How studying Middle East Politics helped my career as a BBC journalist

BBC journalist based in Jordan, Layla Bashar Al-Kloub, spoke to us about her time studying at SOAS as a Chevening Scholar, how it helped her career and what she’d advise aspiring journalists.

Headshot of Layla Bashar Al-Kloub

While studying architecture at the University of Jordan, I was really influenced by the Arab Spring and what was happening in the region. I realised journalism was what I wanted to do in my life, so I decided to refocus my education and career. After completing a Master's degree and working as a programme producer for a local TV channel in Jordan, I became a journalist at BBC News Arabic. Working at the BBC was a dream come true for me. 

As a journalist, I knew I wanted to focus on politics. That's why I applied for a Chevening Scholarship to study MSc Politics of the Middle East at SOAS before returning to work as a Senior Online Journalist at BBC News Arabic in Jordan. 

My one year at SOAS was a life-changing experience

My one year at SOAS was a life-changing experience. SOAS gave me a different perspective on politics in the Middle East. In the classroom, my reaction was often, "I knew that, but wow, I didn't think about it like that!" 

SOAS changed my perspective on how to analyse. It taught me not only to ask 'why' things happen but also to ask what systems were behind the 'why'. Before SOAS, I was a journalist with writing and interviewing skills. However, SOAS gave me additional skills to write analytical stories. From our assignments and research, I can now analyse different points of view and evaluate the background behind the news.

I took one course on Market Politics with Dr Sarah El-Kazaz, which was one of the most eye-opening. We studied the economy of the Middle East and how it's related to politics in a way that I have never thought of before. I now always think of politics and economics intertwined. It was challenging, and that's why I think I learned a lot. 

In the classroom, my reaction was often, "I knew that, but wow, I didn't think about it like that!" 

My dissertation also taught me a lot as a journalist. Writing and interviewing people for my dissertation 'Jordan's Arab Spring: A Comparative Analysis of Social Media's Impact on the 2011 and 2018 Uprisings', supervised by Professor Dina Matar, helped me to differentiate between journalistic interviews and interviews for research purposes. It also allowed me to interview eyewitnesses and high-profile people, which was an interesting learning journey. 

In London, I expanded my network in the Middle East

SOAS is a small international community where you can meet the world. I met a lot of people who were really active in their countries, and I learned a lot from them. I was even able to expand my network in the Middle East while in London.

When I went to SOAS, I was thankful every day that I didn't go to another university because I believe this is where you can study the Middle East from the best of Middle Eastern academics and with people from the region.

My course was really well designed. I believe that professors at SOAS were, as we say in Arabic, 'الشخص المناسب في المكان المناسب (Alshakhs almonaseb fe almakan almonaseb)', which is roughly translated as 'the right people in the right place'.

My advice for getting into journalism

Journalism is not an easy field to get into. If you want to enter this field, you need to be proactive. You may need to write for free sometimes just to learn and build your portfolio so you can apply for a well-established organisation.

This is where you can study the Middle East from the best of Middle Eastern academics and with people from the region.

However, nowadays, we have a lot of platforms that we can use as junior journalists to expand our network and publish our material. Use the tools available and always consider freelancing at the beginning. You can always contact people in other countries to write for them. This is the easiest beginning for someone who can't enter directly into a well-established organisation. Be proactive and draw your own path.

My hopes for the future 

As a journalist, I hope that the world in general and the Middle East specifically will become a better place for journalists. Today, we can see that they are targeted, attacked, and killed. I hope that the world understands that journalists are not targets; they are risking their lives to do their jobs, and they deserve to be protected and respected.

On a personal level, I am looking forward to giving back to my country and my people and producing more important stories from Jordan and the Middle East, not only online but on different platforms. I am also looking forward to entering the documentary film field and continuing my academic path as a researcher and writer.

Photo credit: Sam McGhee via Unsplash