CNN's Arwa Damon says the biggest challenge for journalists today may be capturing the attention of an audience "fatigued" by news from war zones. In honour of International Women's Day, TRT World interviews five exceptional journalists.
Arwa Damon decided to become a journalist after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, with the hopes of becoming "a bridge to help create cross-cultural understanding through journalism."
She is well-placed to do so. Born in the US, she was raised by an American father and a Syrian mother in the Middle East. She began as a freelance journalist covering the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and was soon recruited by CNN. She is currently senior international correspondent for CNN. She has covered Libya, Syria, Egypt and Turkey for the network.
Damon is the founder of the International Network for Aid, Relief and Assistance (inara.org), a charity that provides medical care for children. On May 1, she will receive the The James W. Foley Humanitarian Award for her "compassionate advocacy for those suffering amid conflict worldwide."
How has being a war journalist changed you?
ARWA DAMON: Every time you go into a war zone or every time that you cover someone else's misery, you leave a piece of yourself behind. And my advice to people wanting to go into the industry is that you need to know that you will lose something that you're never going to get back, and you need to be ready to make that sacrifice.
What do you do when you're in the field to relax and stay sane?
AD: We have developed this very interesting, I think, obscure dark humour that I think outsiders, if they were to hear the kinds of jokes we crack, would find phenomenally inappropriate. But that does help you cope with the things that are happening around you. And the people you're with are really, really important obviously… If you get into a fight that day – [be]cause you will fight – you need to be able to get over it really quickly and laugh about it afterwards. I think in the field, trying to laugh is one of the most important things, but it's really hard sometimes. And I think when things affect you – and it took me a while to learn how to do this – but let it out! You know? I don't need to be tough all the time. I can let it out and it's okay to be vulnerable and cry over what you've seen. Afterwards, away from everybody.
WOMEN ON WAR
For International Women's Day, TRT World profiles five leading female journalists.
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What's the biggest change you've witnessed in journalism during the course of your career?
AD: I think in my career, which began in 2003, and it's really been a massive evolution in journalism. Especially with the rise of social media, and the way that information is disseminated, and then in the way that information is consumed and absorbed. We're still trying to figure out how social media fits in with conventional journalism, and what sort of field it's going to morph into, eventually. I think one of the big challenges that we face right now, especially my generation of journalists, is how do we tell the kinds of stories that we want to tell in this world, where it seems like people have fatigue when it comes to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas...
We need to figure out how to be able to grab people's attention in a way that stays true to the values of journalism. We need to also figure out how to make journalism accountable again, and maintain that capacity to hold powers to account, because we seem to have lost that to a certain degree, and that's not necessarily just journalism per se, but also the way our societies are evolving at this stage. I think we're at an interesting crossroads right now when it comes to media in general.