Category: Events

A conversation with Jose Antoni Vargas: Minority in the Newsroom

I was fortunate to have been part of a discussion with Jose Antonio Vargas facilitated by Professor Christina Bellantoni. I learnt that Jose Antoni Vargas is the founder of the nonprofit “Define American”, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, along with that a film-maker and an author. His book, “Dear America” focusses his personal journey in the US. He says he did not focus on the “immigration reform aspect of it” but the “mental health” aspect of it. He also shared with us that someone gave his book to President Donald Trump two weeks ago but is unafraid of what could be the consequences of that. 

Vargas toyed with the idea of becoming a journalist because his English teacher told him he asked too many annoying questions. In 1997, his license got turned down, however he researched his way through ensuring he is able to get one. 

Vargas stressed the importance of mentorship in the field of journalism. He was mentored very early on by Ernest Smith, former Professor at Annenberg. He owes the idea of his first internship at the Washington Post to her. 

During the conversation, we learnt of an interesting incident that led to Vargas becoming a political editor. In 2007, Hilary Clinton announced that she is running for President on YouTube. At the time, no senior political editor was equipped with social media tools. Vargas wrote a memo outlining what platforms such as YouTube and Facebook could do to politics and directly sent it to the boss of his boss. The fact that he voiced his views to senior authorities in the organization led him to becoming political editor. 

Vargas has also always been a minority in the newsroom. He emphasizes that how the media covers certain issues in this country would be different if the newsroom was more diverse. He partnered with the Norman Leader Center to study media and people of color only to find that: 90% of young white people have predominantly white friends, 75% of young white people live in white towns. The only time you’d probably be interacting with a person of color would be through media. However, the diversity in the media today doesn’t allow for this to happen. 

Vargas believes that the media industry needs to change and evolve. Journalists tend to forget that local news is the largest source of information for the people, but most often news is nationalized today. He urges budding journalists to take a moment before covering a story to decide what experience you are taking a reader into and how the story wants to be told. Given the times today, news reporting could in the form of films, podcasts and articles amongst many more. 

This conversation with Antonio Vargas left me deeply interested in his work and I look forward to getting my hands on his book “Dear America” very soon. 

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Women of Courage in Journalism

The International Women’s Media Foundation has been honoring women journalists for their courage since its inception. Every year they also recognize a journalist in prison to boost their cause. We were privileged to witness Nima Elgabir, Rosario Mosso Castro and Meridith Kohut in a conversation with Professor Cowan as well as senior fellow Narda Zacchino. Each of these women have displayed tremendous courage in their career and have been honored for the same.

Nima Elgabir, a senior CNN correspondent, emphasized her role in “giving voice to the vulnerable”. She was responsible for bringing to the forefront the story of slavery in Libya in 2018 and also documented the Ebola outbreak from its epicenter at personal risk. She has gone into these dangerous circumstances herself undercover and has hidden security cameras in her handbags to bring to the world the stories of helpless people. As for her thoughts on fear while taking on such challenging work, “Scariest thought is going in there and not getting the story”, she says. 

Meredith Kohut, a photojournalist associated with the New York Times, is known for her phenomenal work in Venezuela. She has been beaten, faced tear gassed and punched by soldiers but nothing has stopped her from stepping out to document the horrific state of affairs in Venezuela. Her story on child malnutrition in Venezuela, covered by the New York Times got UNICEF to intervene in the matter. She also broke the story of medicine shortages in the Government Psychiatry Hospital in Venezuela. She finds courage every day because she feels the reality of many things is so unknown, it is our moral responsibility to tell these stories. 

Rosario Mosso Castro, the editor of her own publication in Mexico, is a well-respected journalist covering crime and drug trafficking in Mexico. She herself along with her work has a relationship with the society of Mexico and the good people in the government. This is what keeps her going. Castro stressed the protection of sources as most of her investigations and stories have begun with receiving documents at her doorstep. She has faced numerous threats and is constantly tracked by government officials. “We do feel fear, we just don’t let it stop us”, she says.

Zehra Dogan, artist and journalist, was not able to be there with us in person as she is in prison for her work in Turkey. However, the AV on her work and story shook and motivated each one of us.

This was an opportunity for me to realize how extraordinary the job of a journalist is. They put their lives in jeopardy every single day to bring to us stories from across the world. Their courage and demeanor must be respected and celebrated.

