The ONLY active voice for American Arab Journalists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Organizing an Arab Journalists conference in Chicago for next year

Before Sept. 11, 2001, we had seven Arab American newspapers in Chicago. Within a few months of Sept. 11, all but one closed, forced out of business by repeated hate calls, racist complaints where newspapers were distributed and harassment of advertisers. The survivoer newspaper, al-Offok al-Arabi (The Arab Horizon) was confronted by their web press publisher (all small newspapers need a web press to publish tabloid or broadsheet sizes) and that publisher complained about the topics and the Arabic writing in the paper and refused to print them too. I helped the published at the time find a new web press and they managed to continue to stay in print.

Across the country, we had about 125 Arab American newspapers. Nearly 50 shut down, most permanently, a few resurfaced after a year or so. Today, we have about 85 regularly published Arab American newspapers in the United States.

Much of our success has come through the decisions by two professional journalism organizations to help us stand and survive as professional journalists who happen to be Arab American. The Asian American Journalists Association and the Society of Professional Journalists have both been very supportive -- I have to admit that the National Association of Black Journalists has been opposed to any outreach on our part and have never responded.

But the AAJA and the SPJ have both responded positively and have tried repeatedly to engage us as members in their organizations and allowing us to maintain our identity as Arab American Journalists (who happen to be both Muslim and Christian, by the way. Many Muslim journalists do not feel it appropriate to identify on the basis of religion as that feeds into the growing animosity towards religious extremism and the mixing of religion and politics. Keeping religion apart from politics is so important and NAAJA has worked hard to do that, although we accept membership from anyone who is a journalist, Christian, Muslim or Jewish.)

Anyway, check out both organizations. Arab American journalists SHOULD be members of both and should join. We have some members who are role models, like Anisa Mehdi a PBS producer and independent filmmaker and journalist in new York. She has been a member of the SPJ for years. And many Arab journalists came up to the NAAJA booth at the SPJ covention.

You also want to check out the new blog by the president of the SPJ, Christine Tatum, which is listed among the links on the side of this blog web page and show her support.

Networking and staying focused on professional journalism is a major factor in achieving success as Arab American journalists. We encourage you to associate yourself with professional journalism organizations and avoid those that are overtly engaged in partisan politics. The Middle East is important. But the best way to achieve peace and justice is through honest and accurate journalism that focuses on truth and facts not partisan politics.

Ray Hanania

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