Karachi, Pakistan

Daniel Pearl Fellow

Dawn Media Group

Host: Los Angeles Times

Pakistani reporter challenges authorities in conflict zone

Saher Baloch will never forget her reporting trip to a mass grave discovered in one of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas. Her mixed feelings of excitement and fear of the unknown, and the gloom of the scene in Khuzdar, still linger in her mind.

Baloch was the only reporter and only female at the gravesite in Balochistan province, and the experience marked a turning point in her professional career.

Baloch broke the story for Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper, where she works as feature writer and reporter.

Mass graves in Balochistan are not rare. They’ve existed since the 1970s, Baloch said, and for the past five years, “the bodies of missing persons were either dumped in open fields or just vanished…  But this is the first time that the state recognised and accepted its presence by constituting a judicial tribunal to investigate the matter.”

Baloch, 30, said she knows from experience when to keep out of certain areas. “But then, it is the conflict zones that have an overwhelming number of untold stories waiting to be told or written about.”

Born and raised in Karachi, Baloch’s experience in journalism started in Islamabad, where she got a master’s degree in Mass Communications at the National University of Modern Languages in 2007. Majoring in electronic media, Baloch landed a job as a reporter and producer at Internews network in the capital city.

The Daniel Pearl fellow soon realized that TV wasn’t the platform for her dream job, and continued the hunt for a position that would “click” with her. During her journey, she discovered a passion for writing while working as an intern at Newsline in Karachi. She went on to work for The News International, the largest English-language newspaper in Pakistan, covering health, human rights and minorities, crime and conflict.

Still, Baloch felt she needed to challenge herself more. Building upon her radio/TV and writing skills, she started writing long-form stories as a multimedia reporter/producer at Dawn.com.

Baloch is proud of her long-form multimedia projects that trace the history of classical singing in a neighborhood along Karachi’s coast, which is ridden with violence, and about the sectarian and ethnic strife in Balochistan’s capital city of Quetta. She wants to focus on covering the Balochistan conflict in depth and plans to eventually write a book about her reporting experience.

Baloch also contributes for the monthly magazine Herald and contributes to a back page column about reporting trips. She speaks Persian, Pashto, English and Urdu.

Dawn City Editor Bahzad Alam Khan wrote that he watched Baloch “evolve rapidly from an eager young reporter to someone not afraid to take on the most challenging assignments.”  Those included the forced religious conversions of members of the Hindu minority and business and cultural links along the border with Iran.

Dawn Editor Zaffar Abbas wrote that Baloch returned from some of the country’s most remote places to produce “brilliant” news stories. “Many times she has chosen assignments (and done) stories from difficult and troubled spots, including places where even senior correspondents have been reluctant to go,” he said.

The Pakistani journalist will work at the Los Angeles Times during her fellowship. She wants to trace the stories of the Pakistani diaspora in the United States and explore their experience as immigrants in the U.S.

Although Baloch wants to report for an international publication one day, she does not plan on leaving her home country anytime soon.

“I want to keep my roots in Pakistan,” Baloch said. “There is a lot that needs to be explored here in terms of conflict and the many stories sprouting out as a result of it,” Baloch said. “It would be interesting to work in a newsroom outside my country. So far, I have worked in an environment besieged by conflict. It would be interesting to work in a more structured and rigorous one.”

Baloch said she is eager to learn from her American colleagues and spread the knowledge back home.

Tatiana Darie