Last month, Reuters exclusively reported that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Trump through Oman warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent. Iranian officials told Reuters that Trump said he was against war with Iran and wanted to talk about various issues with Tehran. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Iran Chief Correspondent Parisa Hafezi gives a behind-the-scenes look at how she reported the story.
Q: What types of reporting/sourcing was involved?
A: The reporting included at least dozen mobile calls, loads of messages through certain apps to Iranian officials after my manager, Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul, called me and said we needed to find out details behind President Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to call off a military strike on Iran, in retaliation to downing of an unmanned U.S. drone. It was very early on a weekend in Iran and most importantly Iranian officials were extremely cautious to talk about such a sensitive topic. Mobiles were off, emails and messages to different officials remained unanswered for a while. But then we managed to get comments after messaging through secure apps.
Q: What was the hardest part about reporting this story?
A: It took a lot of effort to convince officials to talk about such a sensitive topic and provide such explosive information. But years of building a network of diverse contacts yield results. However, I had to call several contacts in Tehran to cross-check the information and then encourage them to allow us to report it. I was worried that the information might be leaked to other outlets. Without the leadership of Samia Nakhoul, who has deep knowledge about Iran, the superb editing skills of Reuters EMEA top news edit Mike Collette-White and world desk editor-in-charge Kevin Liffey in London we could not break a story like this so fast.
Q: Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A: It was important because it displayed the extent of Reuters access to top officials in Iran. It revealed a reason behind Trump’s decision to call off a military strike against Iran. Our clients felt privileged because they had access to some information that no other news outlet could get hold of it. As a senior analyst said in a message to me after the story was published: "If Reuters is reporting it, I am sure it is true. You have good contacts."
Q: What makes you passionate about journalism?
A: Journalism is not a profession for me. It is my life. Apart from my children, nothing interests me more than reporting and writing stories. Despite all the hardships I have faced in the past two decades as a journalist, I feel privileged to be able to report the realities of Iran, to tell untold stories and to help the world to understand Iran by writing accurate, insightful, balanced and impartial stories about it. Also, it is very satisfying to have access to and be respected by top decision makers, which enables me to understand a very complex system like Iran.
Q: What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A: In the past two decades, I have covered conflicts, human rights violations, natural disasters, political, economic and social crisis. But covering Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West since 2003 is one of the most breathtaking experiences of my 17 years with Reuters.
Q: What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A: Because of my job and all the hardships I have faced for doing my job, I suffer from PTSD and deep depression that makes my life very difficult. I have missed many important moments of my children’s lives and have not been able to be with my elderly parents when they needed me. There have been many rewarding experiences, from becoming the Bureau Chief of Reuters in Iran to winning the prestigious courage award of the IWMF. But the most rewarding part of my job is working with Reuters colleagues, whether members of the Iran team or others around the world. Many of them have become my family. Words can neither qualify nor quantify the support I have received from my managers. They always stood by me and my work under extremely difficult circumstances. What can be more rewarding than that!