"Freelancing abroad" is a new IJNet series that explores the lives of freelance journalists who have relocated abroad.
When she first arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, American journalist Pesha Magid reached out to journalists she was following on Twitter to form her new network.
“They were incredibly warm and helpful,” she said.
Magid had always wanted to live abroad and studied Arabic language and Middle Eastern studies in university in the United Kingdom. She had previously lived in Egypt for two years and has reported from several other countries including Tunisia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Turkey was a perfect homebase from which she could easily cover Greece, Syria, Iraq and other surrounding countries, and continue to cover refugees, which she started in Egypt. Magid’s grandmother was from Turkey, which also drew her to the country.
“I have heard about Turkey all of my life,” she said. “Istanbul has always been a place I knew that I was going to go, it just felt like a matter of when.”
In Istanbul, she regularly meets fellow international journalists individually or every two months during a meetup of foreign journalists.
“You get to meet people who are doing totally different things with totally different types of outlets,” she said.
Because of security concerns, most online groups and events where journalists in Turkey meet are private and require invites.
While there is some competition between journalists in Istanbul, Magid feels relatively sheltered since she works mostly on features and LGBTQ+ stories, which tend to be out of the news cycle.
Although editors have been turning away from international stories without a Trump angle, it has only had a small impact on her reporting, as it has always been difficult to sell international stories. Nevertheless, editors are showing interest in Turkey’s political situation.
“Editors are really interested in stories about repression and about how the Erdogan government has been arresting people,” she said. “Stories about the press [and] about minorities [also] do pretty well.”
The Turkish government has been targeting journalists, but she said she often works under the radar for online publications and hasn’t gotten into trouble.
“The two big red lines in Turkey are essentially talking about the PKK and talking about what they’re doing in Southeastern Turkey,” she said.
Magid doesn’t think she will be kicked out of the country for reporting on LGBTQ+ issues even though she has written critical stories. However, her application for a press card could be rejected in the future, so she remains careful.
Magid doesn’t speak Turkish very well and relies mostly on her Arabic since she works on a lot of stories about refugees. She does her interviews in Arabic or English, or brings a fixer when necessary.
In the current repressive context, she said getting interviews has been difficult since people are wary about what could happen to them, so she has to put extra care into building relationships with her sources.
“People in Turkey are super scared to talk right now because of what’s been happening in terms of repression,” she said. “It makes it difficult to write about political topics.”
Living in Turkey is cheap in comparison to the U.S. and since she works for American outlets and is paid in dollars, the currency exchange helps her.
However, she still lives on a tight budget and advises new journalists who arrive to Turkey to have some savings as a cushion for the first months.
“It’s hard to make more than US$1,000 or US$2,000 dollars per month,” she said.
She said people in Istanbul don’t start their work day until late morning, which gives her time to plan her day before communicating with editors in the U.S. She aims to send one to two pitches per day.
“I try to have a news hook,” she said. “I’ll be working on long term stories and keeping an eye on the news to see how I can make these more in-depth stories fit with what’s happening right now.”
Her weeks are very different and depend on assignments. She recently came back from a reporting trip in Mossul, Iraq but some weeks she has to try hard to sell stories.
Magid advises journalists who are new to a city to get in touch with those who have been in the region for longer.
“Get in touch with journalists there,” she said. “Generally speaking, everyone’s going to be very kind and help you out with contacts and make sure you arrive okay.”