Award-winning journalists share stories of inspiration and challenge

By Katie Simons and Aerianne Collantes | Originally published: USC Annenberg Media

Four winners of a 2023 International Women’s Media Foundation Award joined USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay to discuss their experiences as female journalists and the importance of reporting in dangerous situations. They shared their own personal stories and offered words of wisdom to aspiring journalists.

“Read it and consume as much information as possible on topics that you want to cover, regardless of what it is, whether it’s conflict or not,” said Joyce Koh. “And be a good listener. It’s way more important to listen than to talk.”

Koh, Yalda Moaiery, Whitney Shefte and María Teresa Montaño Delgado were among 16 journalists and a team of reporters from the Washington Post honored with the Courage in Journalism Award this year, which Bay described at the Thursday afternoon event as showing “extraordinary courage resiliency.”

Koh and Shefte were a part of the Washington Post team who covered the effects of the war in Ukraine on women. Montaño Delgado reports on corruption in Mexico.

Moaiery was also a recipient of the Wallis Annenberg Justice for Women Journalists Award for her coverage of conflict in Iran last fall that led to her arrest. She’s a photojournalist who was released on bail.

For more than 30 years, the IWMF has honored women and nonbinary journalists who report “on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths” according to their website.

“I believe it means that we’re being recognized for all the different things that we’d have to go through to do that type of work in order to, you know, put out a product, the work,” said Montaño Delgado, founder and editor of The Observer. “It also visualizes me as an independent news reporter or journalist. It’s something very difficult to accomplish for local journalists.”

Along with answering questions from Bay, the panel spoke of the challenges from their own past coverage and also their role as women journalists.

Shefte, a senior video journalist at the Washington Post, spoke on women journalists’ ability to connect with their sources. She said reporters must earn a source’s trust in order to tell their story.

“Often there are survivors of rape during war, other kinds of torture. And I think it’s really important that we have women there to make other women feel comfortable to tell those stories, too,” said Shefte. “We’re also there to tell really personal human stories about how everybody is impacted by the horrors on the ground.”

Similar to Shefte, Koh spoke on her own experience in regards to covering conflict.

“Oftentimes the people that are coming back after surviving the war are women and daughters,” said Koh, also on The Post’s video team. “And in one instance or in many instances, I should say, it was, women that were coming back to mass gravesites to look for their husbands and their brothers and their children in mass grave pits that had been hastily dug during the war, or I should say, during the occupation.”

“You want to cover who is being affected by the war. And women are a huge part of that story,” Koh said.

Each woman spoke on their own career in the past that led them to their recognition for the IWMF Award. The participants all covered events in the world, that although may be dangerous, are critical to share with the public.

The women urged students to be steadfast in their pursuit of the truth.

“I mean, they have to be patient. They have to be very powerful,” Moaiery said in giving advice to Annenberg students studying journalism. “They shouldn’t be tired of it because, you know, a lot of problems happened, especially for the women that may stop them. But don’t stop, please.”