Amna Nawaz: A Fearless Journalist, Under Any Circumstance

by Jennifer Chowdhury 

SAJA@20: Newsmakers

This post is part of a series of profiles for the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), a non-profit journalism organization celebrating its 20th anniversary with a national convention on October 11th, 2014. For more details, please click here.

Amna NawazEmmy Award-winning investigative journalist, Amna Nawaz, has an envy-inducing career.

Nawaz has reported from all over the world for NBC News, including Syria, Turkey, Colombia, South Africa, Haiti, to name a few. She was NBC’s Islamabad Bureau chief and correspondent for several years, reporting from the Pakistan and Afghanistan region. Recently, she took on the role of editor for’s new Asian America vertical.

Thirteen years ago, Nawaz started her career as a Nightline Fellow at ABC News. Since the Sept. 11 attacks happened three weeks into her new job, Nawaz said she was given the opportunity to work on one of the most important news events in recent times, which set the precedent for the rest of her career.

“From day one in this industry, I was immersed in a system that held itself to the highest standards, with the chance to learn from some of the most talented, kindest, most dedicated people in the business,” Nawaz said.

Growing up as a first-generation South Asian-American, Nawaz said her greatest influence were her parents, who led by example and gave her their full support.

“They stood up for people who needed help and spoke out when they thought something was wrong,” Nawaz said.

Nawaz also looked to brilliant female journalists, such as Andrea Mitchell, Christiane Amanpour and Martha Raddatz for inspiration.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have had strong, successful examples of women who were already doing the kind of international reporting I wanted to do,” Nawaz said.

Nawaz said she has faced many challenges as a female reporter. She’s found herself in uncomfortable male-dominated, conservative environments and been harassed in all-male crowds. But through it all, Nawaz said she has earned special privileges as a female journalist.

“I’ve been granted access because of my gender: Visits inside homes where women stay hidden, interviews with voices who only feel comfortable with other women,” Nawaz explained.

Last year, Nawaz was the first foreign journalist allowed inside North Waziristan bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. She entered the global hub of Al Qaeda and Taliban activity with the added challenge of being pregnant with her daughter.

“Never have all the many and wonderful tracks of my life come into such absolute alignment as they did then,” Nawaz said. “We were working around the clock, hopping on and off helicopters, and hiking under heavy military guard across several-thousand-feet-high army outposts in the Hindu Kush. I was privately being terribly sick, trying to monitor the baby’s wellbeing, and getting invaluable insight into the balancing act to come.”

Nawaz and her team’s series of exclusive reports were successfully unveiled on NBC’s Today Show, The Nightly News, and MSNBC, under the #InsidePakistan brand. The reports include the first original video of drone strike aftermath in Miranshah; the first U.S. interview with Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and the first and only interviews given by Pakistan Army commanders on the frontlines of the War on Terror in the tribal region.

Amna Nawaz
Former NBC Pakistan chief correspondent Amna Nawaz reporting from Waziristan.

After working as a broadcast journalist for various media platforms, she leads the editorial department at’s Asian America vertical. Launched earlier this year, it features domestic and foreign stories on current events and culture that matter to Asian Americans.

With a goal to make the Asian America vertical into a robust destination, featuring stories, unique videos, breaking news, original photography and personal essays, Nawaz describes it as “the first effort of its kind at the network level.”

“There are stories and voices and faces that don’t always make their way onto all the platforms, but that still matter to millions of Americans,” Nawaz added.

As editor, Nawaz said she finds that Asian American audiences have an avid interest in a broad range of stories.

“Some days, audiences really seem to go for entertainment stories. I never knew K-Pop had such a U.S. fan base before I took this job,” Nawaz said. “Other days, stories about civil rights or identity and culture take the lead.”

Nawaz said stories about the Asian American adoptee experience really seemed to resonate. So has an occasional series, called “Off Color,” which Nawaz said looks at the intersection of race and comedy.

According to Nawaz, Asian Americans are a hard group to categorize.

“When you try to group together dozens of ethnicities, languages and geographic groups into a single identity, you run the risk of over-simplifying and generalizing,” Nawaz said.

Nawaz’s career trajectory demonstrates that taking on challenges is an important part of becoming a multi-media journalist.

“Whether it means jumping into a role you never expected you’d take, or accepting an assignment that scares the pants off you but will challenge you – say yes,” Nawaz said.

Nawaz will share her experiences and insight as a panelist for the South Asian Journalists Association’s 20th anniversary convention on Oct. 11th in New York City.

According to Nawaz, SAJA has been a vital resource for her career, creating connections that have made a profound impact on her life.

“Journalism is so much more of a community than a profession, and SAJA is a part of maintaining that,” she said.

When it comes to finding your niche in the field of your choice, Nawaz advises: “Find the person who’s doing the thing you want to do, or who can help you learn about the thing you’re reporting on, or who’s been to the place you’re going—and say hello.”

Feature Image: Amna Nawaz covered the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake for NBC News.

Follow SAJA and Amna Nawaz on Twitter. 


Jennifer Chowdhury is a Bangladeshi-American freelance journalist and fashion copywriter based in New York City. Follow her blog for everything-Jennifer! 

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Moving on After Breaking up With Your Cat

“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.

Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.

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Take what you want//Take everything

I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.

A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.

It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.

Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.

I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.

I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.

She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.

I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.

I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.

Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.

