Why I Want to Be a Journalist

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the essay of a $500 scholarship winner, by Nidah Chatriwala, on the subject “Why I Want to Be a Journalist.” She received a $500 scholarship.

By Nidah Chatriwala

I want to be a journalist for many reasons, but before we jump into the reasons why, let me share with you the first moment I was given the hint of having a career in this field. I remember clearly even today, I used to read the Fun Times, a children’s newspaper in Saudi Arabia. In one of their issues they had given examples of few careers for children to ponder about and one of them was journalist. Without a second thought I laid my finger on it and screamed confidently, “that’s what I want to be!” Then in high school my influential teachers gave birth to my hidden talent, which has today become my companion in life, writing. Then came time for graduating high school and I had couple of ideas for my career since freshmen year which changed from being an actor to an interior designer then a psychologist and finally, a journalist. 

I wanted to be a journalist and I didn’t have a solid reason to support my decision. This led to my research in the career and I discovered how a specialization in journalism gelled with my skills and personality. I believe journalism is the perfect career for me because of the certain mindset, personality, and skills it requires; basically it requires me. There are four sections that complete the soul of a journalist, which are communication, discipline, problem-solving skills, and working with people.

To be interested into the journalism path, one must have considered achievement and independence important. They must possess artistic abilities such as working with artistic forms because it gives them freedom to be expressive. Having an investigative personality is an important trait of a true journalist as they to search for facts and figure out solutions to problems with their minds. Journalists have strong enterprising skills because they carry the trait of strong leadership into creating and carrying out projects. Of course having the sense of recognition and support from co-workers and employers is intensely important to me and to a journalist; this description of a journalist equals me.

Skills which I am graciously gifted to be a journalist are:  to be comfortable with the inspiring language of English, competent with the use of the latest computer and other technologies, being aware of the shared link between communications and media, and administrative and management abilities.

These are the qualities that are combined to build a sensational journalist today. Though I am capable of all specializations of journalism, I have chosen public relations.

I chose public relations because I believe that I contain the necessary skills this department requires. I encompass enthusiastic presentation skills with an obsession for planning, which is beneficial in managing events for my clients. My communication skills can assist me in retrieving clear expectations from my clients to creating and maintaining cooperative relationships. My artistic flare can visually show my clients their idea in action. My partnership with goodwill will magically transform my clients’ image positively. My editorial skills can mechanically flow the information to other media outlets or to create speeches. My business side can market an idea or a product with fresh techniques to profit the client.

I strongly believe that, especially in today’s time, we need more Muslims in this field because due to the damage media has already done on the peaceful image of Islam, it needs to be cleared. Successful and positive examples need to be illuminated by the media to show what Islam really is, and who Muslims really are. Muslim journalists need to work as public relations examples of Islam, to promote its true message with facts and successful examples.

A few serious issues our Muslim American community faces today are the fear of hiring a Muslim for a job and being stereotyped. To address these conflicts we need to unite as a Muslim community and work together living proudly under the freedom this nation has provided us with. We must raise our voices together to get action on our views, but most of all, we need to become good Muslims. That is because we need to win Allah on our side first and we can do that by practicing our religion and sharing knowledge with each other.

If Allah is on our side then nothing is impossible. To solve the Islamphobia, we as Muslims should unite, become good Muslims, and promote Islam in our communities. We should participate in our local events, spread knowledge to our non-Muslim brothers and sisters, and invite them to learn about our religion, but most importantly we as Muslim journalist should promote Islam.

One issue close to my heart is the treatment us Muslim women get, who wear the hijab, at the workplace. In my experience, I have received the skeptical stares, unfair questions, and difficulty in being hired for a job position. I have heard from my Muslim sisters that at times their employers asked them to take off their hijabs and these situations have been mishandled to even leading to a lawsuit against the employer, but in majority of the cases the employer agreed to have the Muslim sister to continue to wear her hijab after a religious explanation. Once again it narrows down to spreading knowledge of Islam for a clear and better understanding of who we are.

