Correspondent Susan Ruel sat down with student Goldie Zarabi of The Hewitt School in New York to talk journalism, objectivity and tough assignments.
Susan Ruel is a seasoned journalist, editor and former journalism professor with a PhD in writing and literature. This month, she met on Zoom with News Decoder Student Ambassador Goldie Zarabi of The Hewitt School in New York City to share her experiences getting started as a journalist and the lessons she’s learned in the years since.
Both Ruel and Zarabi have published stories on News Decoder about reproductive health. Zarabi’s co-authored piece won a prize in News Decoder’s 13th Storytelling Contest. Throughout their 30-minute conversation, the two found commonalities that show the remarkable power of storytelling to cross borders and bridge generations. We’ve compiled a list of three key lessons from their exchange below.
Watch a five-minute excerpt from their conversation above, or find a recording of their full discussion here.
1. You never know where life will take you.
As a third-year high school student in the United States, Zarabi wonders what life will look like after graduation. Though she is not set on a career, she finds journalism — with its ability to connect people across the world — an interesting avenue to pursue.
“I would say even though I’m not 100% set, I think every day I’m thinking about what I want to be,” Zarabi said. “Often I find that journalism, or some form of reporting and making connections among ideas and happenings in the world, [is] important to me. I think I would be lucky if I could pursue that as a career one day.”
Ruel advised her to keep an open mind. She herself did not actively pursue journalism as a young professional, preferring literary writing instead. It was a chance encounter with a stranger on Indiana University’s campus and opportunities to travel abroad that began to change her mind.
“The reason I’m telling you this is we just really never know,” Ruel said. “And a lot of these factors are out of our control. And we’re discovering ourselves as we go through life, and also discovering what’s possible.”
2. Never forget objectivity.
Zarabi found inspiration for her award-winning story on abortion access in the United States through attending a protest against the overturning of Roe v. Wade in New York.
“Honestly, it was just a super impactful protest,” she said. “Because I had known [what] had been going on, but just to be at the protests, it felt more real life, more personal to me.”
While Ruel has also found journalistic inspiration through lived experiences, she cautioned against bringing the personal into professional reporting.
“The thing about journalism is, as we approach an assignment like that, we have our views and we have our opinions.” she said. “When we approach these assignments journalistically, we have to be very careful not to allow that to shape the language we use, no matter how well-founded our attitude is. This can be a challenge.”
Zarabi agreed, citing effective sourcing as key to objective writing. “It is so difficult not to write with bias present,” she said. “But the way I managed it was [through] checking myself, checking where I’m getting my information and really making sure I’m trying my best at least to come from all sides.”
3. Practice makes proficient.
At the end of their exchange, Zarabi asked Ruel for advice when given a difficult writing assignment — one that covers topics the writer is not familiar with.
Ruel said that journalists are expected to write knowledgeably and confidently about their topic after doing research and interviews.
“You have to check your own accuracy,” she said. “As you do it more and more, you get better at it.”