Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Business Journalist for Ausbiz Seja Al-Zaidi
Seja Al-Zaidi is currently working as a business journalist for ausbiz and has previously worked as a finance reporter at Mumbrella and an intern at The Conversation.
Medianet sat down with Seja to discuss her career and how she got her start in the industry.
You have had quite an illustrious career so far; you have experience working as a partner support specialist for Uber and a support representative for Beem It, as well as experience working as a finance journalist for Mumbrella to your current role as a business journalist at ausbiz. How did working in these roles prepare you for future endeavours in your career?
Oh, that is too kind! I wouldn't quite say illustrious… not yet at least.
Working at startups, particularly at a fintech startup, was a truly fascinating foundation to prime my foray into journalism. Working in a business is the best way to understand one as a reporter. It also exposes you to the motley array of characters and interpersonal dynamics that drive decisions in corporations. Ultimately, I wanted to amalgamate my interest in business with the dynamism and creative capacities of a career in media.
At the time, I was studying a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in International Business & Marketing at the University of Sydney. My passion for business and enterprise was cultivated early, but I always craved a career where I could channel it in a creative, public dimension.
How has working in these different roles taught you the most about yourself?
I certainly learned that I thrive on dynamism, social connection, and creative autonomy. Though I loved my earlier pre-journalism experiences, I felt stifled by my inability to tell stories, which is what reporting is all about.
All was not lost though - I suppose I learned that I’m rather resourceful when I really want something. When I worked at Beem It full-time, I talked my boss into letting me take over the company's website blog. I created a new series of articles, all of which were incredibly well-received and a great asset for my portfolio early on.
I then started interning as a political reporter three days a week in addition to working full-time and studying part-time. I even presented radio shows on 2SER during my lunch break from my full time job. Not long after that, I got my first role as a journalist. I suppose this shows that you really can create your own opportunities if you want something enough.
Did you always want a career in media? What first inspired you?
As a little girl, I scarcely got to watch regular mainstream television at home. We almost always had Arabic-only cable, which broadcasted TV channels from the Middle East.
I can't count how many evenings I spent lying on my belly, gazing all starry-eyed at the worldly, sophisticated TV reporters on Al-Jazeera who seemed so entrenched in the world, the real world as it happened in real-time.
I'll never forget being on school holiday at eleven years old, lazing at home, and watching live coverage of the Arab Spring unfolding in Libya. It was a tragic event but I was so spellbindingly compelled by the dynamism and lasting impact of current affairs coverage.
Reporters carry a duty to communicate seismic events in history as they unfold, which is quite an extraordinary responsibility when you think about it.
As a child, I had an incredibly stifled and secluded upbringing within the confines of traditional, conservative Islam. As girls, we essentially were taught the wider world wasn't for us, and that our purpose was to be quiet, be invisible, and serve others. Al-Jazeera and other TV networks were like an escape from my gilded cage reality.
For almost all my life it felt entirely like a pipe dream to pursue a career in media, and now it is actually happening. Quite often, I can scarcely believe it.
My career is such an aberration from what I was brought up to do & believe in. Really, I was meant to be married off at sixteen, in a niqab, and barred from the real world like most of the girls I knew growing up.
Though, to be frank, I think the oppressiveness and constrictions on my potential and desires to live in the real world made me all the more determined to make it a reality.
What makes writing and working primarily digitally and online so unique?
Primarily, I'd say the ongoing competition in the attention economy.
Anyone who works in digital media is aware of how immensely valuable a reader's attention is. Sadly, we're operating in a landscape where fast-food media like TikTok has colonised attention spans like a fiefdom, so lots of quality writing doesn't get the nuanced attention it deserves.
I subscribe to the New York Times and I saw an NYT post on Facebook promoting a new article about diminished attention spans. Someone commented lamenting the matter and actually wrote “my attention span has shrunk so much I couldn't even get myself to read through half this article”. Seriously spooky!
Interestingly, there also seems to be consistent opposition from reliable disgruntled parties about digital journalism actually costing money in the way of a subscription. I think social media may have helped engineer a perspective that information of all forms should be democratised and free to the public.
What some consumers don't realise is that most digital journalists still put immense effort, time, and energy into interviewing, researching, writing, editing, and so forth to curate compelling content that an audience derives genuine value from.
So I suppose the most interesting thing right now about working primarily online is navigating this cultivation of newfound attitudes and diminished attention spans toward information, media, and writing.
What's a commonly held belief about your job that you disagree with?
That journalists are untrustworthy leeches on society or some variant of that.
Yes, some journalists are needlessly antagonistic and abrasive. But generally, there seems to be a perception that all reporters are hungry to take advantage of people in order to siphon information out of them, which is truly awful.
While I was interning at The Conversation in Melbourne, we had a tutorial on our first day about the entity and readers' attitudes to journalism and media. We were shown a chart with survey results that said politicians and journalists were almost tied when it came to the least trustworthy people in society! That was disheartening, to say the least.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in their career, or your younger self?
To be existentially curious. There is always so much you don't know, and that's actually an incredibly liberating feeling.
I derive so much joy from learning and questioning. I think if you work in the media, you truly need to understand the world around you and experience it vividly as frequently as you can.
Travel, take every opportunity you get, go to that event, meet new people and express gratitude frequently. Gratitude is a truly underrated value. I express it as often as I can. We truly are lucky to work in such an exciting and coveted industry, and it's important to stay grateful every step of the way.
What has been the most interesting piece you’ve written about in the last few months?
Possibly a story I did at Mumbrella where I interviewed Martin Lindstrom at the World Business Forum. It holds a special place in my heart because Martin was so enigmatic, warm and fascinating, and saw a dimension of reality and human existence that most people don't see. It was an awe-inspiring, elevating experience, and so much of what we discussed I still think about quite often.
On that day, I also had the chance to interview Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, which was such a brilliant honour and something I was so proud to have experienced at just 22 years old. I chatted with Muhammad for over an hour on the innate human potential for sustainable, humane entrepreneurship, commodified human identities, the erosion of creativity via the modern school system, and saving our planet. I'm hoping to write a piece about the interview for a publication soon.
What are your pitching preferences?
Of course, via email is always best. I don't think anyone likes getting random phone calls with pitches!
Fundamentally, a pitch needs to be curated toward the actual angle of the publication. So many times, I've received pitches where you can tell there hasn't been an ounce of research about the publication conducted prior to the email being sent.
I like a pitch that's targeted and relevant with quality talent available for an interview. Alignment is so important. We want to produce compelling content for our audience, and we welcome help with precisely that.