One of the aspects of today’s media that irritates me is the choice of words they invent while referring to the terrorists; for example, the Islamic fundamentalists, the extremists, the Islamic world or the Muslim world. These terms are used to describe terrorists and their destructive activities or train of thought the Muslim dictator of a country’s viewpoint. This is unfair and unethical. These terms should be taken out immediately because Islam has no relation to terrorists and their tactics or to the political ideas the Middle Eastern countries’ president has.

Muslims need to participate in debates and policy-making events because it’s important–not because it’s a right which we have earned as citizens of this nation, but because we need to make our government to remember that it in itself is nothing without the people. We the people run these nations and the government should abide by justice, organize itself with a president, who declares the majority ruling. The government has its own ways of checking itself and the president, but we the people have the power over all. So we Muslims should show our community power by participating in our governmental hearings, most importantly make our votes count, and take part in politics.

We Muslim Americans can relate to other Muslims in other parts of the world by the beautiful faith we share between us.

We all have our own share of difficulties we have to pass through in our lives every day. We all surrender to one and only god, Allah. We all bow our heads down towards the Ka’aba five times a day. We fast during the month of Ramadan together. We all make a goal of performing hajj at least once in our lifetime. We both give charity and offer help to the poor. These five pillars of Islam, belief in Allah, and our daily hurdles, bring us on the common ground of hope and friendship between each other. Not only that, we are all brothers and sisters in Islam, who were created out of Adam–we worship Allah, and follow our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (s) teachings.

We Muslim Americans are already a part of the American pluralism. We have the most diversity of people in our religion, we follow the religion which is the solution for humanity, we have been taught to tolerate and bear with patience when treated unfairly and we learned to accept and offer help to each other. We strive to reach a common ground of agreement between each other. Our social societies promote positive energy with rules and guidance provided by the best sources such as the Qur`an, hadiths, and Allah’s blessings. We blend and accept each other’s culture. We can create an example of a perfect society.

In conclusion, I believe that more than ever before we are in strong need of Muslim journalists and opportunities to fund our education should be highly created especially for this area of study.

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Journalism: An Islamic Perspective

May 6, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By Musa Odeh

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the essay of a $500 scholarship winner, by Musa Odeh, on the subject “Journalism:  An Islamic Perspective.” He received a $500 scholarship.

Moosesuit

It was the morning of September 11, 2001.  Hijackers overtook a commercial plane and smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.  As the world watched the building diminish and burn to the ground, a second airplane collided into the south tower like a guided missile in a war zone.  It took two hours, and the World Trade Center was no more. The attacks of September  11th would be remembered forever as the worst attack on U.S. soil.  The World Trade Center would never be the same again. The United States would never be the same again. The world would never be the same again. Islam would never be the same again.

My life changed on September 11th as the U.S. launched a “War on Terrorism.”   The media began to portray Islam as an enemy towards mankind, especially here in the West.  Islam was the new face of the public enemy, and this was not justified.  False portrayals of Muslims as terrorists forced me to take action.  The word “terrorism” has become a synonym to “Islam.” 

I have taken it upon myself to prove otherwise.  I feel it is my obligation to show the other side of the story.  It is my calling to battle skewed reports and unbalanced coverage of Muslims in the media.  It is my job to shed light on the truth.  In a time of war and hate crimes against Muslims, it is I who shall show the world the truth–by fighting and battling–because in the end, the pen is mightier than the sword.

When I was younger, my mother used to tell me to pick my battles and choose them wisely.  If something was not a good idea to pursue, she would tell me, “This is not your fight.  Let it go.”  She also taught me to never start a fight I couldn’t finish.  I never really understood her advice until today.  Showing the world the truth and reporting the facts is my fight.  It is a battle I wisely choose to fight and it is definitely my struggle.  This is a fight I will not back down from and I am determined to stand tall because I cannot be defeated in this fight.