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Media’s Gender Revolution

On the 12th of September, 2018 the Wallis Annenberg Hall was full of chatter. Young, inquisitive and bold (mostly) women sat anxiously waiting to hear a panel of successful women in media. The panel consisted of Willow Bay (Dean, Annenberg School), Marsha Cooke (Senior VP of Content Strategy, VICE), Cindi Leive (Senior Fellow, Centre on Communication Leadership and Policy) and Kim Masters (Editor-at-Large, The Hollywood Reporter). 

Cindi Leive started the panel discussion with some horrific statistics. According to a recent study, “Media” as an industry lags behind in terms of gender equality. Men report 3 times as much news as women. Women of color are underrepresented. This drew our attention to how the circumstances need to change in order for us to have “free” press. The industry cannot be free if half its members are stopped from participating. She opened our eyes to the urgency of the matter, and how even though we feel we have come a long way, there is a longer journey ahead of us. 

A key takeaway from Kim Masters was her emphasis on “women to women mentorship”. While she has worked with top men in the media filed, she believes everything she has been taught was by a woman. I learnt that in this filed, mentorship goes a long way in finding your way into the industry. Kim also stressed the need to have a life outside of being a journalist. All the panelists were firm believers that “self-care”, often lost in the field, should be an important factor in one’s life. 

Marsha Cooke believes that while her newsroom is working on women leadership and representation, internationally media is failing. To her the biggest shocker remains that a woman has been a president of executive producer of an evening broadcast show. She truly feels that women of color are underrepresented in particular. 

In terms of funding, Dean Willow Bay is of view that while getting funding for women-based startups is hard, venture capitalists are recognizing this problem and leaping into the mix. She personally has funded Skimm, which reached down particularly to women funders, to make a case that who is sitting on your cap table really does matter. While opportunities are present, she feels this space is moving slowly. 

As someone who is extremely interested in the field of media and entrepreneurship, my biggest takeaway from this event was, “Never say know to an opportunity” for this opportunity could make your career and take you to a place you had never imagined yourself to be. This event that I attended generated curiosity in my mind about the fact that why we aren’t being able to figure out how to solve the problem of underrepresentation of women in this dynamic, ever-changing field. This issue must be addressed in a larger context to bring about a real change as soon as possible. 

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Interview with Aashita Mal

Do you think you are biased? Why?

Have I been scared at night on an empty road when a man is walking by ? Do I tense up a little being in a Muslim dominated area if I don’t know anyone ? Yes I have, hence I’m biased. That does not mean that it’s correct by any means, but we all are defined by stereotypes, which is an extension of a bias in itself. However, that’s the extent of me being biased. I feel everyone is equal, Muslim or Hindu; Man or Woman. Religion has been formed by us, not by a higher power. Men are the superior beings is a stereotype which again, is created by us. I feel I’m slightly biased because of a few experiences I’ve had and heard but I work hard to not be.

Have you had a biased experience or you have had somebody else go through it?

Yes, I’ve been through a few share. One such experience happened when I was in London. This was around 11 PM at night and I was walking back to my apartments alone, from Oxford Street. 2-3 black guys noticed I was alone and started following me. Their voice got louder and comments got more and more uncomfortably sexual. However, I walked quietly to the bus stand and luckily the bus arrived just then. And that was the end of it. It was a small experience but definitely one of bias. In this case, a gender one.

Your general opinion on any kind of bias?

I am against all kinds of bias. I’ve also always done my level best to never be biased.

Do you think Indians are biased.?

The unfortunate answer to this question is yes. I could mince my words but there’s no point. Indians are biased. May it be gender, may it be religion or even sexual. Majority of Indians are biased in some way or another, but then, so are people all over the world.

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Interview with Poojan Sahny

Do you think you are biased? Why?

No. I feel like I look and treat everyone I meet with equal respect. Everyone has a right to live a free life in whatever resources they have and if we respect that fact about others they will give is the same respect.

Have you had a biased experience or you have had somebody else go through it?

Being a woman you face gender inequality at many occasions in life. But you should see that as an opportunity to shut people up and do something extraordinary to prove that you’re no less than the opposite gender.

Do you think Indians are biased?

Most Indians and unfortunately even educated Indians are somewhat biased about gender, race, religion and sexuality. Our country in itself houses multiple cultures which I feel are not respected well by Indians and is often ignored. However at the same time if people from other countries treat us differently we get super offended. We should learn how to respect cultures and people from all backgrounds and walks of life and eventually will receive the same respect from others.

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