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Why I Can’t Be an Investigative Journalist

By Bernadette N. Lim

It all started last summer. After I read “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, my reply to the common icebreaker question, “What's your dream job?” shifted from my jokingly witty “professional Italian food taste tester” response to a new career ambition: investigative international journalist.

After reading “Half the Sky,” I emerged with an admiration for WuDunn and Kristof as groundbreaking journalists. They had an engaging ability to tell not only their own personal reactions to their experiences, but also the stories and testimonies of others—of women whose voices and experiences had been silenced by lack of international attention or care. And the issues—subjects as complex and dangerous as prostitution, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation—they tackled rarely appeared in news headlines. I realized that perhaps the most effective and respectful way to initiate change against such injustices is to expose the multiple dimensions of each story through the power of storytelling.

But lately, I’ve begun to feel that my aspiration to be an investigative journalist is more likely a dream than a possible reality—no matter my teenage idealism and optimism. And that’s because I’m a woman.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of brave female investigative journalists I admire. Christiane Amanpour has traveled to report on the most dangerous and unpredictable events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Melinda Henneberger anchors one of my favorite news sources on the Washington Post called “She the People.” And Katie Couric has brought international attention to the BP Oil Spill, 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Still, there is something highly discouraging about the lack of women in the journalism industry: There are fewer than 25 women journalists in New York University’s 2012 list of “The 100 Outstanding Journalists in the United States in the Last 100 Years” and Washingtonian’s “Top 50 Journalists of 2009.”

In March 2013, an article in the Columbia Journalism Review articulated the need for more women in investigative journalism. It spoke of common fears and barriers that many aspiring female journalists like me face, including the fear of sexual assault, susceptibility to subordinate gender norms, and lack of mentorship and guidance.

These worries are real. The average woman is not as strong as the average man, leaving women inherently more vulnerable to physical harm—the journalism industry fails to accommodate this truth. By failing to provide adequate protection for female journalists, especially when they’re covering stories in dangerous sites abroad, news outlets discourage women from participating. Amanpour said in an interview with MAKERS that, particularly in areas that lack media exposure, subordination, exploitation, and abuse of women run rampant. These attitudes make it difficult for female journalists to access sites that can produce valuable and meaningful stories.

These struggles have convinced me that, if I choose to pursue journalism, I will meet more structural and societal barriers. This sad reality makes me wonder whether, rather than getting out in the field myself, I will be forced to admire the work of current female investigative journalists from my computer screen.

But then, I snap out of it. I realize that, despite the limitations, I still aspire. I yearn to use writing and news media as a platform for my thoughts and opinions. My greatest motivation to become an investigative journalist is rooted in my hopes to provide my perspective—a female perspective—in news coverage, story selection, and government policy.

In an industry that has so often been viewed through a male lens, maybe all it takes is the involvement of more women in order to ignite changes in the industry and provide more adequate protection for female journalists. Maybe all it takes is an acknowledgement of a difficult reality and an unwavering persistence to passionately pursue a career that has been attained by few, yet aspired by so many. Maybe the solution is simple: me.

Bernadette N. Lim ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a joint human evolutionary biology and women, gender and sexuality studies concentrator in Dunster House.

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