I chose to be a journalist because I want to be an advocate for Islam and show the true meaning of the religion from a broad perspective.  Islam has been covered in the media through a tainted and biased lens and I feel that journalism chose me, to find the stories that dig deeper into human interest and show the truth of Islam and its followers.  When I watch the news, I feel so much more strongly about this cause.  I feel it is my duty to speak on behalf of the oppressed Muslims who are portrayed as monsters, the law abiding, hard working Muslims who are looked down upon because of their faith. 

I want to become a journalist because I enjoy learning and interacting with people.  I would write and report stories that show people something they did not know before reading my piece.  It is my goal to report the story that nobody else has ever thought of.  The story is not about me, it’s about the people I am interviewing. The story is also about the communities I am working for.  I want to publicize the stories of the little people, who without me would not have had their story told to the world or their voices heard.   Helping people and communities is all the compensation and reward I need for being a journalist.  My long term goal is to win a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenal work I have done to help people tell their stories and to allow their voices to be heard.

By definition, a journalist is someone who gathers or broadcasts news to the public.  In all honesty, I feel there is no correct or accurate definition of the word “journalist.”  My ultimate goal is to find a job as a reporter and/or writer for the mainstream media of the U.S.  I want to bring out the truth and report stories that show the actual face of Islam and its followers.  For example, I would love to cover Muslims in the Dearborn area and show the world how Muslims live on a day to day basis, by showing that they have close family ties and work every day jobs.  It is my hope that the biased world would be able to relate and the “terrorist” image would begin to fade away.  I want to be the reporter who shows what Muslim life is actually like. Contrary to the western mentality of Muslims sitting around in “madrasas” all day plotting their next act of evil; when in reality, those thoughts are non-existent.

As a Muslim who tries his best to live his life by Islam, I feel that it is my responsibility and obligation to portray Islam in a positive light. I do that through my interactions with people on a daily basis by showing how Muslims deal with others in a kind and respectful manner. Islam was first spread by merchants who went to faraway lands that had never heard of Islam.  It is through their positive interactions with non-Muslim merchants and citizens that they influenced the communities they stumbled upon. 

When the followers of other religions witnessed the respectful, honest and fair ways of the Muslims they began to inquire about this religion.  The kindness of Islam draws people closer and closer to the religion.  Muslim merchants’ mannerisms were exemplary, to the point that it piqued people’s interest and motivated them to inquire about the religion.  That helped the spread of Islam.  Muslim merchants led by example and became ambassadors of Islam– as I plan to do in my daily works as a Muslim journalist—God willing.

Becoming a journalist is hard enough, but becoming a Muslim journalist is ten times harder.  A Muslim journalist must be perfect in every aspect of his job because his actions are already magnified from day one.  As a Muslim journalist, one will be criticized and ridiculed because of the religion he/she chooses to follow.  This forces the Muslim journalist to have thick skin and be flawless in the work of reporting, as well as extremely accurate with facts and sources.  A hiccup for a Muslim journalist is viewed as a heart attack to the rest of the world.  All eyes are on a Muslim when entering the world of journalism as a Muslim.

The biggest reason Muslims are hated in the eyes of the United States public is because of their ignorance which led them to learn the fear of Islam.  The best and most effective way to counter “Islamophobia” is by educating the public about the true essence of Islam.  It is the journalist’s job to be objective and tell the facts.  Educating the world about Islam and its followers will result in the world beginning to view the religion in a new light.

Islam teaches its followers to respect all religions and that should be included in some coverage.  Other coverage could detail stories of the Prophet Muhammed (s) and how he once passed a Bible on the ground and how he stopped to pick it up, teaching his companions that we should respect “their” book.  He respected the book and the people who follow it.  Islam also preaches being nice to your neighbors.  Why not find a story of a Christian family having nothing but good things to say about a neighboring Muslim household whom they have lived next to for 20 years? 

Little things can change the way the public views Islam, but as a Muslim journalist, my first job is to educate the public about Islam in direct and indirect ways.  One can counter ignorance by educating.  One can counter stereotypes by disproving them and showing they are not true.  We can counter “Islamophobia” by showing the public there is nothing to fear besides the biases of one nation.