[Read Related: How Love Matures as you Grow]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Book Review: The Freelance Mindset by Joy Batra

“What you do is not who you are. Our capitalist society spends a lot of time trying to convince us that we are our work, but we don’t have to fall for it.” 

When I first met Joy Batra, she wasn’t an author. She was a multi-hyphenated individual who floored me with her charm and her aura. Joy not only had gone to business school and law school at one of the most prestigious universities in America, but she also valued her hobbies and her passions that were completely extraneous to her working persona. Her nontraditional career path was one that, at first glance, confused me. “I’m a dancer and freelancer,” she had said, and I batted my eyes as if she was talking in a foreign language. What’s a freelancer? Why and how did she come to identify herself as a dancer, when her degrees all point to business and law? 

[ Read Related: Indra Nooyi Talks ‘My Life in Full’ and her Journey to Becoming PepsiCo’s CEO ]

Joy Batra’s therapeutic and timely book “Freelance Mindset” provides relevant stories, guidelines, and motivation to take ownership of your career and financial well-being. Particularly, the book is centered around the pros and cons of life as a freelancer and practical advice for how to get started as one. At its core, the “Freelance Mindset” encourages diving deep into the relationship between career and identity, and how the balance of both relate back to your life view.

In the words of Batra:

“Freelancing is a way to scratch a creative itch that is completely unrelated to their day jobs…Freelancing harnesses that independent streak and turns it into a long- term advantage.” 

Batra’s older sister’s advice is written with forthright humbleness and glaring humility. Batra leads us through the fear of facing our existential fears about careers, productivity, and creativity. She leans into the psychological aspects of how we develop our careers, and reminds us to approach work not just with serious compassion but also with childhood play: 

“You are naturally curious and passionate. As a child, before you needed to think deeply about money, you probably played games, had imaginary friends, and competed in sports. Those instincts might get buried as we grow up, but they don’t disappear altogether.”

[ Read Related: Learning How To Freelance in a Cutthroat Industry ]

Batra also provides us with a diverse cast of inspirational freelancers who provide their honest perspectives across a wide range of domains from being a professional clown to actors to writers. Especially noticeable is the attention paid to South Asian women through notable interviews with Vyjayanthi Vadrevu, Saumya Dave, and more. On social media, it’s easy to find these women and immediately applaud their success, but behind the scenes, it takes a lot of grit, persistence, and determination to reach the successful level of freelancing that you see. Batra encourages a spiritual way of thinking that is marked by rational needs (ex. Maslow’s hierarchy): not to seek immediate gratification and corporate climbing, but rather to view life as a “jungle gym” as coined by Patricia Sellers. Taking risks is part of life, and just like entrepreneurship, freelancing is just as ambitious and off-the-beaten path, despite stigmatization.

“One of the strange paradoxes of the working world is that entrepreneurship is fetishized and freelancing is stigmatized.”

I recommend the “Freelance Mindset” to anyone who is starting out their career in these economically uncertain times, as well as seasoned workers who are looking for inspiration or a shift in their career life. Whether or not you are considering becoming a freelancer in a certain domain, this book is the practical wake-up call that workers and employees need in order to reorient their purpose and poise themselves for a mindset of success. I view this book as a “lifer,” one to read every few years to ground myself and think critically about the choices I make and where I devote my time. 

I leave you with this quote:

“We can adopt the new belief that no single job will meet all our financial, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs…We have one self, and we must figure out how to integrate it into the various situations we find ourselves in.“

You can purchase a copy of the Freelance Mindset here. Follow Joy Batra on Twitter and Instagram for more content!

By Anushree Sreedhar

Raised in Edison, NJ Anushree is an avid reader, imaginative creative writer, dramatic storyteller, obsessive shopper, experimental yogi, and a … Read more ›

The Pressures of Being the Perfect South Asian Woman

NAKED: The Honest Musings of 2 Brown Women was born in the autumn of 2018, when Mimi Mutesa and Selvi M. Bunce began sharing their poetry collections. It was scary, beautiful, and terrifying when they decided to trust each other with their most intimate thoughts. Not only did they feel relieved after doing so, but Selvi and Mimi also felt more seen as women of color. They embarked on their publication journey, so others may feel as seen as they did on that fateful autumn.

“Ingrown Hair” deals with the themes of societal and family pressures that are reflected throughout NAKED. Mimi and Selvi have always written for themselves. They see poetry as an outlet, and their poems exemplify their personal frustration and vulnerability. “Ingrown Hair” speaks to Selvi’s experience with the societal pressures of South Asian women, such as getting married, being a good wife, becoming a good mother, and leading a certain kind of life.

[Read Related: Exploring the Endless Possibilities of who I am In the Mirror]

Ingrown Hair

There is something strange beneath my skin
telling me to build a house,
make a home,
mother children.
I am not sure how to reconcile it.
My mother was strong
and a mother after all.
My philosophy has been to spend my time
on myself and the world.
I have always thought
I could simply address the thing under my skin
when it finally crawled out.
But when my family starts guessing
who will get married first, and my father
has been saving wedding money for years,
I begin to wonder
if I will have to pluck it out.

[Read Related: Reconstructing and Deconstructing our Ideals]

You can purchase your copy of NAKED on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Bookshop, and The Black Spring Press Group. Follow Selvi on Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to check out her project, Brown & Brazen.

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By Selvi M. Bunce

Selvi M. Bunce (she/they) has written for academic and creative journals and spoken at diversity conferences and TEDx. Selvi currently … Read more ›