Mentorship is one of the most important services that The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network offers to its members. This service wouldn’t be possible without the generous help of over 45 highly experienced and talented female journalists from around the world. In this series, two groups of mentors and mentees reflect on their one year of mentorship, and how it helped shape their skills and open up more doors for their careers.
Mahacine Mokdad and Zahra Mackaoui
When Mahacine Mokdad, a freelance videographer and fixer from Morocco, approached MCJN for mentorship, she said she needed to hone her skills in filmmaking and learn how to make documentaries. The editors looked carefully and felt that Zahra Mackaoui, a Lebanese-British filmmaker, would be the best match.
We brainstormed many times about that project (the documentary). Zahra looked into my website and corrected some texts there,
With over 15 years of experience in making films for leading networks such as the BBC, Channel4 and Al Jazeera, Zahra had both the tools of the trade, and the desire to give something back by helping a fellow journalist.
“It was the perfect match because both Zahra and I work as TV reporters. Zahra is also a documentary maker and I am working on my first own documentary.” Mahacine said.
Zahra concurs that it was a good match. “Mahacine [had] experience as a TV journalist and producer and had aspirations to work more in documentary filmmaking. As my experience covers both worlds, I felt I was able to advise her.”
MCJN’s one-to-one mentorship scheme runs for 12 months. Its success requires the mentees to take initiative by reaching out to their mentors at least once every month, and to be very clear about their objectives in order for the mentors to help them.
During their online meetings, Zahra coached Mahacine on technical, editorial even administrative aspects. She coached her on everything from writing propoals for funders, to learning how to handle the characters of her documentary. “We brainstormed many times about that project (the documentary). Zahra looked into my website and corrected some texts there,” Mahacine said.
She was receptive to my suggestions and we remain in touch. I think we developed a good mentorship, based on honestly and respect
Zahra even went further by introducing Mahacine to editors at CNN to pitch her film. Thanks to this introduction, Mahacine was commissioned to work with the American network on two projects. “During the time I was mentoring Mahacine, she got a small grant to make a documentary for an NGO and she is going ahead with this,” Zahra says. “I also helped her to find work with CNN, which is adding to her work experience as a producer.”
Mahacine summarises this experience: “Being in touch with Zahra was a blessing. I understand she was also busy with work, but having someone to understand your doubts and give you answers helps a lot.”
Although the mentorship scheme is mainly aimed at supporting the mentee, it can also be rewarding and satisfying to the mentor.
“I really enjoyed mentoring Mahacine,” Zahra says. “She was receptive to my suggestions and we remain in touch. I think we developed a good mentorship, based on honestly and respect and I have told her I will be available for advice when she needs as she progresses with her short documentary.”
Marwa Morgan and Susan Sachs
After finishing her studies in the US, MCJN member Marwa Morgan was considering staying there and pursuing a job in journalism, reporting on the Middle East to an American audience.
Marwa sought jobs and projects on her own steam, but where I helped was in encouraging her to be discerning about the offers from non-mainstream news organizations that came her way
Before coming to the U.S, Marwa had already worked for several Egyptian publications including the Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Egypt Today and Business Today. Her work was published in NPR, the Guardian and others. But while she was in the US, She needed a mentor to provide for her a guidance on her career path, rather than on specific stories or medium.
It was around the same time that award-winning journalist Susan Sachs joined The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network as a mentor. She also happened to be living in Washington DC and was happy to engage in a one-year mentorship with Marwa.
“Susan helped me with job applications,” Marwa says. “She provided useful insight that helped me explore options that I would not have normally thought of.”
They discussed everything from job opportunities, to visa issues and brainstorming on projects that Marwa was involved in.
Susan says that “Marwa sought jobs and projects on her own steam, but where I helped was in encouraging her to be discerning about the offers from non-mainstream news organizations that came her way and to think hard about whether they would help her achieve her goals. I also encouraged Marwa to consider a different kind of freelancing than what she had in mind (that is, writing about the US for Arabic publications rather than looking to report on the Middle East for US publications).”
Indeed, Marwa took this suggestion on board and she went on to freelance for BBC Xtra (the flagship variety programme of BBC Arabic radio), covering U.S. news for an Arab audience.
She always told me she (saw) enough potential in me that one day I would become a New York Times columnist.
Susan also introduced Marwa to other professionals and a lawyer to advise her on her visa process. At some point, Marwa was doing an internship with an NGO, and Susan advised her on getting herself known to a wider circle of people in the NGO business.
Today, Marwa works as an associate editor for the Arabic and French editions of Google News, and credits Susan for helping her become more confident: “I never thought I would have the guts to apply for a New York Times job (which I did not get, but still). She always told me she (saw) enough potential in me that one day I would become a New York Times columnist. She also helped me with brainstorming for a short essay (and later editing it) that I submitted as a part of a job application. I ended up winning an award for this essay.”