I was a student at Columbia Journalism School in 2005 when David Remnick of The New Yorker visited our class one evening. In response to a question about his magazine's Iran coverage, he unwittingly gave me an idea that led to the launch of TehranBureau.com late last year.
"No one has a bureau in Tehran," he said, explaining why he thought there was a dearth of in-depth reporting from my motherland. "No one has a full-fledged bureau in Iran."
So it was that a classmate and I set out to create one. But the more we looked into it, the more it made sense not to actually be there -- not initially anyway, even if we could. To be based in Tehran, even to travel there as a journalist, you have to play politics. Playing politics means you have to constantly censor yourself. You have to be careful what issues you choose to cover and what you say about any subject you do cover because you don't want to lose your access, or land in jail. You are likely to have to work with a semiofficial minder or show your articles to an agent from the intelligence ministry before it is published. I was once offered access to any official I wanted, if I were willing to submit. I declined.
Nothing new there, of course. But as we saw in the post-election unrest, factions of the same government are fiercely at war. The tension has been palatable for quite some time, but now Iran's internal political war is being waged in the open.
In setting up Tehran Bureau, it was important to me that we not become an opposition magazine. From the very beginning, we reached out to hard-liners and reformists alike. We sought out accreditation from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Lacking a track record, however, or a budget to print a newspaper or a magazine, we did not fall under its purview.