Born in the U.S. to Iranian parents and based in Washington D.C., Elahe Izadi is an emerging figure on the American journalism scene, whose work and firm belief in diversity have won her wide recognition in the industry. She has covered such issues as demographics, immigration, government, crime, and development. Until recently at DCentric, where she covered race and class relations, Elahe is currently a correspondent at the National Journal, covering Capitol Hill. Elahe is also a stand-up comedian, writing and performing original comedy routines in venues throughout the D.C.-metro area.
I have been a journalist since 2004, first as an intern and student, and then as a full-time reporter starting in 2007. I was born and raised in the United States. My parents permanently settled in the U.S. shortly before I was born.
Tell us about your education please.
I attended the University of Maryland, College Park where I earned double bachelor degrees. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, with a concentration in African-American history, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on print journalism. I completed two internships during school and was a reporter for The Diamondback, my university’s student newspaper.
How did you choose journalism as a career and what news media organizations have you worked for?
I had always loved writing, but I first became interested in journalism as a college student. My first internship at a newspaper on a Native American reservation allowed me to cover very serious issues and also to experience the impact journalism can have on a community.
After college graduation, I moved to Panama to volunteer for a year. In 2007, I began working as a reporter for The Gazette, a community newspaper in Maryland owned by Post Newsweek. I covered a range of issues for about three years, from local politics to education to crime. I was awarded an International Center for Journalists fellowship in 2009, allowing me to produce a report examining the recession’s impact on El Salvador’s remittance economy and the flow of cash to Salvadoran immigrants in Maryland.
In 2010, I left The Gazette to join TBD.com, a D.C.-area news website and an experiment of sorts in local, digital journalism. This is when I transitioned to being a digital and online reporter; I was blogging, reporting and shooting photos and short videos to be used for NewsChannel 8, a local T.V. station. I was laid off as part of a major restructuring at TBD.com, but very shortly thereafter was hired by WAMU 88.5, D.C.’s NPR member station. I maintained DCentric.org, an NPR Project Argo blog that focused on the intersection of race and class in D.C. In 2012, I left WAMU 88.5 to join National Journal as a reporter covering the Hill.
What is DCentric? What did you cover there? How did you transition to the National Journal?
DCentric was an NPR’s Project Argo blog based at WAMU 88.5 in Washington, D.C. Project Argo blogs report on topics that are of particular relevance to the communities in which they are based. DCentric focused on the intersection of race and class in Washington, D.C., a city with rapidly changing demographics and extremes of wealth and poverty. I wrote about the role of race and class in stories about gentrification, housing, the economy, education and other issues. I produced original content, wrote some commentary and aggregated blog posts.
I recently started at National Journal, where I’ll be applying my traditional reporting skills, digital journalism background, and even some of my humor to my work. I’ll primarily be focused on expanding our coverage of the Hill online.
Can you tell us about your stand-up comedy work and how long you have been doing it for?
I’ve been performing on and off since 2006. Much of my material touches upon issues of race, gender, and society. I try to talk about these issues in a way that breaks down stereotypes rather than perpetuates them. I do speak about my experience as an Iranian-American (although not exclusively), and I strive to do so in a way that takes away the fear or “otherness” of Iranians for a mass audience.
Who would you name among some of your main source(s) of inspiration in your journalistic achievements?
First and foremost: my parents. They came to this country with little and worked extremely hard to insure my siblings, and I had every opportunity to pursue whatever made us happy. They’ve done nothing but encouraged and supported my journalism career.
I’ve also been blessed to have a number of more seasoned journalists I can turn to for advice, and I’m particularly inspired by female journalists of color.
In the course of your career as a woman working in an American news media organization, what have been some of the key challenges you have encountered?
One is figuring out how to break into the journalism network or the old boys’ club. These days, competition is fierce and it’s difficult for all journalists to find good jobs and advance their careers, so connections can be key.
Perhaps there have been a few times when I may have faced some challenges because of my gender. For instance, I felt some sources didn’t take me seriously when I first started. But overall, it hasn’t been too bad. Perhaps the only thing I really deal with is my constant awareness that I’m a rarity in American newsrooms: I’m a female journalist of color, and there simply aren’t that many of us around.
Would you say that being an Iranian woman or a woman of Iranian descent has played itself out in your career in a significant way?
On the one hand, not really. I’ve written mostly about domestic as a reporter, and I’m glad that I’m not pigeonholed into only writing about Iranian issues. But I think my background as a minority and child of immigrants, as well as my exposure to various cultures and classes of people, has been crucial. I strongly believe journalists should be well rounded. How can we expect to explain the world to our audiences if we know so little about it?
My name, more than anything, makes my identity as an Iranian-American very obvious. I’m often asked about my heritage in the course of my reporting. Sometimes I get stuck in my head–“Am I too ‘other’ for this source to feel comfortable with me?”–but that kind of thinking can land you in a strange place of self-doubt. I’ve found that the best thing to do is fully own who I am and be unapologetic about it. Years ago, I made a conscious decision to use my real name, rather than the simpler nickname I went by for most of my life.
How do you think the Arab Spring will impact women’s social status in the Arab/Islamic world? Are you an optimist?
The Arab Spring has shown the world that there is a burning desire for justice among a very large group of people in the Middle East and that there is the possibility of change. I’m not sure whether this will immediately translate to broader justice and increased equality for women, but I do believe that things will, in the long run, get better for women in the Middle East.
Ten years from now, what kind of an Iran do you envision in your mind?
Honestly, I can’t predict what Iran will look like in ten years. But I believe that, in the long run, there is reason for optimism.