Finally, I have not chosen journalism.  Journalism has chosen me.  I feel that I have been chosen to make a difference in this world and I will rise to the occasion.  I will use my skill in writing and my outspoken ways to serve Islam as journalist.  I ask the Almighty to grant me success in doing so.

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Why Do I Want to be a Journalist?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the second place essay, by Aysha Jamali, on the subject “Why do I want to be a journalist?” She received Second Prize, a $1,000 scholarship.

By Aysha Jamali

Aysha Jamali-photo A journalist strives, researches, listens and educates. A journalist’s role is vast and has been a necessary ingredient in society throughout the history of the world. Media influences what we know about the world around us, how we form our opinions on issues and which issues are the most important to us. A journalist’s responsibility is to report with the intention of being honest and fair in representing what goes on in the world. That is my interest: to uphold the duties of media’s mediators.

Wickham Steed, an editor of The Times of London, said that journalism is “something more than a craft, something other than an industry, something between art and a ministry.” It’s a field that requires skill and creativity, but it also requires a sense of obligation to the people. And there are several obligations.

One obligation of the journalist is to keep a check on those in power. Governments and corporate organizations are often in a position to abuse their power. They serve the larger population, but are often run by a smaller elite circle. “Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing” says that “democracy is the healthiest when the public is informed about the activities of captains of industry and chieftains in public office.” It is the journalist’s responsibility to scrutinize those captains and chieftains in the elite circle, so that the common people can have a say in their policies and the actions affecting them.

Journalists also look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. The minority always needs a spokesperson whether it’s a daughter who lost her father because of hospital malpractice, a school in a low-income district with no money for textbooks, or hundreds of upset and recently unemployed workers from a billion dollar company.

A journalist’s responsibility is also to provide the public with unbiased information on current issues. A decision is so difficult to make when both sides are white-washing and sugar-coating the truth. Journalists are there to investigate and determine accurate from inaccurate. They provide not only facts but the scoop behind the facts. Journalist T. D. Allman said, “Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right.” It’s with this type of fact-finding that people can make rational decisions.

Another role of the journalist is to bring to concern issues that are otherwise not discussed. In the book “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Bruce W. Sanford said that “most people would not see that they were being denied information about the world around them.” This requires the journalist to hunt for these hidden stories, and it can put the journalist at odds with bosses and peers. Stepping away from the mainstream is difficult but something a journalist should remember is often an obligation.

My background has taught me about the need for such responsibilities. My family and my Islamic faith have taught me that judging others is the wrong path to take since you don’t always know the whole story. I learned that what you hear is not always the truth, so you need to stay skeptical. I learned that there is always another opinion about a situation, so you need to stay open-minded. It’s because of this that I read about a war, a robbery or a movie release and I want to know what else is there that the media isn’t telling me. Did those people really initiate the shooting? Was that person trying to feed his family with the stolen money? Is this actor passionate about his role in the movie?

Beyond finding out the truth, I want to share the new ideas and incidents I discover. My question is always: why didn’t I know this before and why isn’t anyone spreading this around? I love a chance to sit down and hash out the day’s news. I relish the idea of communicating information to get myself and other people to think in different ways. It’s my inquisitive attitude and my itch to share information that attracted me to journalism.

Getting people to think in different ways is also a significant reason to have a diverse media. You can’t have variation if everyone thinks the same way. In “Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite,” Bernard Goldberg said, “It’s past time that we moved from a newsroom that simply looks like America to one that thinks like America – a newsroom that better reflects America in its highly varied beliefs and values and passions.”  A diversified newsroom is an atmosphere that permits the contribution of unique experiences and attitudes.

