In true S&F style, we’re bringing you another interview — featuring one of the finest from the Iranian American community:
ADAM/NIMA POURAHMADI: BRILLIANT. MOTIVATED. HOTTERTHANADOCTOR.
The kind of guy you can bring home to your Daddy joon, not just because he’s smart, but because he’s already achieved SO MUCH and at such a young age. And apparently, we aren’t the only ones who think so– check him out on “The Men of AJE.”
I met Nima by chance through the wonderful world of Twitter — during our first meeting at Starbucks, I was in complete and utter awe at how intelligent and kind he is. Not only, one of the sweetest guys I’ve met on the East Coast but, how many 22-year-olds do you know who’ve already worked at two major media organizations? He was so easy to talk to and instantly made ME feel comfortable enough to be myself. Nima is charismatic and is truly making Iroonis proud everywhere.
Did I mention he’s a freaking cuuuuutie? Sorry Nima, I’m not a playa, I just crush a lot.
- Tell me about yourself…
I was born in a small Illinois town, population was like 30,000 or so- surrounded by corn fields, so definitely not the typical Iranian American upbringing by any means, but we had a lot of family friends in Chicago. My father was the president of the Persian Educational Cultural Society and that was my exposure to the Iranian American community in Chicago on the weekends.
The Persian Educational Society was this group of Iranian expats that would get together one Friday night every month. They would have speakers and the kids would go to something similar to Sunday school- where they learned to read and write, and talked about the culture and played games. That is where I learned how to read initially and then I continued my lessons every summer when I went back to Iran.
In Iran, I studied Farsi for two summers at Dehkhoda. It was single-handedly the coolest experience I had in iran. Dehkhoda is an international school for expats, and for those who are interested in Iran and Persian culture. Classes were for three hours in the morning and then they give you the rest of the afternoon to explore. My classmates were from all over the world– Korea, Japan, Colombia, Venezuela, etc. You just meet incredible people, and you can go explore Tehran together.
- What was the most valuable thing you learned at Dehkhoda?
The most valuable thing I learned there is just being able to connect with other Iranians. Many Iranians try to break away from the stereotype of Iran– in terms of proving how modern we can be and how we can party. Like when Nick Kristof went to Iran, we expect him to say, “oh, these people are just like you too.”
The most important thing about going back to Iran is learning to understand more of the culture and background of the country.
That’s something that’s really important for Iranian Americans– to explore the cultural and religious side of Iran. It’s really hard to grow up in America with a western and liberal outlook on things, and then having to work to break through and understand that side– especially when you’re not exposed to it on a daily basis.
The last time I went to Iran was summer 2010- and I’m dying to go back.
- What is your favorite memory of Iran?
When I was growing up, we would go to Iran either every two years or four years. In college, I went every year because I was studying the region and I had this great resource where I could experience it firsthand. I was there during the election and I voted during the election in 2009.
I was there during the 2009 presidential elections firsthand to witness everything.
Being there during the elections really left an impression on me, not only on the domestic politics, but also on the way it was reported on. While I was there, I was reading western media sources, which was kinda crazy if you think about it because what they were reporting wasn’t the the reality of what I was witnessing on the ground. I think the protest movement was overly hyped up in the West in a way that wasn’t reflective of what I was witnessing on the ground. I work in social media and I realize how difficult it is to penetrate Iran from the outside.
I’ll never forget waking up in the middle of the night and hearing people chant Allah Akbar.
You never hear that sort of defiance– it never registers before, but hearing it on that mass scale in Tehran was really shocking.
As Iranian Americans, we have this notion that Iran is a very modern and secular place but at the same time, that notion only represents a segment of Iran and it’s that part of Iran that we identify with the most because it’s harder for us to understand other segments of the population that are perhaps more prevalent: the religious aspects to Iran, the segment of the population that does support the government and has benefitted from it.
It’s more difficult for Iranian Americans to see that segment of Iran as a legitimate part of Iran. That’s something that I’ve developed over time by going back in the summers and delving into that segment of the society.
- How have you been able to overcome any challenges with the cultural conflict of being Iranian American?
I went to middle school/high school in a really small town and I was typically traveling in the summers- people always wanted to know where I was going and why I was going there. I took it upon myself to educate and talk about my Iranian side a lot. In college, I just didn’t bring it up as much anymore even though I was going to the region more.
My American name is Adam. My legal name in Iran is Nima. But my family here and in Iran call me Adam. In college, when I enrolled at Dehkhoda, my friends there called me Nima and it just stuck. So people in the U.S. started calling me Nima too.
I think its funny that my friends call me Nima, but my family calls me Adam.
- How did you get into journalism?
I attended American University in Washington D.C. and I studied International Relations. I graduated in three years because of AP courses I took in high school. After graduating, I got an amazing internship at AL JAZEERA English in the D.C. Bureau working on a show called The Stream.
