Category Archives: Uncategorized

Introducing Journalism of Color

I have been woefully out of touch over the last several months. But I promise I have something to share. I have been working on an idea that I call “journalism of color,” an idea that we can do journalism better in the Twin Cities and that we can do justice work through journalism and a cooperative journalism project led by people of color and based out of communities of color.

This project seeks to fulfill a gap left open by both the legacy media and traditional independent journalism organizations in that this is a community training program which seeks to train members of marginalized communities to be journalists. It also seeks to create spaces for capacity-building within marginalized communities, resiliency of knowledge via knowledge-sharing with social movements, and new avenues and frames for how we discuss our movements, values, and issues to each other—as a form of accountability—and to the wider world.

This project also stems from my experiences working in nonprofit marketing and communications. I was often frustrated that we would spend so much time planning an action or event and then worry that the Star Tribune had not covered it, even if we knew there coverage would be biased and/or lack context. Why spend so much time attempting to dismantle systemic oppression if the frames and narratives promoted by an outlet—such as the STrib, CNN, or otherwise—were just going to keep rebuilding it. I believe it is necessary that we build our own institutions and take responsibility for creating journalism that does not rebuild systems of oppression, but is instead a tool that we can access within our communities and within our work.

This journalism of color project is a tool for capacity-building, accountability, resilience, knowledge sharing. As a journalism practice, its goals are to provide context for the issues, movements, and communities discussed, to use frames that build community power and the community’s capacity to create social change via knowledge-sharing and accountability measures, and to focus on the voices and stories of marginalized communities.

At its core, this project is a community effort, and specifically an effort to train community members to be community journalists within their own communities and other marginalized communities. This project prioritizes the voices and experiences of marginalized communities, recognizing that these individuals and communities are the experts of their own stories and that those experiences and stories need to be shared and prioritized if we are to truly find liberation and build justice. This experiential education program (either through a series of 3-day training or a 4-month fellowship) combines classroom experience with mentored journalism experience, with the hope and goal being that the training fellows will be able to write for a cooperative platform

For me, what is most important about this is making sure the community owns this project. Throughout the next months I will be doing as many one-to-one’s as I possibly can and I will be looking to all of you. Starting in January, I will be hosting four community conversations in the hopes that we can envision together what our journalism of color work needs to look like in the Twin Cities. I also hope to practice journalism of color through my own reporting, whether on my soon-to-be launched radio or through my print work.

If you would like to hear more, please contact me at cisaadeh@gmail.com

The risks and rewards of meaningful freelance journalism

Hey All-

I just wanted to drop a line and share a post I recently wrote for the Society of Professional Journalists. Take a gander and please let me know your thoughts. 

It was an incredibly powerful experience to feel that the work I had done as a journalist was meaningful and helped to deepen the conversation about housing justice in the Twin Cities. That is not to say I now feel prepared for this freelance journey, but I feel like both the risks and the rewards are worth the fear, anxiety, and challenges I know I will face, if only just because of this experience.

The entire thing is linked below.

The risks and rewards of meaningful freelance journalism

Sometimes I Write and Sometimes I Write About Writing

This past January, after moving back to MN from Arizona, I began working as a freelance journalist again, working with the Twin Cities Daily Planet and The UpTake, organizations I had already established working relationships with. It was a starting point. It was not that I was completely prepared to do this work. Despite having worked as a journalist for years prior, this decision to pursue this work meant more. I was pivoting pretty swiftly off the community organizing track I had been on and success or failure with the TCDP and The UpTake would be an important sign of whether or not I should keep pursuing journalism, despite years of doing journalism prior (and, even, at one point giving up on journalism).

My focus in this work has been on the stories and issues important to communities of color. I’ve tried to center their narratives and center those communities as the focus of my reporting. Instead of doing journalism from a me vs. them or me +/ them perspective, which I think is common to the field, I’ve tried to step more into my own self (as a person of color who is sometimes white-passing, depending on who is judging) and tried to build this work with these communities, rather than as an outsider.

At the same time, I’m a permanent student. Aside from a gap year between undergrad and grad school, I’ve been in school since 4 years old. I’ve always hated summer vacation. And I tend to live my life by semester.

As the semester has come to an end, and so has an intense amount of writing, I thought it would be appropriate to step back and analyze what I have done this semester and ask myself “how have I sustained the voices of people on the margins?” and how have I learned more about both my journalism practice and my journalism research focus (and myself in that)? My old mentor has always said “If it’s not worth evaluating, it’s not worth doing.”

