Meet Shahla Mahmood – a female journalist who has covered target killings & bomb blasts in Karachi; happens to be the first journalist in her family, and sees herself as a Bureau Chief for a major Pakistani TV channel in the next 5 years!
She’s currently SAMAA TV’s reporting weapon, and comes with 7 years of reportage experience at some of the biggest news channels in Pakistan including Dunya, News One and CNBC.
I had the pleasure of spending time with her during a media exposure trip to Gwader which was organized and funded by Karachi Union of Journalists. Equipped with her cameraman, the powerhouse managed to shoot multiple story packages in less than 3 days. She interviewed Gwader’s top directors and decisions-makers, jumped into a moving boat to showcase Gwader Port, and interacted with the local fisherman for a story on their challenges.
“I knew I was in love with reporting when I could spend half my day studying mass communications and the other half interning at the Women Media Center with absolutely no stipend. Nothing about the job dampened my spirits,” says the female reporter about her start.
At the time, the media industry was quickly flourishing and more and more private channels were popping up in Pakistan. “The training I received at the Women Media Center landed me my first position at News One channel in 2009. There were hardly any female reporters at the time, and I pushed myself to cover human rights and women-based stories,” says Mahmood.
During her time at News One, she found great mentorship in senior journalist Javed Chaudhry who helped her learn at breakneck speed. One particular human-rights stories she reported gave her one of the biggest breakthroughs of her career. “I met the family of a one-year child living in deplorable conditions who had a hole in his heart. They needed to operate on him asap but had no money to give him immediate medical attention. I remember hiding my tears while reporting that story.”
When the coverage went live, the family managed to collect a huge sum within 2 days to fly the child out of the country and get him the treatment he needed. “I realized early on that I could use reporting to help many people tell their stories and that feeling was indescribable and incredible.”
The way Shahla covered the story caught the attention of other channels and within a week, she was offered a role at Dunya News at triple the salary and double the benefits. Even at Dunya, there were not enough female reporters on the field or in the newsroom. The ones who came in opted to become anchors. Her work was going along smoothly minus a few challenges here and there. But something happened then that changed it all.
“I was coming back from work late one night when I had an accident on Shahrah-e-Faisal. I thought I’d lose my life,” says the young reporter. Fortunately, she came out with a broken leg and some time off from work. “My father has been really supportive but at that time even he told me I should reconsider my line of work. But meeting new people, being on the streets, and telling a new story every day was my passion.”
With a broken leg, she arrived at one of the biggest TV channels SAMAA for a job interview and was hired on the spot. At SAMAA TV, she found more female reporters, editorial staff and her first female mentor in Faryal Arif who is currently the first female Bureau Chief. “I mentor young girls in the field exactly the way Faryal supported me,” she says about her time at SAMAA.
Some of the highlights of her reporting career include a fellowship she received to work and train in Washington and Texas with top TV channels. “It was great learning in the US but I realized that Pakistani journalists are reporting much tougher stories.”
But no matter what the narrative might be, Mahmood tries to bring a different angle that helps her channel stand out in every way.
“I remember covering the SSP Sindh Police Chaudhary Aslam’s death who died in a bomb explosion at Lyari Expressway. While everyone was covering the high-profile death, I saw a slum nearby that had been affected by the shrapnel and the families were severely wounded. I ran in my heels towards them and brought their stories forward so they could get help too.”
Currently, Mahmood is addicted to reporting so much that she can’t imagine ever leaving it for another role. “I want to take up a leadership role like a Bureau Chief but I like reporting too much to let it go. I don’t see myself reporting international stories because I want to report what’s going on in Pakistan. Our stories are important, and they need to be told and I hope to be the one to always tell them.”
Photos provided by Talha