As an intern, I was responsible for booking, pre-interviewing guests, background research on the shows, and social media. It was my first introduction to journalism- I never studied it or worked with it in college- and it combined everything I loved to do, which was international politics, writing about it and interviewing people who were in the story.
- How did you get hired at Al Jazeera?
I formed a close mentorship with my professor at American University, Hillary Mann-Leverett and even helped her and her husband, Flynt research their book Going to Tehran.
She recommended me for the internship– I learned a tremendous amount from them about geo-politics. I owe a lot to them- they’ve been a mentor to me.
So then, from the internship and through contacts I made at Al Jazeera, I got to go to Doha for a month and work at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival– I was an associate producer there responsible for social media for the film festival and got to meet people like Robert DeNiro. It was an amazing experience. Doha is an incredible city and it was cool to be at the forefront of Arab cinema.
- What is your favorite memory from working at Al Jazeera?
My favorite memory from AJE was being at headquarters in Doha when news broke that Gaddafi was killed last October. I was in the master control room and it was so intense seeing the news come in before it was broadcasted out to the entire world. The producers were running around trying to figure out exactly how to break the news while the anchor in Tripoli was briefing them on all the conflicting reports he had. High intensity stuff.
There was also an episode I worked on about Bahrain where we had the Finance Minister on the show and we were transmitting in real time shots of activists being tear-gased on the streets of Bahrain. That kind of interaction is incredibly rare in media and it was one of the unique things in the show. Coincidentally, we had another show on Bahrain, which I also worked on– and is now nominated for an Emmy. (Check out the show here).
I’m 22 and I’ve worked on an Emmy-nominated show.
- What will you be doing at Huffington Post?
After Doha, I worked as an associate producer for The Stream at Al Jazeera in DC for six months. Huffington Post liked what we were doing at The Stream and wanted to apply it to the American market. They had support and many resources, and their vision was more expansive than Al Jazeera. They wanted to produce this idea of democratized and participatory media on a national scale, which basically takes the idea of cable news and throws it out the window– because it’s “disruptive.”
At HuffPost Live, they want to give ordinary people a voice from their homes or from wherever they are to tell a story. HuffPost Live wants to give the people the platform to air their voice– so no more talking heads, no more pundits, it’s the people who are actually involved in the real stories.
It’s incredible to be able to work at the forefront of this new media.
- Did you interview with Arianna Huffington?
She interviews everyone she hires, which I think is a testament to how involved she is in her projects. She has an amazing personality and is incredibly invested in her projects.
- What advice do you have for people breaking into the industry?
Definitely have an opinion and write down your thoughts- blog, tweet, don’t be afraid of letting your views be known. I think the reason why people are successful in getting hired by these outlets is because they are not afraid to do what they know and become invested in the stories. I never studied journalism, but I was also not afraid to exercise my editorial judgement openly. Twitter is an amazing platform to interact with people you might get hired by one day. We hired people at Al Jazeera because of their social media presence.
- With sanctions increasing, Apple discrimination, and newfound Iranophobia, what do you think is the most effective way for Iranians to deal with this?
The best thing we can do is make sure a unified voice is heard whether that’s through organizations like NIAC who are more political, or organizations like IAAB- who focus more on building the community. I think the community can really benefit from these type of organizations.
Protest if necessary, write op’eds, make sure your voice is heard, EDUCATE.
- What kind of reform do you see happening in Iran?
I think reform is ongoing– it has occurred over the last 30 years and even more so in the last year alone. It’s important to understand first the cultural and religious context of Iran. Keep your ears open for reforms– within the last year, the penal code was just reformed- sentencing laws have changed. Controversial issues like stoning and execution of minors have now been clarified.
- Was it a big adjustment to move from a small city to DC/NY?
I lived in a small town, but grew up with Chicago nearby, and traveling internationally at a young age helped because I felt pretty independent so it wasn’t much of a shock to move to D.C. for college. I’ve always had a great sense of adventure and exploring. It’s fun for me to walk around a new city, get lost, and find my way around.
- Did your parents ever give you the sex talk?
My parents were incredibly lenient. They instilled the notion that you are what you make of yourself. I couldn’t get to where I am without the support of my parents. At the same time, they were never going to give me a second chance. If I got in trouble, they weren’t going to give me the bail out.
They gave me a lot of room– with friends and dating. They were never controlling of my life. We never had the sex talk- not because it was taboo or anything– we just didn’t talk about it.
- What are three things you value most in life?
(1). Fessenjoon (obvi).
(2). Subversion– I like to challenge people. I like to challenge narratives and get people to think critically.
(3). Having fun. It’s important to keep an open mind. Journalism can get so depressing sometimes and so intense, it’s important to remember to have fun.
- What advice do you have for the younger generation of Iranian Americans?
Be as independent as possible.
I know it can be difficult when juggling familial and community pressure- but pursue your interests and the hobbies that interest YOU.
- How do you like your Fessenjoon?
I like my Fessenjoon meaty!
Follow Nima on Twitter: @ANPOUR