I’ve written a number of different types of work this semester: a three part analysis of the state legislature’s work to decrease Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities, my first investigative piece, a straight news article on housing and several shorter articles (1000 words or less) related to the Minnesota political scene. Overwhelmingly, my focus has been on centering people of color and the narratives of people of color. I have also learned so much as a journalist. I was never trained as a journalist in a classroom. My training happened in the streets, my training happened because I put myself into situations where I had to learn how to do the thing I needed to learn. It means that sometimes my writing process, my journalism process, is messy. It means sometimes my head, my heart, and my hand are not in sync with each other. It means I’ve needed to learn patience with myself. It also means having to learn to trust myself and my journalism instincts at the same time that I develop that instinct.

Overall, I think my journalism practice, over the last several months, has been successful. I feel I can call myself a journalist now in ways that I could not have in the past even when I was doing journalism for so many years on-and-off. I’m excited to move forward and even more excited to look back and understand the impact of from whence I came to where I am going. Because of this past semester’s work as a freelance journalist, the successes I had and the challenges I faced, I’ve decided to make freelance journalism  my permanent career, with the hopes of eventually working as a news producer for an organizations I build.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything I wrote this year, but it is an exhaustive list of everything that A) was part of my efforts to do journalism of color and B) impacted me or my journalism practice.

As a note: Just in the past few weeks, I finished several pieces I began during the academic semester. I’ve included them here due to their import.

Minneapolis Workers Win Paid Sick Leave in Momentous Vote

Lowry Grove Residents Refuse to Lose Homes After Surprise Property Sale to Corporate Developer

Somali Community Drives Record-Breaking Caucus Turnout

Lowry Grove residents organize to save community following property sale

Glendale residents fight for homes amidst MPHA disorganization

(Three-part series below)

3 MN bills addressing racial disparities you need to follow

New support bolsters racial disparities bills, but opposition looms

After disappointing end-of-session, Minnesota’s communities of color look to future

I have been incredibly lucky this past semester that I have been working with editors who A) trust me to report on issues related to communities of color and focus my reporting practice on sustaining and elevating the voices of people of color and B) are able to guide me when needed. I’ve been able to report on issues I am comfortable speaking about and exploring, because I understand them even as complicated though they may be, like housing, elections, and state policy and policy-making, but I’ve grown leaps and bounds through my exploration of housing and housing injustice in the Twin Cities.

I also recently questioned myself this semester, not my commitment to this work which I am proud to say has remained unwavering, but definitely my capacity to do this work. The investigative piece on Glendale and MPHA, my first investigative piece, is the single most difficult thing I have ever had to write, equal to my graduate thesis in my fear of it. My research for the article required my analysis of hundreds (if not thousands) of emails from the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association, and the Defend Glendale organizing group. It also required dozens of interviews. All but three of those interviews were with residents of the Glendale Townhomes, Minneapolis last public housing complex. Not only were those interviews a challenge as many of the residents were fearful of speaking on-the-record, but most of the residents were refugees or recent immigrants to the the USA and thus English was not their first language or even their second language. As well, it required me to spend a considerable amount of time with the residents as I worked to gain their trust, which was required as I worked to dig deeper into the story.

I became more and more anxious as we got closer to publishing that I did something wrong, that I had missed something, that MPHA would complain and point something out I had missed and the article would fall apart and I would be humiliated and the organization destroyed.

Moreso, I worried that residents would read the article—they gathered as a community to review it after it was read and translated to them—and would think I had misunderstood their stories, had not elevated their truths, had mis-spoken in some way.

There was not any word of that article I did not toil over. I was my editor’s backseat editor, any time a sentence was changed, I would go in and review it to make sure the edits did not change what I had meant. Every word was important to me and every single word in that article was chosen intentionally.

It was a terrifying experience writing that article. I could feel who I was as a journalist shifting, but I could also feel the core of who I am shifting in ways I am A) still discovering and B) very protective of.

I did not sleep the night before we published. I kept checking my email over and over again waiting for the organization to release the article. And after we published, I waited all day for the residents to get back to me. It took me a week to realize MPHA was not going to release some sort of scathing indictment of my journalism.

