Youngest U.S. Newspaper Bureau Chief Hannah Allam

Imagine engaging in dialogue with communities from the most war torn cities around the globe, documenting international affairs as they happen by the minute, and country-hopping to more than a dozen locales annually. Imagine these opportunities as your full time job! For Hannah Allam, age 29,Cairo Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers, this is the reality that’s helped effectively encapsulate world events for the domestic audience. Covering events in the Middle East and the Islamic World, Hannah’s reporting brings the ravages and spectacles of war a bit closer to home helping readers better understand the true meaning of conflict and combat. As the youngest bureau chief for an American newspaper, Hannah may have a lot to prove, but if her professional history is any sign of future achievements, Hannah’s most likely to run her own newspaper chain by age 30. Read on in this week’s Young & Professional Profile to learn how this once fully veiled journalist has a never-ending beat and a constantly unfolding story.

About the company

The best thing about McClatchy (Knight Ridder) Newspapers is that my bosses aren’t afraid to take chances to improve our coverage, or find ways to engage readers. They hired me at age 25 to build and lead their biggest foreign bureau, which is in Baghdad. The job came with huge risks, as well as rewards. Back in the Washington bureau, our reporters were breaking the first stories to poke holes in the Bush administration’s pre-war intelligence. In Baghdad, we broke news and offered readers a close-to-the-ground look at what life is like for Iraqis. This comprehensive approach to the war garnered us several industry awards and, we hope, brought home the war in a way to which Americans can relate.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

My coverage area is the entire Middle East, including Iran, the Gulf States, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and North Africa. With so many countries on my “beat,” I constantly monitor the news wires, such as AP and Reuters, to check for breaking news. It’s a very fast-paced, competitive and demanding job which is totally unpredictable. This past summer, for example, the Middle East erupted with a number of conflicts and controversies, so I spent several months on the road. I covered the Islamist takeover in Mogadishu, the Iranian nuclear crisis, the Kuwaiti elections, and the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the past year alone, I’ve traveled through Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Austria, England, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Most notable milestones

My biggest career milestone was becoming the Baghdad Bureau Chief at age 25, making me the youngest bureau chief in the American newspaper industry. It was an enormous responsibility. Journalism often took second place to security concerns because of our location in one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. We went on to win several awards, including Journalist of the Year 2004 from the National Association of Black Journalists, the award for Best Reporting from Abroad 2005 from the Overseas Press Club, and a string of Knight Ridder Excellence Awards, as well as the John S. Knight Gold Medal.

What’s the niche?

Unlike most American reporters covering the Middle East, I am from this region and spent my most formative years here. I am also a Muslim, which helps with trust and access in some wary communities. I think my cultural background really helps open doors and contributes to the fair and balanced coverage of a highly controversial region.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Security! There are so many important stories to be told in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and several other nations, but the Middle East is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist. Apart from the car bombings in Iraq and assassinations in Lebanon, the state security forces of several of these countries intimidate, harass and arrest journalists who uncover corruption or other scandals.

What’s in store for the future?

I would love to continue living in Egypt and covering the entire region. There is a lot of lives and resources at stake in the Middle East, and I hope to keep reporting stories from here for a long time to come.