Raghida Dergham has been covering world events for over 30 years. Even though she is a veteran journalist with decades of experience, she said she pursues the news with the passion of a novice.
Dergham is one of a small circle of female political analysts who are active on the international level. In addition to being the director of al-Hayat's newspaper office in New York, a position she has held since 1989, she contributes to many Arab and international newspapers and magazines.
Al-Shorfa met with Dergham during a visit she made to Lebanon.
Al-Shorfa: Tell us about your start as a correspondent covering the United Nations. Did being a woman pose any difficulties for you?
Raghida Dergham: I started working as a journalist at the United Nations when I was 23 years old. From the start, and for a period of time, I received help and guidance from ambassadors and colleagues who were in the early stages of their careers, some of whom went on to become presidents, prime ministers and ministers.
I encountered some difficulties, but mostly because of my age. However, my courage and knowledge of the topics secured a berth for me in the field. Since the first day of my professional life and up to this moment, I have held firm to the principles of lifelong learning, remembering lessons learned, and acquiring intimate knowledge of the topics I write and talk about. These principles help me to obtain more information, which I check thoroughly to verify its accuracy. Professional journalists do not stop at obtaining the news and are expected to check it exhaustively and seek additional sources for verification. This is what compelled my associates to take me seriously.
Al-Shorfa: What personality trait contributes to your persistence?
Dergham: Boldness. I am a person who draws up a strategy to follow in her work. I realized that if I put my foot in the door, no one will shut it in my face. I also perform many functions in the profession. My weekly column in al-Hayat newspaper puts me in the role of a reporter, which allows me to stay abreast of world developments, obtain information, and understand what is happening behind the scenes. This allows me to examine the issues in depth and search for solutions. I also follow the daily news by talking to ambassadors and spokespersons, attending ambassador meetings, accepting their invitations, and meeting them at lunches and dinners to learn what is happening behind the scenes.
Al-Shorfa: Is your social life inseparable from your professional life?
Dergham: My social life is connected to my work. I am known as a political animal, one who loves politics but does not want to be a politician. Ambassadors and diplomats are comfortable with me and consider me one of them. They treat me as a columnist, not as a reporter in pursuit of a story.
Al-Shorfa: Can it be said that luck helped you to achieve your status?
Dergham: Yes. I started my journalism career at the age of 15, and I met poets, writers, and journalists during journalism's golden age. After that, my writing was published in al-Hasnaa magazine, then the al-Anwar newspaper supplement with the Dar al-Sayyad publishing house in Lebanon. I was known as a young writer and poet. At the United Nations, my professionalism enhanced the reputation of Lebanese and Arab journalism and elevated them to new heights. Foreigners had to take me seriously, notably every secretary-general and his staff.
Al-Shorfa: What do you attribute this treatment to?
Dergham: I attribute it to the fact that I have practiced my profession in depth from the start. I never practiced journalism for the sake of news gathering, but focused on news analysis that digs to the depth of the issues. Today, I deal with news like a novice. Because I am inquisitive by nature, I do not take what is said at face value but seek multiple sources, and then I write the news of the day, which to me is a vital part of my weekly column. I am well known for this level of professionalism, which has earned me recognition as the most seasoned and foremost Lebanese journalist at the United Nations.
I am often asked about the secret of my longevity, and I reply that it is the fact that I immerse myself in the news that I am covering to the point that when I comment on an Iraqi event on television, viewers think I am an Iraqi. The same thing happens when I comment on Palestinian events. I am a columnist, and my mission is to influence my readership. If I do not express my views with passion, how would I persuade others?
Al-Shorfa: In your opinion, has the concept of journalism changed?
Dergham: Our world today is dominated by blog- and Twitter-driven new media that many believe will supersede traditional media in terms of content. But I am not convinced of this, and I do not say this in defence of newspapers, but to underscore the need for depth and responsible thinking that writing a news item and a column require.
On Twitter, people write whatever comes to mind. Where is the responsibility in presenting an idea in one sentence summarising what would take a full column to express? Twitter played a helpful role in the Arab awakening in terms of enabling people to participate in the events that were taking place. As 'social media' it became a news source for people whereby the citizen became a participant in a news event.
Blogging is a discipline that is different than ours as professionals. Bloggers write whatever comes to mind without verification while members of our profession seek confirmation of a news item's accuracy from at least two sources.
Beware of the pitfalls because the media environment is still unsettled. I believe that whatever we do and wherever we are, [we should seek] what I refer to as 'substance'. We cannot continue to deal in 'nonsense'.