Lead organizer Ladan Yusuf called me right before the community met to read the article and then review it. It was the single most nerve-wracking 45 minutes of my professional life. And the minutes after that were some of the most thrilling.

I don’t believe in non-biased journalism. I think that journalists, including myself, should strive to be accurate and truthful. I also think that independent journalists like myself should strive to sustain and elevate the voices of those who are marginalized, to share truths least often shared in the mainstream news. I do not think we should strive for some false equivalency of non-bias as if injustice is just as important as seeing the fight for justice in our newspapers and news media.

Throughout this semester, I have strived to not only make sure the stories I report on are meaningful to marginalized communities and from those communities, I have also worked to make sure those communities’ voices are core to the work I do. For each article, I wanted to make sure the majority of my primary sources were low-income people of color and my secondary sources originated from people and communities of color. This is an intentional decision of mine and something I feel I was mostly successful in doing. I also think it illustrates dynamics of power and oppression in ways that could not otherwise be seen by doing otherwise.

I am addicted to news. When I drive, I listen to Minnesota/National Public Radio. I read the news (in-print and online) every morning, at night, and throughout the day, every day. I watch the nightly news on our local channels and on CNN. One of the habits I have developed just this semester, as I continue to learn and grow in this work, was to not only read the news in order to be an engaged citizen, but to read the news and analyze the perspectives I felt missing from coverage and the questions I felt still remained as I sought to understand what angles I could take on specific stories.

I have also become more and more aware of how to use language that sustains the voices of people from marginalized communities, that does not strip them of their agency, capacity, or power to create meaningful change. For example, this morning I was working on a piece about the fight to save Lowry Grove. I try and make sure the residents have the last word as I write this article. I can still challenge them, by noting the difficulties they face and holding them accountable to their work and systems, but I can also make sure they have the last word, that people understand they are the ones we should be paying attention to.

It’s honestly been such a learning process this semester. I feel like who I am as a journalist has grown in ways I could never have expected, in ways I never could have seen myself growing. I never saw myself as an investigative journalist before this semester, but it turns out that is where my heart lies. And while I have always been a multi-media journalist, I’ve been really enjoying how I can use words creatively to get the point across and get people’s attention. I do, however, want to start building in more multi-media reporting: infographics, short audio and video clips, maybe starting my own monthly podcast to explore this idea of journalism of color. I feel really excited for the journalism I have coming up and the opportunities I have the opportunity to pursue. I’m grateful for the chance to be this thing I always dreamt of. And even more grateful to see that who I am and what I do means something to people.

 

 

“The Road Since Then” (a SPN reference)

As some of you may know, I have been pursuing my PhD at Prescott College. As a child, I dreamt of being a journalist, but never felt like I would be successful at the traditional news organization for the most part. As a young adult and undergrad, I ended up pursuing community organizing.

Starting Backwards

While I had been doing traditional activism work for several years, and even work I did not know was community organizing at the time, it was not until 2009 that I began to understand community organizing, intersectionality, injustice, and resistance and liberation and emancipation.

At the time, my at-the-time new mentor had gotten me involved with an organization now known as Voices for Racial Justice (VRJ). For a year, I was the youngest in a class of 20. 20 experienced organizers and community leaders. I was not yet one of them. I was still cookie dough (yes that was a BtVS reference).

Within a few months of starting VRJ’s yearlong organizing training, I had started interning (not for credit or anything, but out of wanting to do journalism) for The UpTake, a nationally-recognized citizen journalism organization. By May, at the end of my 5-month internship, they had offered me a job as Community Manager, what I believe was their first paid staff position. I worked full-time for a year; I covered amazing stories (FBI raids on peace activist’s home, elections, and two legislative sessions, the introduction of the constitutional amendments to defeat gay marriage and require a Voter ID, and the beginning of the successful fights to beat those amendments. I produced a 15-hour of live TV for #GiveMN and was at the State Capitol every Friday morning at 6am to prep coverage. I developed an intern program for the organization and implemented it. I met with community leaders from across the Twin Cities day-in and day-out and worked to build relationships between our organization and theirs.

By the end of all that, I was burnt out. I was tired. And organizing called to me. By the end of my position with The UpTake, a year after becoming a staffer, a peer-organizer-classmate and I had already launched a campaign taking on Sodexo at our undergrad, a campaign which took the better part of 18 months before we handed over the reigns to other students.

