Freelancer shares reporting experiences with students

Rabab Al-Sharif

Reporter has worked in more than 30 countries

Jason Motlagh has only been out of college for six years, but he has already made a successful career for himself as a freelance journalist.

After graduating from college in 2004, he got a job as a fisherman on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska.

“I was looking forward to doing something more concrete after being in college and doing a lot of abstract stuff,” Motlagh said.

He then said he spent some time working at internships. He realized he didn’t like working in Washington and covering D.C. politics. He was more interested in covering foreign news.

“I resolved very quickly that I was going to go overseas,” he said.

He decided to go to West Africa, where he knew he could have a competitive edge due to the high turnover of foreign journalists there.

“I figured that what I lacked in experience and polish as a writer I could make up in hustle,” he said.

He reported on many stories while in Africa and was often the only foreign reporter for miles, but he was forced to return to the United States when he was hit with a bad case of malaria.

While back in America, he got a job as an editor, thinking it would be good for his career to have something solid on his resume.

“I could not handle sitting at a desk,” he said. “I was bored to tears and after a year I said, ‘I’m never coming back to do this. I will stay away as long as I can feed myself,’ and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

He now has worked in more than 30 different countries.

He currently works with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit organization that funds independent reporting projects on under or misreported stories.

He recently has worked in Afghanistan, reporting on civilian casualties that are a result of U.S. military airstrikes. Many of the casualties were women and children, and the military often downplayed the incidents and insisted that the casualties were members of the Taliban, Motlagh said.

“I saw these incidents as the next chapter in this ongoing narrative,” he said.

Motlagh said the horrors are real.

“Journalists and soldiers have gone through a lot of the same traumatic experiences,” he said.

He said he protects himself by trying to limit how much exposure he has to the conflict environment. He also seeks offbeat stories with a more positive tone.

One example is his coverage on body building in Afghanistan he did for

“It’s important to show the normalcy that’s still there,” he said.

Motlagh said it’s important to try and use as much multimedia as possible so that journalists are able to offer more for less.

“You help yourself by being able to do a little bit of everything,” he said.

Students took his message to heart.

Conner Howard, a sophomore magazine journalism major, said he thought it was a good experience to hear from a professional in the field.

“I’ve heard from all of the professors that multimedia skills are really important, but I think the speech really drove it home, “ Conner said. “He had a lot of good examples of how it can help.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Rabab Al-Sharif at [email protected].