Uplift female journalists on World Press Freedom Day and beyond


World Press Freedom Day is an empowering day for journalists, especially women in the field who do their duty, no matter the risk.

Today is World Press Freedom Day, and first and foremost, I want to thank all journalists around the world who’ve dedicated their lives to truth.

I also want to say thank you to all female journalists around the world for the impactful work you do. We are far from being equally represented in newsrooms, and thus it’s important on days like today to highlight the achievements women have made in this field while also facing a heightened risk in their duties due to their gender.

And though she’s not a journalist, I have to thank my mother for teaching me how valuable and impactful this job can be — especially for a woman.

My mother is an incredible storyteller. She emigrated to the United States from Isfahan when she was a teenager, ahead of the Iranian Revolution, and she contains a myriad of tales from her homeland.

Thanks to her, I developed an immense craving to hear people’s stories, to learn about where they are from and what they have experienced in life. That craving led to many, many hours working for my high school’s television department, which led to my becoming a student reporter for both the school and a local television station. Then, during my senior year of high school, I worked with my father on a very special documentary.

You see, five years prior, on September 11, 2001, he was at a business conference for the National Association for Business Economics. That conference happened to be at the World Trade Center in New York City. He survived, as did all of his colleagues who attended the conference, and to this day, I cannot explain how incredibly grateful I am that he made it out.

My documentary focused on my father and his colleague’s stories from that day. Looking back, I realize I was so incredibly focused on telling their stories, that I didn’t truly realize the impact of what I was creating. It’s why I was completely floored when I learned I had won an Emmy for the writing of my documentary, dubbed a “student Emmy” from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

When I came home after learning I’d won, all I could think about was the fact I was getting a free round trip flight to New York City to accept the award along with my dad. My mom came into my bedroom to first tell me how proud she was, and then to tell me how incredibly lucky I was. She shed light on the fact I was an 18-year-old girl who’d written and directed a documentary about an incredibly sensitive topic, something that just wasn’t a possibility in many places. For example, it wouldn’t have been an option for her as a teenager growing up in Isfahan.

Writing this now, over a decade later, I am incredibly aware that I have a mixed bag of things to be thankful for and to still fear. I will never just be a journalist. I am a female, Iranian-American journalist. Today, I oversee a team of women and allies of women who contribute daily about topics they are passionate about.

Could I do the work I do here everywhere in the world? Simply put, no.

Even here in the U.S., I along with any other woman in an editorial setting is part of a depressingly low statistic.

According to research by the Women’s Media Center, women make up 41.7 percent of newsrooms, with people of color making up 22.6 percent. The Columbia Journalism Review adds another blow, noting in 2018 that “editors of the nation’s 135 most widely distributed newspapers are overwhelmingly male and white.”

It’s 2019 and ideally, these statistics shouldn’t be what they are. I shouldn’t be an enigma as a Middle Eastern woman who is also an Editor in Chief of a women-run website — that should be routine, normal, accepted. I also shouldn’t have to sit here thanking my lucky stars that I’m a female journalist in the U.S. Here, my career goals are feasible. Elsewhere, they’re life-threatening.

Now, to be clear, I am not naive to the fact that the work I do as an entertainment journalist does not put me at risk in the same way a political reporter might be while covering stories — abroad or here at home. Then again, when even a local newspaper can experience deathly attacks, I absolutely have an underlying fear for myself and my female colleagues doing the work we do because it is just that scary of a time.

Ultimately it is disheartening but not surprising that myself and other female journalists receive threats for the work we do, and that we should consider ourselves lucky because we’re at least getting to do the work. It’s even more depressing to think there are places we could be living where we wouldn’t be allowed to cover even the most basic of stories — all because we’re women.

On a day like today, as we honor the work of the press, and freedom of the press, I’d like to add within that the goal of honoring and lifting up women of the press.

We know our stories cannot be told by anyone other than us. When we’re limited in numbers — because we are not supported, not employed, or not even allowed to do the work — that puts our stories at risk. So, we do the work because the importance of representation outweighs everything else.

Today as you celebrate press freedom and call for protection of journalists who shine a light on the truth, do your part to also celebrate and uplift women of the press too. Our stories depend on it.