My master’s degree was in the Humanities with a concentration on Justice, Activism, and Solidarity. My focus was food systems organizing. Except, I was realizing I did not have a role as a community organizer in the Twin Cities. Organizing was something I would struggle with. I could build relationships and sustain them and understand why people organized, but I struggled to have the technical skill to make organizing a tool in my toolbox.

On my first day of orientation for Master’s program, I was connected with Ernesto Todd Mireles. Professor Mireles was and is an incredible organizer, he was also a trained journalist. And he was more than willing to invest in me. And, as two organizers with similar visions and backgrounds and commitments do, we built and sustained a very powerful relationship which allowed us to do some kick-butt work together.

When I first began looking at PhD programs, I was focused on food systems. Though I had freelanced, in the years after leaving The UpTake, and served as the Boardmember for an organization named the Twin Cities Daily Planet, I had sort of given up on the dream of being a journalist. As I did organizing work, I had pretty pigeonholed as the media & communications person. I worked the jobs, but I felt like a fraud and like a liar. My insides were made of journalism and they were rebelling against everything I was doing.

It was not until I escaped to Arizona, with nary a plan or a job or anything, that journalism became a thing for me again. I co-founded an organization named the Rizoma Community Media Collective, TA’d for every class Todd asked me to including an Introduction to Journalism course, started falling in love with journalism again. Suddenly the itch to do journalism could not and would not leave me.

In August of 2015, I announced I would not write another press release. That ended up not being true, though I did cut way down on that. What did happen though was journalism. I ended up at Prescott College, again, for my PhD program. My focus had become journalism. It was beginning to seem inevitable that I was doing it again. I had left the field, learned, brought it back, and since then I’ve sought to do journalism differently. I have been exploring what it means to use journalism as a tool to amplify the stories and narratives of people of color. What does it mean to hold institutions and people in power accountable when it comes to the oppression and injustice faced by communities of color? What does it mean to put people of color at the center of each article, to honor their expertise, and to not fear doing the work differently? What does it mean to sustain this kind of work? And what structures need to be in place to sustain this journalism practice? What kind of commitment does it require? What is needed to make it happen? What does it actually look like?  What is the relationship between the journalist and the community?

I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. What I do know is that I cannot answer these questions. But we, as a community, can. We can explore these. We can do this journalism. I’ve been trying to do this through my own journalism practice and intentional reflection, but this idea, “journalism of color,” needs to belong to all of us.

 

Apache, mining company take sides on possible ecological disaster

 

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Photo taken on August 23rd by Cirien Saadeh at the Apache Stronghold on Oak Flat. Apache leaders have been occupying Oak Flat for months in protest of the congressional sale of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper.

Leaders of the San Carlos Apache Tribe are occupying the Oak Flat campground in Superior, AZ as they protest a congressional decision to sell the land to mining company Resolution Copper. The site is also an important riparian area in Arizona.

“The environmental and economic issues should matter to everyone, because they affect all of us,” Roy Chavez, Mayor of Superior, AZ and former miner, says.

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On Eco-Literacy, Comic Books, and Journalism

“We are scientists, you are a journalist. We test, we prove, we report, that’s what we do,” (Barry Allen/The Flash, The Flash, “Flash of Two Worlds,” 2015).

I have so much on my mind as I come to the end of my first semester in my PhD program. I find myself contemplating all the ways that my research has changed this semester and all the ways I am more sure of what my future is as a researcher. While I began the semester wanting to build the Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting project (which I remain committed to), my research question has since become far more developed. I am trying to understand the ways in which marginalized communities have used journalism as a tool to develop capacity and build power in social movement work. I want to understand how journalism fits into a transformative organizing framework. And I want to know what new financial models, and training models, can be developed to support that community journalism.

However, I just spent the semester amongst a group of scientists: my classmates, peers, and professors. I am so impressed and struck by the work they do and, even, the similarities in our work. And that work, and those relationships, are on my mind.

The quote above says it best.

The work of scientists and journalists is not truly that different, nor is the work of educators. That is something I have definitely learned this year. Our jobs are to make sense of the din around us and then translate it back to our communities so that they are better off for having that knowledge. Our jobs are to take action so that the things that are broken around us might be healed if only we can share the knowledge in our communities, take action, and then be better off for that.

