They Told Her to Stick to the Small Stuff

She Chose Another Story

March 2, 2020

Melis carved out her place in a male-dominated newsroom. Now she’s shining a light on the often invisible issues women face.

Melis Alphan | Journalist and Author | Istanbul, Turkey

WHEN YOUR CALLING FINDS YOU

Melis Alphan sort of fell into journalism. She had just returned to Turkey with a design degree…and no desire to become a designer. In the midst of some post-grad soul searching, she picked up a gig writing fashion articles for a small magazine.

Her editor (a woman) spotted talent immediately. Melis was thoughtful, instinctive, and had a natural curiosity to see stories through—she had the makings of a journalist. A month or two later, Melis’ editor approached her with a surprising proposition: to come with her to be a staff reporter at ​Radikal​, a national daily newspaper.

LET THE BIG BOYS WRITE THE BIG STORIES

It took Melis a while to convince herself (and her peers) that she was an actual journalist. “For many years, I couldn’t say that I was a journalist…I always felt that I had to earn that title,” Melis recalls. The Turkish news industry was dominated by men at the time, and female journalists were expected to cover the fluff pieces. So Melis cut her teeth on fashion and pop gossip beats.

Meanwhile, deeper stories were brewing in her mind. “I felt that I wasn’t reporting on the real problems,” Melis says. And yet, real problems were going unreported all around her. Melis began to go after them. She traveled to Western Turkey to interview the victims of destructive mining projects. She wrote the stories of women in domestically violent situations, gradually earning more prominent spots in the paper. Older male peers pushed back, telling her to stick to fashion. She pushed on, and let her work speak for itself.

After years of writing, Melis became one of the few reporters in Turkey (male or female) to write a regular column in a national newspaper. And, she earned a long list of industry awards to go with it.

TELLING THE HIDDEN STORIES

Melis has worked for years to earn her title in a male-dominated field. And while many would shy away from being pigeonholed into covering “female” topics, Melis uses her hard-earned voice to tell the stories that only women can tell—stories that have been historically ignored by the press.

“I try to be a voice for the voiceless…as a woman, it is definitely easier to talk to girls in general, especially the ones who’ve been subjected to sexual abuse in a conservative society,” she says. In her nearly twenty years of reporting, Melis has brought culturally-taboo topics like domestic violence and gender equality to the forefront of Turkey’s national conversation.

And she hasn’t stopped there. In 2019, Melis released her third book,​ I Will – Inspiring Life Stories​, a collection of profiles featuring girls breaking into different fields of achievement. She writes,

“I want to encourage all the girls in Turkey that they ‘can do it’ too.”

WORDS OF WISDOM

About work:

I think my biggest accomplishment is doing my job properly…standing on the right side of history, [and] staying honest and trustworthy as a journalist.

To girls who want to be journalists:

Pursue the truth no matter what. Don’t be afraid of telling the truth. Never get discouraged by what men say.

To the women of the world:

Speak up. Ask for equality, because it’s your right.

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