SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



Even after prison, Saberi offers optimism to students

By Billy O'Keefe

By Jacqueline Palochko / Photo by Breanna Gaddie
Journalist Roxana Saberi’s message throughout the Mark of Excellence Awards luncheon was to remain optimistic about journalism.
“Journalism is the best of all worlds,” Saberi said. “(You) tell stories, learn something new every day, meet new people and get paid for it – even though I did get paid very little at first.”
The 32-year-old freelance journalist was the keynote speaker at the luncheon Friday. Saberi shared her experiences, such as reporting in North Dakota when she really wanted to be reporting overseas.
“It was great to hear the experiences of someone close to our age who was a student not that long ago and has already gone through so much,” said Kristen Thometz of Loyola University Chicago.
Saberi said students should enjoy doing what they do and continue that passion.
“Keep your sense of curiosity and wonder about the world,” she said.
After opening to a standing ovation, Saberi directed her remarks to student journalists on how to become better.
Saberi said knowledge of different of media will be beneficial.
“You must learn different steps of storytelling,” she said.
Megan Oliver, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, said hearing Saberi give that piece of advice gave her hope about the current job market.
“If you do know a bit of everything, you’ll be well-rounded and will have a better chance of getting a job,” Oliver said.
Saberi was a freelance journalist in Iran, where she was charged with buying alcohol, an illegal act.
Charges were later changed to reporting without credentials. In April, she was officially charged with espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. An Iranian appeals court eventually overturned Saberi’s prison sentence and changed it to a two-year suspended sentence. She was in jail from Jan. 31 to May 11.
During Saberi’s imprisonment, journalists, including SPJ members, tried intervening for her release.
“If it wasn’t for the support I received from other journalists, I’d still be behind bars,” Saberi said.
Molly Aronica, a student at Loyola University Chicago, said she walked away from Saberi’s speech feeling optimistic.
“Even after all she’s gone through, she still has a positive attitude,” Aronica said.
Throughout her speech, Saberi told student journalists to not be discouraged.
“Never ever in our history have we needed good journalists as much as we do now,” she said. “Don’t lose hope when you hear about dying newspapers and TV stations. Journalism will survive.”




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