was seven months pregnant and one day an air strike hit next to my house so I lost the baby. After that they took me to a place to take out the baby from my belly without any anesthetics. It took the doctors about six hours to take the baby out. After that we decided to leave while being pregnant again. We basically left when I was pregnant to my son because of the many bombings. The borders were closed so we waited for about one week to go to Turkey. After that we went to Turkey and we stayed in a camp (Tel Abyad).

All this may sound ideal, but the truth is that to enter into these “magic” microcosms I had to struggle and work often harder as a female photographer in a male dominated world.

I had to prove that I was capable enough to work in the business in a way that my male colleagues did not; to show again and again that I could work under difficult circumstances, on interesting assignments, turning my head away from sexist comments so I could get the job, fighting for equal pay, being taken seriously by my peers.

Athens, Greece 2013: Red heels.

Nevertheless these obstacles never stopped me from pursuing my dream to become a photographer and storyteller. Indeed, these obstacles became my tools to move forward and carve a path for myself and take on stories that I was not “supposed” to work on as a woman.

So if I had to suggest something to a young female who wants to become a photojournalist, documentary photographer or a journalist, it would be to not let these obstacles stand in your way of becoming who you want to become. Work on developing a thick skin and don’t live down to others’ expectations of you. It can be hard but believing in yourself opens up new worlds in unexpected ways.

Pamir mountains, Roshkala region Tajikistan 2014
A bride getting ready before the ceremony.
Tajiks living on the plateau have very unique wedding ceremonies. Most ethnic groups in Central Asia begin the wedding ceremony with the betrothal and arrangements made by the elders of the family, but a Tajik wedding is quite different. It lasts seven days. On the first day of the ceremony, the bride and the bridegroom proclaim their marriage and hold separate banquets with their own families, which continue for three days.

In 2010 my life brought me back to Greece from New York and Italy, and here I really had the opportunity to work with major international outlets covering a wide range of stories in relation to the financial crisis and its impact on Greek society, as well as the refugee crisis.

These years in Greece have transformed and matured me. I saw a country that I often didn’t recognize and I felt obliged to report on its changes as I felt I was living through historic moments. In particular I have reported on the rise of nationalist and xenophobic movements, on the financial boom in the sex trade and on issues of European integration, immigration and identity.

In a way returning to Greece as a photographer has been both a curse and a blessing at the same time. I learned to live with the ongoing recession and all of the austerity and reforms that were imposed in the country on the one hand, yet on the other hand as a creator, I really had the chance to delve into fascinating stories and find my voice at a time when the country was in the international spotlight.

Of course, being a documentary photographer or a journalist is a never-ending journey – especially in this age of globalization and I don’t claim that I have figured everything out. Cases of editors who do not understand the situations photographers or journalists face are also part of this business. They basically often just want ‘the story’ as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But being a reporter or a photographer is often about much more than that.

Documentary photography can have a massive impact in our society and it takes a significant level of responsibility from our part to represent someone else’s life, culture, and country.

To achieve this, we need to spend time to work and develop strong relationships, gaining the trust of the people we photograph and gaining a deep understanding of all the issues and representing them fairly. Balancing the need and desire to cultivate these relationships with the pressing demands of the industry is often a difficult line to walk.

While getting stories commissioned and making a living in this field remains a constant challenge, looking back on what I have achieved, the people I have met and learned from reminds me why I chose this career to begin with and makes me eager to get out there and see what else I can discover and share. It reminds me of the feelings I had as a child: of wanting to explore life and to understand and learn about myself and others through stories.

Myrto Papadopoulos finished her studies in 2003 after completing a five-year Fine Arts degree, majored in painting and photography. In 2006, she applied for a documentary photography degree at the ICP (International Centre of Photography) in New York, where she was granted a scholarship.

Her clients include TIME Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, GEO International, Le Monde, The Guardian, nationalgeographic.com, WSJ, DIE ZEIT, WIRED, Lens New York Times, Time.com, ARTE TV, ZDF TV among others. Today she works as a freelance photographer and a documentary filmmaker and is represented by Redux Pictures in NY. You can follow her work at www.myrtopapadopoulos.com and on Instagram.

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

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