Tribute to a NZ media mentor: ‘How Yasmine Ryan taught me how to write’

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Yasmine Ryan, an award-winning New Zealand journalist who died tragically on Thursday, was the first Western journalist to begin writing about the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia in 2011. This video interview was with media commentator Gavin Ellis last month. Video: The Spinoff

By Murat Sofuoglu in Istanbul

I have no idea how to say goodbye to Yasmine Ryan. It’s been two days since she passed away here in Istanbul. My mind is flooded with memories of her and it’s incredibly hard to stop thinking about her.

I met Yasmine in Istanbul last December. She was new to the city, hoping to start another chapter of her career as a senior features editor at TRT World. She handpicked a team of reporters for the Magazine section and I happened to be one of them.

I had almost no experience in narrative writing. But as Yasmine came in to her element, I felt I was in safe hands.

A woman with a gentle soul and generous heart, Yasmine never hesitated from helping journalists like me. In the first month, I found myself struggling to craft a compact feature length article, even though over time I had developed a comprehensive understanding over many social and political issues.

She mentored me for almost a year. Though her editorial touch was tender, she was bold enough to test my abilities. If my story lacked a strong introduction, she would tell me straight, “Murat, you need to rewrite your introduction.”

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If a story lacked coherent framing, she would ask me to report more until I felt confident enough to write about the subject.

She edited tirelessly, fact-checked stories and sent notes until she felt certain that the piece had all the essential details necessary for a strong feature.

Fixing errors
She never showed any discomfort while fixing errors in my drafts and often responded with refined questions and solutions as well. Even when pointing out flaws in the copy I felt like she was gently tapping my head, not taking a sledgehammer to my work, to teach me what was wrong with my writing.

When I wrote long articles, which sometimes crossed the 2500-word mark, she would put her left hand on her forehead and say “Oh my God!” But she was always quick to lift my mood with a smile.

“Okay, we’ll take care it,” she would say.

She never antagonised me or “killed” my piece.

When it came to editing a sentence, she never touched or altered my voice as a writer, which is a core part of any writer’s identity.

She was respectful toward peoples’ voices and identities. She was proud of her family history, and her Irish-Catholic roots. She often recounted the story of her great grandparents, who survived British brutalities during World War I.

She perceived the British Empire’s so-called assimilation policy as a tool to erase Irish identity. Perhaps that’s what informed her careful approach as an editor that preferred to give weight to the writer’s voice, and not to general elements of style.

Armed with facts
Yasmine encouraged us to improve, insisting that we write more, and to always be armed with facts. She taught me that there was no shame in getting it wrong, as long as we were ready to work towards making it right.

On some occasions, I felt I had a valid point in my argument, but would later realise I was wrong and she was right.

Now with the news of her death, I wish I could be wrong one more time.

More than making me a better writer, she has made me a better person.

I still find it hard to comrehend, or process, that she’s no more. We are not only deprived of her brilliant journalism but also of her generosity and selflessness.

To know she’s gone forever, feels like a life sentence. We should feel sorry for ourselves, not for her. The world is certainly not a better place without her.

I pray her great spirit enlightens us forever.

Rest in peace, Yasmine.

And please forgive us.

Murat Sofuoglu is a journalist with TRT World and tweets at @Readingavenue.

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