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The Iranian Women in American Journalism Project (IWAJ): Asieh Namdar

The Iranian Women in American Journalism Project (IWAJ): Asieh Namdar

Asieh Namdar of CNN, Courtesy of CNN

Asieh Namdar is a Senior Writer at CNN’s sister network HLN. She also served as an anchor for CNN International. She joined CNN in 1989 as a video journalist and continued her career to hold many positions, including producing her own segments. As one of the most experienced writers at the network, Asieh has reported on the Middle East conflict, Iran’s election crisis, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Asieh graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Asieh has been recognized for her work by many Iranian-American organizations.

Where you were born? Can you tell us about your family background and the extent of influence they have had on you in choosing journalism as a career?

I was born in Pakistan. My dad worked there for the World Bank at the time, and moved to Karachi with my mom and my sister. We came back to Tehran a few months later when I was still an infant. Clearly I have no memories of those days. Home to me was Tehran, Iran until the revolution in 1979.  I grew up in a loving family. The door was always open with family and friends coming and going out of our home. My mom and dad placed a lot of emphasis on our education.

Revolution in Iran changed everything. We moved to Northern California when I was 12 years old.  I was not fluent in English, and the hostage crisis didn’t exactly make me popular in school. There were many painful, lonely days at school.  I also started to realize how little people knew about Iran. I think that was my “aha” moment that later influenced me to go into journalism.

Tell us about your path to journalism. How long have you been with CNN and what are your responsibilities there?

CNN Headline News (now HLN) was my first job out of College. 23 years later, I’m still here!

I started an entry level job in 1989. Everyone was young, out of college, with a lot of drive and ambition.  I loved to write so my goal was to become a writer. It took me a few years, but I did it.  There were crazy overnight hours where I’d drive into work at 3 am. One thing led to another and a few years later I was hosting a show called “World Report.” I continued to write for Headline News (now HLN) while I anchored the program on weekends. In recent years, I have also anchored for CNN International and written articles for  Working six or seven days a week is not unusual.  Through all the changes, I have kept my main job, a Senior Writer at HLN.  This is the place where I’ve spent half of my life!

What is your education?

I got my BA from University of California, Berkeley, and have seriously considered going back to school and getting my Master’s to teach one day.

As a professional journalist, have you been able to keep pace with all the technologies that have impacted your profession and your industry?

For the most part, we HAVE to. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly a “pro” when it comes to new technology, but I’ve done okay. My 17- year old and 12-year-old daughters probably know a lot more than I do! They have been good teachers.

You have reported two major humanitarian disasters that caught much of world’s attention: the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran and the tsunami disaster in Asia. What was it like covering disasters of such magnitude? How did they impact you?

The earthquake in Bam, Iran was so personal for me. I went back to Iran for the first time since we left in 1979. I traveled with a group of American doctors and humanitarians to help with relief efforts and to translate. I met families who had lost everyone and everything in the quake. It was the first time I had seen the aftermath of a natural disaster up close. I was overwhelmed by the devastation in the ancient town of Bam.  The hardest part was seeing the orphans — so many kids left without parents to love and raise them. The hospitals were overflowing with victims, who were stuck under the rubble for hours. Also, I was seeing the post-revolution Iran as an adult. The regime had changed, but the people were the same, warm and hospitable and appreciative, especially to the American visitors who had traveled thousands of miles to help Iranians. Their pain and loss were hard to put into words. I felt it even more because we spoke the same language.

The Indian Ocean tsunami disaster a year later, also had a profound impact on me.  We had never seen anything like it. It had affected so many countries — Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. I was here in Atlanta when it happened and along with my colleagues, reported on the devastation during live news segments. I remember fighting back tears on live TV,  reporting on the children who had been separated from their parents as massive waves swallowed homes, hotels, wiping out just about everything and everyone.

The Iranian Women in American Journalism Project (IWAJ): Asieh Namdar

Who do you consider to be inspirational figures? How did they influence you in your career?

My husband and two daughters, who have always reminded me of  what’s really important in life. Also, the brave and resilient women and youth of Iran who have risked their lives for freedom. CNN founder, Ted Turner, is another inspirational figure for his vision, philanthropy and always speaking his mind.

In the course of your career as a woman working in a major American news media organization, what have been the key challenges you have encountered?

Like so many other women, the biggest challenge is balancing a career with raising a family. So many of us love our jobs (also have to earn a living), but feel guilty leaving our kids at day care or with the babysitter. But I have learned through the years, you do what works for you and your family.  I have to be honest — I can’t go to every school event, and softball game, but I try to be there for the really important ones. I love what I do, whether it’s handling breaking news, writing articles or anchoring the news. Ultimately that makes me a happier mom and wife. When I get home, I’m excited to spend time with my family. I’m also fanatic about exercising and eating right. It’s an absolute priority in my hectic life. 

Are you involved in the Iranian-American community?

I try. Unfortunately, my hectic work and family life doesn’t leave a lot time for that, but I have attended a number of important fundraisers and events for Iranian-American causes in the past.  If it’s an issue that I feel passionate about, I will do my best to be there.

What do you think makes Iranian-American women a notably successful minority group in the United States? 

Iranian-Americans, men and women, have a remarkable work ethic and drive. In every corner of the world, we hear about accomplished Iranians who have become successful in their fields. From academia to technology, sciences and the arts, they are highly educated and have made a name for themselves. It makes me proud to be Iranian, especially when I meet Persians who have stayed grounded despite their fame and fortune.

Are you a mother? How many kids do you have?

I have two daughters, Leila 17, and Roya 12.

How do you think the Arab Spring will impact women’s social status in the Arab/Islamic world? Are you an optimist?

I’m an optimist by nature. I hope it’s the beginning of something much bigger with far reaching repercussions in the region.  Whether it’s Damascus or Tehran, people want to be heard, they want peace, stability, and freedom.

Ten years from now, what kind of an Iran do you envision?

A truly democratic one.