An Iranian Journalist’s Invaluable Cause

Posted on 29. Jun, 2009 by in Citizen Network, Revenue

Tehran Bureau

Every journalist deserves to get paid for bringing new information to the public. Especially those who face direct opposition from foreign military regimes.

This morning I heard an NPR piece titled ‘Bureau Tehran,’ Live From Massachusetts. The subject of the story was Iranian journalist Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, who runs her news site Tehran Bureau from her family’s living room in Newton, a small suburb of Boston.

The story opens a new window to an area of journalism that’s quickly growing: International reporting on a do-it-yourself level. For most of her updates on what’s occuring in Iran, Niknehjad uses two laptops and often relies on emails from “contributors of Iranian descent, both in and out of the country.” As of now, those contributors provide her with information for free, and typically avoid taking bylines.

According to the NPR piece, Niknehjad started Tehran Bureau seven months ago and within the past few days her audience has grown from about 9,000 to 19,000.

Information “was coming at me like bullets,” Niknejad says in the interview. “I didn’t have time to sculpt it all into stories, so I just started posting it as fast as I could. The information was raw, so instead of going in and taking the blood out of it, I’ll just copy and paste to put out information.”

When I heard that I immediately thought of how blogging and twitter have become vital outlets for free speech in a country confined by religious despotism, political injustice and information censorship.

And then I heard the interviewer, Tovia Smith, say that when Niknejad migrated to the U.S. at 17 she had no intention of becoming a journalist, and instead coincidentally fell into a legal reporting gig after finishing law school. Smith explains that Niknejad had never intended to pursue the path of a reporter in school, but now, with the current lack of substantial Iranian news reaching the public, “she says reporting is her calling.”

That made me wonder how Kelly Niknejad values — in terms of revenue, and perhaps even profit — what she does for her country’s people and the broader global community. I went to her website and found a donations page that highlights the importance of her reader’s support to sustain ongoing coverage, since Tehran Bureau does not “accept funding from any government, religious or special interest group.”

So, I contacted Niknejad about her recent interview and asked her if she would be able to talk about the dollar/rial value she places on her and her colleagues’ coverage, especially while Iran remains conflicted and without a free press.

“When we covered the Iranian election, we were working on a $0 budget,” she says. “Ideally we would have liked to have had correspondents in other provinces outside of Tehran, so we could have captured the atmosphere throughout all of Iran. But we didn’t have enough funding for that.”

“Right now we have about 20,000 people following our coverage on twitter alone,” she adds. “If every one of those readers donated $5, we would have enough money for a full year’s budget.

“Of course there are many people who have been incredibly generous beyond donations of $5, but in terms of covering our costs, it hasn’t been enough for us to expand. We have a dedicated core of people who are working for free outside of their own jobs, so it’s been incredible so far. But if we had the funds to pay them and they were able to make a living from this, our correspondents would be able to comit that much more time and energy to reporting.”

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