By Suk-Lin Zhou ‘14
Anam Zehra '14 made a jump-start on a career in journalism last summer when she spent 10 weeks interning for Reuters international news agency from her home country of Pakistan.
The internship gave her the opportunity to cover news on the Prime Minister, the Olympics, NATO, and even a humorous crackdown on pot-bellied policemen – but it was an eye-opening article on the secret night life of some of Pakistan’s wealthy, westernized elite that landed her on the front page of Reuters’ international news section.
“Every weekend, fashion designers, photographers, medical students, and businessmen gather at dozens of parties in Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore to push social boundaries in discreet surroundings that would horrify, and enrage, advocates of the stricter brand of Islam,” Anam wrote, reporting on young men and women drinking, dancing, and partying – completely at odds with the more conservative lifestyles supported and championed by the Taliban regime. Not only did the story get major play from Reuters, for a week it was among the Pakistani topics trending on Twitter, and it prompted enormous debate and reactions in the local press on the wide gap between public and private life in Pakistan.
From her experience with Reuters, Zehra was able to learn more in depth about the news-making process, such as how to coordinate with a network of stringers (freelance journalists) across the country for information, how to monitor local media and trace a story back to the source, and when it’s necessary to enlist the help of stringers.
"When I was breaking news, that meant I had to report something in a very short period of time, and that is where stringers come in; they are journalists on the ground that you can call upon to get the facts. So, for example, if there is a bomb blast, the stringer in that town will tell you how many are dead, injured, etc.," she explained.
Zehra was also able to develop her writing skills further and practice writing for a global audience.
"That was one of the hardest things I had to learn – to step away from an academic writing style and make my writing more accessible to everyone. I would often get scolded by a journalist who was mentoring me for using, as she put it, 'college student words.' She would often leave little clips on my desk; one of them was a picture of Audrey Hepburn that said, 'Simplicity is elegance.' "
Working for Reuters was an inspiring experience for Zehra, and she hopes to challenge herself by working for the news service again in the future as she works on her summer and post-graduation plans.
“Reuters is going through a lot of changes and has moved towards more in-depth and enterprise stories. It was great to see some of that process unfold during the time I was there,” she said. “My bureau chief in Pakistan was also very supportive. I would love to keep working with the company, even possibly get out of my comfort zone in Pakistan and try my hand elsewhere.”
Shortly after her internship with Reuters, Zehra reported for and contributed to a story in the Washington Post on the use of anti-blasphemy laws to target Christian minorities in Pakistan. Her contribution led the Post to offer her freelance work on a project-to-project basis if she chooses to return to Pakistan.
Zehra attributes her early success in journalism to her education at Mount Holyoke.
"My magazine writing course with Professor Catherine Manegold was really helpful, especially in terms of being more aware of visuals while reporting and learning to write cinematically. The courses I took in history and politics helped me when I was doing research in Pakistan on former Taliban fighters and while working as a journalist. I could see all those questions and processes come together and unfold in front of me in the field,” she said. “It really made me cherish the education here… I realized that if you are creative, there is much that you can take away with you and apply to your experiences outside of college."
Zehra said she has also received tremendous support and guidance from professors Jenny Pyke, Kavita Khory, John Lemly, and her advisor, Professor Kavita Datla.