You may or may not know this, but I am a bit of a comic book nerd and I am addicted to all things sci-fi. I have no allegiance to DC or Marvel or any other publisher, but I find myself enchanted by the stories. My most favorite comic book incarnation is the “The Flash” as it premiered last year and my favorite thing about “The Flash” is that he is a scientist. And science is core to every part of the story, every problem, every solution is meant to be science, fictional though the science may be. It is the same reason I love the “Iron Man” story and Doctor Who in all of its various incarnations. The science may be fictional, but it is still science, this thing that feels like it should be elusive, but actually is not.

We began this semester discussing environmental literacy and the lack of eco-literacy in the classroom. It reminded me of so many of my science classes growing up. Unfortunately, I would say that most of my science education was seriously lacking. I do not remember much from most of my science classes, but what I do remember is learning that I really appreciate.

My most powerful memories of science classes come from junior high. In 8th grade, whatever year that was (1999, I think), my junior high hired a science teacher who refused to teach us about evolution. He was fired after a month. I think it might have been “earth science” that he was meant to teaching. All I remember is that he was replaced with the most awesome science teacher I ever had, Mr. Z. At the time, we were losing our most awesome teachers every year in what seems to have been a precursor to the Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts curse. So we all figured that whether or not we were graduating, we had less than one academic year with this awesome science teacher. Mr. Z managed to take “Earth Sciences” and turn this previously-dry content into something as alive and breathing as this universe. We found ourselves studying soil and collecting rocks, digging through trash when studying recycling, and looking at stars in our Astronomy elective. And we read comic books as assigned reading, debating all the fictional possibilities within. Our classroom was the Tardis as we transported ourselves across the multi-verse studying it. Yes, I just crossed over Doctor Who and The Flash in one sentence.

It was one of the best classes I have ever taken, even until this day. It was this phenomenon in experiential education. I remember everything I learned that year.

It was that class which inspired my simultaneous loves for both comic books and for science.

I was recently babysitting a younger cousin and we watched a few episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on Netflix. One episode dealt with the electric car. My cousin asked me “what happened with it?” I did not really have an answer. How do you explain the ways in which politics have held our world back as well as the ways in our world has been harmed because of those politics?

No matter what I have been studying, my natural inclination is write about it. My first college degree is an Associate of Arts in Assistant Teaching which I got from the former-College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis.  I only took two science classes in college: Psychology and Biology of Women. Looking back, I wish I had taken more classes, that science had been more of a priority within my program. If I had gone into education, if I had gone into teaching, I think I would have loved to be a science teacher, to get kids thrilled about it in the same ways comic books and “Earth Science” had hooked me on science all those years ago.

As I continue what both Mr. Rogers and Mr. Z taught me and my peers, I feel inclined and inspired to respond to those lessons. Though my primary focus as a journalist is politics and reporting on social movements, I try and set a goal for myself every year, often reporting on issues I would not feel inclined to report on without the challenge. However, though I love reading science news, I do not report on it, because it is something I feel outside of my wheelhouse. Thus my goal for 2016 is to write and publish 6 news packages related to science funding in schools, as well as 6 stories on scientific innovation. My hope in this is to continue developing as a journalist and to begin developing my capacity and ability to report on science news. Most importantly, however, I feel really called to muddling through the work of using journalism to think about eco-literacy (and other science literacy) and I am excited to put my time and energy into doing so (I tried very hard to think of at least one The Flash pun to end this blog. Alas, I could not think of one fast enough…).

***This article is part of my final creative project for Sustainability Education and Transformative Change (fall semester), a core class in my PhD in Sustainability Education program. When deciding to write this article, I challenged myself to discuss eco-literacy (and, even, science literacy) education, a topic I do not typically feel confident enough to speak about. I believe it is the role of the journalist to translate information we are not always comfortable discussing and this is my attempt to do that.

***This article is still in draft form and is likely to be edited (12/09/15).

Ins and Outs of Embedded Journalism

My Ph.D. program is off to a start. I was studying late into the night a few nights ago and my 11-year old cousin said excitedly, “Oh you procrastinate just like I do!” And I said, “No, habibi, I’m trying not to drown!” Between school, freelance work, my internship with Food Tank, and my assistantship, life is insane. Thankfully, I am still able to place the embedded journalism front and center. Whether it’s developing its philosophy, pedagogy and training, or practicing, I have had the opportunity to dig into embedded journalism this semester.

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