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Alumni profile: Betsy Joles thrives as a freelance reporter covering conflict zones, pandemic

By CHARITY NYARAYI MATIZANADZO

Global Business Journalism reporter

 

The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about the sustainability of a career in journalism. The closing of newsrooms and furloughing of staff has left journalism students struggling to navigate an uncertain future.

 

But one recent Global Business Journalism program graduate, Betsy Joles, has discovered a path forward. The 26-year-old from the United States has carved out a thriving career as a freelance journalist across Asia specializing in the human side of war and the aftermath of conflicts. Equally adept at words and images, her multimedia work has appeared on well-known global news platforms including Bloomberg News, Foreign Policy, NPR, The Economist, Al Jazeera, Politico, and CNN.

 

“It is very hard to make a living as a freelancer,” said GBJ Professor Lee Miller, the editor-at large and chart of the day columnist for Bloomberg News. “But the fact that Bloomberg has also used her photos in very competitive market spaces says she has a lot of talent and has an eye for the story.”

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Joles has family members spread across the American Midwest. She grew up swimming and fishing in Wisconsin, which she calls her second home.

She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in International and Global Studies. Joles admits that her career change to journalism was prompted by her curiosity to gain practical experience during the Syrian refugee crisis, which she had learned of in her undergraduate classes.

She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in 

Betsy Joles.jpg

International and Global Studies. Joles admits that her career change to journalism was prompted by her curiosity to gain practical experience during the Syrian refugee crisis, which she had learned of in her undergraduate classes.

 

“I moved to Turkey during my junior year of college with vague aspirations of becoming a documentary photographer,” Joles said. “After some months of uncertainty and confusion, I started a photo project documenting the integration of Syrian refugees into Turkish society.”

 

The field experience changed her career path.

“I was struck with a clear realization that I wanted to approach humanitarian issues at eye level, instead of from a bird’s eye view,” she said. “Journalism felt like the most authentic way for me to understand complex lived experiences without demeaning them.”

With her passion in sync with her career, she began to cover stories “on the aftermath of conflict and the human side of geopolitics in the Middle East and East Asia.” Joles expanded her knowledge and skill set, as her work was published on international media platforms.

 

She enrolled in the Master of Arts in Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University in September 2018. She credits the program as an avenue that allowed her to “live and report in China – one of the most challenging places in the world to do journalism.”

 

The move to China, like any of her international experiences, presented her with a chance to own her career.

“I got to cover some of the biggest news events of my life from the epicenter, with the safety net of Tsinghua underneath me,” she added.

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