Award winning Pulitzer Center journalists advise students on reporting the Muslim world

“If we’re tired of outsiders telling our stories, we have to tell them ourselves,” reporters tell students

Journalists inside the Muslim world can debunk popular stereotypes about Islam by reporting untold stories to global audiences, experts told students at Northwestern University in Qatar.

NU-Q hosted the three award-winning journalists from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for a speaker series about covering the Muslim world for international audiences.

The accomplished journalists included Alia Malek, a Syrian-American and author of A Country Called Amreeka: US History Retold through Arab American Lives, Ayman Oghanna, an award-winning Iraqi-British photojournalist and Habiba Nosheen, a Pakistani-Canadian multimedia journalist whose documentary, Outlawed in Pakistan, aired on PBS Frontline earlier this year.

The reporters stressed to students the importance of reclaiming media portrayal of Muslims and Islam. “As budding journalists from diverse backgrounds my advice to you is to banish stereotypes and show global audiences what they do not expect to see in a foreign land,” said Oghanna. “Find contradictions and things we have not seen before because no one is more qualified to do that than you, here in the region.”

“It’s absolutely true that there is obvious racism against Muslims in the world, but to be able to address this, we need to challenge our own communities and biases,” said Nosheen. “If we are tired of having outsiders tell our stories, we have to tell them ourselves.”

Commenting on the 2.1 million views recorded the night her documentary aired in the US, Nosheen said, “That’s a huge number [of viewers] for a foreign language documentary with subtitles, which challenged the perceptions we had of what Americans were willing to sit through.”

Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, noted the importance of hosting top professionals in the media field. “The visit of these accomplished journalists provided our students with worthy role models and sound advice about reporting in the region,” he said.

The week’s events were organized by the NU-Q chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which is the first SPJ chapter to set up outside the US. The organization has more than 8,000 members and offers students access to a vast professional network. According to Christina Paschyn, journalism lecturer in residence and faculty adviser to the NU-Q SPJ, visits such as these serve to enhance the learning experience.

“Our aim was for these journalists to challenge our students’ paradigms, unlocking new perspectives and possibilities,” she said. “This is why we encouraged the speakers to engage in open dialogues with our students, which may have led to differences of opinion. Conversations sparked by healthy debate, are an immeasurable part of the learning processes we seek to immerse our students in here at NU-Q.”

Paschyn organized the week’s events with support and guidance from NU-Q journalism program director Mary Dedinsky.

Tom Hundley, a veteran foreign correspondent and senior editor at the Pulitzer Center, accompanied the journalists who spent five days on campus guest lecturing and leading workshops and seminars. The NU-Q community was also treated to a private screening of Nosheen’s documentary, shown at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film follows a young Pakistani gang-rape victim as she strives to find justice in her country’s flawed judicial system.

Malek, Oghanna and Nosheen are currently engaged in projects funded by the Pulitzer Center and have been published in the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Economist and PBS on issues affecting hotspots in the Muslim world including Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.

Their accessibility to both the East and West enables them to highlight their individual experiences and give students sound advice on how to report the Muslim region to the wider world.