Sara Mojtehedzadeh; @SaraMojtehedz
How do you describe your job to your family?
I’m a reporter! [Sara is a Toronto Star reporter who often reports on wealth and income inequality. She’s written about unfair workmen’s compensation, the effects of precarious work, and has gone undercover to expose the dangerous—and sometimes deadly—practices of temp agencies.]
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I did my undergrad at University of Toronto in peace and conflict studies, and my masters in comparative politics at the London School of Economics.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
After I graduated, my first full-time job was as an editorial assistant at Sky News [in the UK]. It was a lot of grunt work but I learned the ropes in between picking up my boss’s dry cleaning.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
The biggest turning point for me was receiving the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada’s young professionals in media fellowship, which sends young Canadian journalists to work for a newspaper in Kenya. I’d been an editorial assistant at Sky News for three years when I was accepted into the program in 2012 and a lot of people thought I was crazy to leave a permanent job for a fellowship. It was definitely a gamble, but I felt it was worth the risk for the chance to hone my reporting skills in a challenging environment.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
It’s difficult to give career advice in this industry because I know how tough it is to break in and get a decent job. But ask yourself if you’re prepared to tough it out in a sector that’s in a severe state of crisis. If the answer is an enthusiastic, “yes, this is my vocation!” then expect the road to be extremely bumpy but incredibly interesting.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Someone told me I’d have to change my last name if I wanted to be a TV reporter because it was too long and unpronounceable. Luckily, I always wanted to work in print, where we love letters!
How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?
Our newsrooms are far too monolithic in every way, which limits the diversity of story ideas and puts us at risk of being irrelevant to the public we serve. Part of the difficulty is that our industry is in financial flux and becoming more and more precarious; there are few job opportunities and they often go to those who are privileged enough to have racked up experience through unpaid or low paid internships. Many talented aspiring journalists simply can’t afford that. We’re missing out on—or sometimes not listening to—people who are tapped in to important, underreported issues that matter to our readers.
What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?
My biggest concern is the erosion of decent jobs across our industry. Lack of access to secure employment, benefits and parental leave provisions impacts everyone, but disproportionately impacts women. Investing in your staff is important if your organization wants to produce quality work, and quality journalism is what, in my opinion, will save our industry.
Do you think you earn a similar wage as your male counterparts in your industry?
I think I’m paid in the same ballpark as my male peers. At the Star we’re unionized so we have a set and transparent pay scale, but of course there is always room even in that context for pay inequities.
Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career?
The same thing that excites me in the present. A journalist I admire once told me she thinks journalism gives shy but curious people a license to ask questions, and that’s exactly how I feel. As journalists we get to indulge our curiosity; but we also get to carve out a space for people to tell their stories. For me, that’s the most rewarding part of the job.