Media diversity is also important for avoiding cultural taboos and clearing up misconceptions. This brings to the mind the controversial shooting of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of a local Detroit mosque. Local news stations reported on broadcast and on their Web sites that he was the ringleader of a group called the “Ummah.” Actually, all Muslims consider themselves to be a part of an ummah, which is an Arabic word roughly translated as community. It’s similar to Christians belonging to a church community. The mainstream media failed to clarify whether Imam Abdullah’s “Ummah” was just confused with the general concept of the Muslim ummah. If there were more people with that type of knowledge and background present in the newsroom, then confusions like that wouldn’t happen as often. When there’s less confusion in the media, the public is getting accurate information and putting its trust back in its sources.

The need to keep a check on bias by representing all sides of a story is also a reason why the media should be diverse. It only makes sense for the media to be as diverse as the people and the views they are representing. With the melting-pot that is the United States, we should be seeing people of all backgrounds in our media. In “Arrogance,” Goldberg said that “despite the overwhelming evidence, despite all the examples of bias that were documented in my book and others, despite the surveys that show that large numbers of Americans consider the elite media too liberal … the elite remains in denial.” Diversity breaks down that elite circle to allow for proper representation.

These roles are a part of the backbone that holds up a journalist as someone who strives, researches, listens and educates. I believe it should be every journalist’s goal to uphold the field’s values. I hope to make my career as a journalist by internalizing these values. I hope to use my Muslim identity and first generation immigrant background in striving for fair media representation through diversity. This should be the journalist’s drive. This is my drive.

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Why Do You Want to be a Journalist?

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

The following is the winning essay, by Zuleqa Husain, on the subject “Why do you want to be a journalist?” She received First Prize, a $1500 scholarship.

By Zuleqa Husain

ZHusain-Photo American’s fourth estate, the press, is one of the most influential game-changers in US living rooms. As an undergrad who majored in marketing and PR, I was always fascinated with the public’s information intake and subsequent behavior change based on that information. I joined the nascent International Media program at American University because of my desire to straddle the worlds of media analysis and mass communication.  Having worked at a policy shop—the Muslim Public Affairs Council—and an international media organization—Voice of America—I had an acute appreciation for the role of good journalism and its impact on the globe.  As I honed my interests through internships in radio (WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi), TV production (Story House), and international broadcast news (Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Show); I became increasingly interested in long-format programming. As I gain international media experience, I hope to join the policy-making community in the public diplomacy sector of the federal government.

When I quit medical school back home and came to the US, two months before 9/11 hit the nation, I wasn’t quite sure which direction my life would take. I knew that a good liberal arts education would help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Marketing and PR seemed a good choice and I was good at it and so I majored in those subjects. Speaking skills, presentation skills and selling ideas, this came naturally to me. As America sought to understand Muslims and Islam, I co-founded the nation’s first publicly funded Muslim student organization at the University of Minnesota. Here, I was able to conduct workshops and presentations on Islam at high schools and community centers, churches and hospitals. I joined the Islamic Speakers Bureau and created packets of useful information on Muslims so that I could help contain the hysteria Americans were facing with George Bush’s War on Terror.

I graduated in 2004 and moved to Washington, D.C. That same month, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s national office offered me a position. Working at a policy shop such as MPAC was the best place to get the pulse of the Muslim American community and be able to define a unique Muslim identity for ourselves. Planning national communication strategies for MPAC’s ‘Countering Terrorism’ initiatives, helping abate the media frenzy during the Danish cartoon crisis, and fighting Islamophobic rhetoric stateside and abroad, helped me develop an appreciation for a focused strategy in media communications and an understanding of framework and messaging that is utilized in brand management.

The more we were in the spotlight of the media, and the more we were meeting with top government officials, the more I saw the need to change the paradigms that were present in our media systems. It wasn’t enough that we had a civil liberties organization like the Council on American Islamic Relations, looking out for our best interests. It wasn’t enough that top government liaisons for the Muslim community understood the predicament that American Muslims were facing because of the actions of a few misguided Muslims halfway across the world. To make the American people understand what was going on in the world, you had to get into their living rooms. I felt that if any change was to happen, it would be through the American media system. And that’s when I realized I wanted to be a journalist. I was busy telling the story for so long, I didn’t realize that the mike was turned off.

