Career advice with journalist Aisha Chowdhry
Aisha Chowdhry is my awesome international journalist friend, currently working freelance out of Southern Africa. I met her in Pakistan, where she was a correspondent for Thomson Reuters, interviewing well-known personalities and reporting breaking news from conflict zones. She's also been a congressional reporter for Federal Computer Week, a Capitol Hill reporter for CQ Roll Call, and a multi-media journalist at the CBS affiliate TV station in Washington, D.C.. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the New York Times, and others.
What did you do to become a journalist?
I always wanted to be a journalist; I just didn't know it until almost three years into my first out-of-college job in Washington, D.C. I worked for a Fortune 500 commercial real estate company, but I used my lunch breaks to attend think-tank events or luncheons. Anywhere I could go, I would go. Any topic I could learn more about, as long as the metro line was close enough, I would go. One of those luncheons included a journalist who wrote a fascinating and gut-wrenching book called "Breathing The Fire," about her experiences in Iraq. Something about that day just captivated me. When I finished reading the book, I knew I wanted to be a reporter.
So I applied for the Master's program in Journalism at multiple top journalism schools, eventually deciding on American University. While at school, I applied for an internship at USA Today and was rejected. I was pretty disappointed, but I wrote a note back and said if they ever needed anything from areas where they did not have correspondents; I would love to contribute. Though I never got to work there, I ended up freelancing for them from hot zones like Pakistan and Afghanistan. I suppose when one door closes, another opens.
What does a day in the life of a journalist look like?
It is stressful and exciting. From the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep, you are glued to your phone, the news, and social media. If you worked on a big story during the day, there are always numerous updates and questions about it. If you work in print as I do, sometimes, depending on the story, you have to start making the Television rounds and talking about your account to various news media outlets. It's always a busy day, filled with many rewarding challenges.
What is it like to report from a dangerous country?
It is life-changing. The more dangerous the geographic location, the more intense the stories are. I have met some of the most inspiring people from war-torn countries. There is something oddly fascinating about countries that are tougher to report from. There is always more to write about, more to explore, and more important stories that need to be investigated. As a journalist, it is our job to report the news, and get as close as possible to the truth. When you are operating in a dangerous country where reporting the truth is not necessarily welcome, it becomes a challenge. But I believe it is essential. I have always been in awe of journalists who report those challenging stories, and I cannot stress enough how important those stories are.
What advice would you give aspiring journalists?
If you know you want to be a journalist, do what any good journalist would do. Research the topic, find out as much as you can about it, meet all the sources you possibly can get as close to the punchline as possible, and then either dive in or don't write the story because it doesn't make sense! I make it sound easier than it is. But, it is an intensely stressful and intensely rewarding career.
How do you decide if a story is worth reporting?
You don't; your editors do! Hah. Jokes aside, most of the time, you will go through what pitches you are working on with your editors, and most of the time, they will decide for you if they think something is worth pursuing or not. Editors help guide your day and even help guide your story as you share with them. I've had great editors, and they have genuinely helped me understand which stories are worth pursuing and which ones are not. It comes down to your news judgment. If you have excellent news judgment, you won't have to convince the editors too hard on why the story needs to be written.