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Why Every Journalist Should Go See Rosewater

In case you poor souls don’t watch The Daily Show, TV comedian Jon Stewart wrote and directed a just-released film titled Rosewater.

Right to left: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.
Left to right: Gael Garcia, Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari.

Rosewater is the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was imprisioned by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009. After pressure from human rights activists and international leaders, Bahari was released just days before the birth of his first daughter.

I’ll leave criticism to the critics. Rosewater is emotionally powerful, wildly hyped and sometimes utterly hilarious. Star actor Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty convincing.

It’s also the most important movie you, as a journalist, could watch this year. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. Because you probably cover tons of utterly boring stories each week, probably some against your will, and there’s probably been some points where you felt like a glorified press release writer. This movie will remind you that journalism isn’t just a job – it’s a life choice that gets people kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered, all because they tried to tell the truth.

2. Because in 2013, 211 journalists were incarcerated worldwide, the second worst year on record. For many, this is just a number on paper. You need to watch Rosewater to be reminded of how your fellow journalists around the world suffer, to see what they experience firsthand. Unlike Bahari, many of these journalists will die in prison, getting life sentences for something as simple as a letter.

3. Because journalism is the vassal of democracy, and at some point while writing a story about a goat running wild in small town Missouri, you might have forgotten your job is a sacred one. Witness firsthand how totalitarian governments, losing control of the flow of information in our modern age, become terrible, desperate entities.

4. Because Rosewater is a single anecdote in a wave of happenings around the world. From the Arab Spring to the Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong and most recently the uprising in Mexico, the free flow of information empowers the people. Cellphones are becoming the ultimate tool of democracy, making every citizen a witness. The internet makes it impossible to conceal the truth. The youth of the world, aware of the oppression around them, are finally standing in revolution. Free information and the chokehold of regimes cannot coexist, and we can tell who is winning.

5. Because you need to see Jon Stewart’s first movie so that he’ll make more. He’s an advocate of powerful, intelligent journalism, and Rosewater is advocacy embodied. Go see the movie and support relevant journalism.

And while you’re at it, every episode of The Daily Show is posted on Hulu the day after it airs. Get watching.

Vox Visits: Justin and Amanda Heckert

This article is the first in a series of advice, guidance and inspiration from professionals in the journalism industry.

On October 10th, Vox met with Amanda Heckert, The Editor-in-Chief of Indianapolis Monthly, and Justin Heckert, a freelance writer published in GQ, New York Times Magazine, and others. Needless to say we were starstruck – the staff was far more well-behaved than usual.

gird
I exaggerate.

The husband-and-wife power duo came to Vox and imparted their wisdom, both about how to help the magazine grow and how to survive in this industry. There’s a few lessons we learned:

1. There is no clear path to success, so don’t be afraid to forge your own. Amanda graduated with a degree in advertising before deciding to flip into the editorial side of magazines. “I wondered two things,” she said. “Am I really good enough to do this, or am I going to bomb spectacularly?”

She grabbed her first job for a magazine with a two-room apartment as an office – now she’s one of the youngest editors of a city magazine, and her magazine recently won an award for General Excellence. Her advice? Chase your dream while you’re young and don’t ever stop.

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap and see what happens,” she said. It most definitely paid off.

Justin started as an editor at Vox as his capstone at Mizzou, and took a postgraduate internship at ESPN Magazine. After bouncing around city magazines he launched himself into freelance reporting, building connections and networking himself into writing stories for The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, GQ and Indianapolis Monthly.

“I wanted to see if I could do this thing that I dreamed out, writing about things for big magazines,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m just going to try to write.”

Now he’s written a cover story for the New York Times Magazine and he has contacts at several major national magazines.

nytimes.com
nytimes.com

“Nothing that you do will ever prohibit you from getting where you want,” Justin said. “You can take weird paths and go your own ways.”

The common denominators of successful people? Dedication and a good work ethic. At her first job, Amanda helped clean the office, paid bills for the magazine and answered phones. Eventually she landed a temporary job at Atlanta Magazine when an editor left on maternity leave.

“I thought, “At the very least, this is going to be a chance to learn new skills,” she said. She spent that time exploring all different parts of the magazine and gathering as many skills as she could.

She ended up keeping the job, probably because she made an effort to understand and improve her workplace – and she communicated well with her bosses.

“I’m a really big believer in telling your editor or superior what your goals are,” she said. “If they’re any good, they’ll help you get there.”

Be groundbreaking – it’s the key to making an impression. Justin recalls making radical content while at Vox, from editing first-person essays written by drug users to crazy porn star coverage. Amanda challenges writers and editors to push into new territory.

“If we want to cover something, how can we push this farther? How can we help the reader make a connection they wouldn’t have otherwise? She said. “Be format-breaking.”

A high risk, high reward way of getting into magazines is freelancing. Justin started freelancing to get his foot in the door different magazines, a difficult way of life that’s easier when you’re young.

“When you’re just starting out – that’s the best time to freelance,” he said. It can be difficult to support a family or “adult” bills on the inconsistent salary. “But it’s a good way for a young person to get their foot in the door at places.”

Follow Amanda and Justin on Twitter.

Stuntin' @ Vox.
Stuntin’ @ Vox.