Vivian Salama has reporter’s eye on Arab Spring uprisings

Vivian Salama speaking at J/MS honor society induction. Photo by Ronald Miskoff

Over the past two years protesters have toppled the presidents of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, and the government of Syria is involved in bloody battles with rebels.

Foreign correspondent Vivian Salama, J/MS 1999, has had a front-row seat on the Arab Spring uprisings and developments in the Middle East going back to 2003 through her reporting for Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News and USA Today.

Now as a freelance journalist, principally for The Daily Beast, the online home of Newsweek, she is fearless in the pursuit of stories, whether they be in Tahrir Square in Cairo or in Benghazi, Libya, where Chris Stevens, America’s ambassador to Libya, died in a terrorist-led rocket attack on the consulate in September.

In May, though, Salama was back at Rutgers as principal speaker at the Department of Journalism and Media Studies’ annual dinner for newly inducted members of the national journalism honor society, Kappa Tau Alpha.

Salama told the department’s top seniors that one has to be a “hustler” to “make it” in the journalism profession. She warned those going into journalism that there will be bad days but to expect them and prepare to move ahead.

Other pieces of advice:

• On curiosity — “If you’re not curious, there’s no point in being a journalist.”

• On opportunity — “If the opportunity is not here, you make it happen for yourself.”

• On how to be a better journalist — “Learn another language. It’s a window into a new culture and new ideas.”

Salama started Rutgers as a biology major but said she became fascinated by journalism after watching the coverage of the death of England’s Princess Diana. She took professor Steve Miller’s TV Reporting class and snagged an internship at NBC, where she was the personal assistant to on-air reporter Ti-Hua Chang.

“He toughened me up,” Salama told the audience. “TV is not an easy business, and you have to be tough.”

She was working for NBC when the Twin Towers came down.

“It was a very difficult time,” she noted.

Salama did field producing at Ground Zero and covered many stories of heartbreak and loss.

Her family is from Egypt, and she found herself drawn to the Middle East. After studying Arabic, she went to work at Newsweek and has appeared as a political commentator on the BBC, France24, Bloomberg TV, TV New Zealand, CBS News, and many more.

From January 2010 to December 2011 Salama was head of Bloomberg News’ Abu Dhabi bureau.

Listening to the stories of Pakistani villagers, Salama was early to cover the Arab Spring. Photo supplied by Vivian Salama

She also reports from South Asia. In 2008 and 2009 she was based in Lahore, Pakistan. Her growing influence as a journalist in the Middle East has made Salama an expert commentator on news from the region. She was interviewed by KABC Los Angeles following this fall’s killing of diplomats in Libya.

The International Journal of Press-Politics has just published her study of the difficulties inherent in reporting the Syrian conflict. She has also written a chapter in the book Radicalization, Terrorism, and Conflict in which she discusses how Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups are on Facebook and Twitter and using the same social media websites other people use to promote their beliefs.