When I got a job as a reporter for Voice of America, for the first time, I felt like I was making a significant contribution. I was telling the true American story to the people of Pakistan and there was a considerable effect. We would get calls from viewers in Pakistan amazed that a hijabi Muslim in America was able to report on a story without being attacked on the street for being visibly Muslim. At VOA, I was able to bring the American-Muslim story to light for the Muslim populations worldwide. Our show was broadcast to 11 million viewers across the world.

Having worked for VOA for a year, and done numerous stories on American Muslims, concluded that the way forward was not to remain in the reporter track, but to become a producer. Producers control the content of the show. They decide what to air and what not to air. They have the final say in what stories get covered and how the show will be structured. I realized that if you wanted to change the dynamics of America’s newsrooms, the best route is to be a producer.
And for this, I went back to school.

During my three-year joint degree Masters program in International Media through the School of International Service and School of Communication at American University, I developed a solid academic grounding for how international media and communications work in today’s ever-shrinking world. In my coursework, I learn about international communication theory and why certain countries manage their journalists the way they do. I learned about propaganda, its role in mass media, the elements which make it effective and how to turn them in our favor. I also learn the art of producing a well-crafted news show that has a multi-media platform, including radio, video, web, and social media networks. I am also working on becoming a producer trained for long-format programming that is more conducive to good story-telling.  My final Masters project is a biopic documentary highlighting the historic tolerance and pluralism found in pre-independence India between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Such narratives of tolerance and harmony need to be told, both for the American Muslim audience and for the Muslims around the world.

I have had the opportunity to learn the art of journalism at various prestigious media institutions during my degree program. I was a research assistant with The Kojo Nnamdi Show at NPR’s local affiliate in Washington DC. My input was most appreciated not when I was giving them a story idea about Muslims or Islam, but when I was giving them a fresh perspective on an existing story idea. They appreciated my nuanced insight on various subjects, political or otherwise.

I was also the assistant producer intern at the internationally acclaimed Riz Khan Show on Al-Jazeera English. There, I provided research and story ideas for the live daily talk show. I was able to direct the show to do stories that are under-represented in the media. Al-Jazeera English is keen on becoming the ‘Voice of the South’ and was open to my suggestions. 

Just last week, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale rolled out a new communication strategy with the Muslim world, one that involved pro-actively shaping global narratives. In a statement to Congress, she announced a redefining of the State department to include a position for Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Media. This would bolster communications outreach to “inform, inspire, and persuade target audiences and to counter misinformation.” There is a visible paradigm shift in such a strategy compared to previous administrations that were trying to ‘win hearts and minds’ by bolstering those voices that helped their cause. Countering misinformation is a bigger, more challenging task and media efforts weakening the effects of disinformation is a more powerful strategy.

After working for a number of years in the news networks, I see myself working for the Public Diplomacy arm of the State department as an international media expert. Having worked with international media networks, I will have insight into what are the effective ways to utilize messaging to generate a positive response vs. those that create media trauma.

As for the Muslim American community’s media needs, there is a significant gap between the effort that the Muslim American media outlets are putting into getting the word out on the peaceful nature of Islam and the impact of this effort. This gap needs to close, if there is to be any change in the minds of the American people about Islam and Muslims. Public relations efforts and putting out fires as the Muslims American community is hit by one media nightmare or another is not the solution. A concerted effort is needed wherein Muslim journalists have a set identity within the media networks of the nation. The Muslim journalist is not exclusive with his/her reporting. There cannot be just a Muslim beat, or an ethnic or religious beat for the Muslim. Juggling various identities fluidly is the mark of a Muslim journalist today.

I want to be a journalist because I want Muslims to be able to present their stories, their narratives, their perspectives, their understanding of the world around them, without feeling that they are constantly defending their religious and cultural identity. Muslim Americans have a lot to offer to the diverse fabric of America. The United States of America is one of the best places to live as a practicing Muslim today and our job is to make sure that the press fulfills its duties to the citizens of our great nation.

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