In so many ways this feels like coming home: The practice of committing journalism

Oh what an adventure I am on! In the early parts of 2015, I begin working on a project that soon became known as the Rizoma Community Media Collective (“Rizoma”). Rizoma is an incredible project. Student-led with a radical vision for a useful media in a community with very limited access to independent journalism. The project remains incredible. We began building who we are, writing what we can, envisioning the world that we are creating.

In May, as part of the Rizoma project, I dreamt up Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting. And I almost literally mean dreamt up. Embedded Journalism is the type of project I have been dreaming of since I was a small girl, but could never put words to the vision. In May, I don’t know when and I don’t know where, the words hit me, seemingly out of nowhere. That long-earned, but sudden moment of clarity beget the work I’ve committed to for the rest of my life.

I’ve literally never been more excited about anything I’ve ever worked on. And best of all, I’m amazingly privileged and blessed enough to not only know how to develop this project (particularly due to my experience as a student at Prescott College and in completing my thesis), but I have the support and the capacity to make this dream a reality.

This weekend, I beta-tested a two-day Embedded Journalism training with my comrade and co-researcher Mackenzie. This year, I’ll teach it (in any variety of ways). The Embedded Journalism training that occurred this weekend was phenomenal. It was also necessary as the structures and values of Rizoma and the Embedded Journalism project are defined and built. I feel more inspired about this work than I ever have before.

The focus of this training was both theoretical and practical. Yesterday, Mack & I discussed the myth of neutrality, the liberatory aspects of embedded journalism, and the relationship between journalism and social movements, as well as embedded journalism and other types of journalism. Today’s training was more practical as we discussed the practice of embedded journalism, with a focus on justice-framing.

There is so much work for me to do. Completing a fully-developed training manual and amending the two-day training based on lessons learned from the beta-test, completing a white paper on the topic, my own self-practice of embedded journalism, there is so much to do. I find myself waking up excited to commit this work and I find myself unable to go to sleep because the adrenaline from doing this is just too much for my veins and skin.

Compared to my first blogs on the subject just a few days ago, my own understanding of this entire concept is so much stronger, so much more than I could have ever imagined. This living thing exists now, has form and matter, an ever-widening space in the journalism world.

I begin my PhD program in just a week. Orientation begins on the 24th and ends on the 28th, my birthday. And I get to spend the four years after that talking about this and reading about this, dreaming about this, building this, writing about this, and writing for this, spending all my time in this world.

How lucky am I?

If I had to define embedded journalism right now, I would say it is the practice of localized, independent journalism within social movements, a decolonizing practice for community members from communities facing systemic and structural barriers, committed by members of those communities, in solidarity with those communities and those movements. *

I stepped out of the community organizing intentionally. I stepped out to focus on journalism and journalism welcomed me with arms wide open. In so many ways it feels like coming home.

*This definition is subject to change, growth, and development.

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Defining Embedded Journalism

One of my primary goals right now is to define embedded journalism and what differs it from other types of (both mainstream and independent) journalism. My goal is to develop an understanding of what embedded journalists are, what the goals of embedded journalism is, and what the necessity of embedded journalism is. In tomorrow’s blog post, I’ll discuss what embedded journalists do and how they do it. This justice-based journalism philosophy is a work in progress and requires much critique and a lot more writing before I can stand on a firm definition.

To begin, embedded journalists are journalists. They are trained to have both an understanding of the necessary ins-and-outs of different forms of journalism. Similarly, they have been trained to understand how social movements develop and the reasons why social movements develop. This then provides context to their journalism. Embedded journalists act on the edge of social movements with a keen eye looking in to the social movement and an eye on the world around that social movement. Embedded journalists can be allies to social movements. They do not have to be. They do not have to agree with the decisions made in social movements, nor every aspect of it. Their news journalism differs in that their reporting is justice-framed. Justice-framed journalism is framed by both the unique understanding of how social movements form and why, the communities involved in social movements, and the directions in which social movements form. Journalism ethics are abided by. Embedded journalism is typically done best when a journalist has the opportunity and the capacity to stay within a social movement for extended periods of time.

Embedded journalism recognizes the myth of neutrality. Unbiased reporting assumes that all “knowledge” has validity. In the case of embedded journalists, the journalist focuses on the knowledge shared within and by social movements. This does not mean they or the audience or a source cannot disagree. They can. But the basic assumption of embedded journalism is such: social movements exist for valid reasons; similarly, systemic oppression exists; social movements are a reaction to systemic and lived oppression; embedded journalism shares the stories that exist within social movements as a means to educate social movement actors, educate audiences, and bring clarity (and whatever needed context) to the work for justice. This is much like how a broadcast journalist might cover a war or tragic event, but specific to social movements.

When I envisioned embedded journalism, it was because I was trying to find my way through the journalism world. And I have come to see that this type of journalism has the capacity to be integral to how we learn, digest, analyze, and build social movements. I also believe that embedded journalism provides a fantastic entry point for young journalists, primarily from low-income communities of color, who do not want to go the way of cause-marketing, community organizing, or social movement support structures. In fact, I would say that embedded journalism has the capacity to be an incredibly powerful and valid form of social and civic engagement. With that said, I really want to make sure it’s something that participant journalists are treated fairly in. That they learn the skills they need to be paid fair wages. That they’re not expected to be full-time volunteer staff members within social movements. It’s very important to me that embedded journalism becomes it’s only piece of the social movement pie with its own structures and models to increase sustainability.

For now, I imagine that embedded journalism exists in order for young up-and-coming journalists to discover the ways in which they can develop their voice as journalists within social movements, while also developing a new way to talk about justice work within the journalism world. I have three goals right now in developing this program: A) to develop a preliminary philosophy that is useful to these discussions, B) to develop and implement a training program, and C) to focus on becoming an embedded journalist. However, I would say that the goals of embedded journalism are much greater: to develop a new way of discussing social movements within the journalism world, to train young people to become journalists (and, thus, necessary components in justice work), and to create (even more) powerful journalism from within social movements.

Because embedded journalism is not about devaluing the powerful work happening in and around social movements. It’s about adding more value to the journalism occurring in social movement journalism. And it doesn’t ignore the “embedded” journalism already occurring in social movements. Rather it provides an opportunity to train young people in very specific ways, to help them develop their voice, and bring more knowledge from within those social movements to light in order to learn from them and grow the movements. 

I’ll be blogging regularly as I work through understanding the concept and experience of embedded journalism in future weeks. I am very much wanting to get push-back and very much wanting constructive criticism. I am conducting the first test training of the embedded journalism program this weekend and I’ll be doing my best to work within this journalism model for the year I’m in Arizona. By the end of the year hopefully I’ll have answers.

Introducing “Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting”

My own professional background is in racial equity organizing, cause-marketing, education, and independent journalism. As a journalist, I have focused on reporting on and within marginalized communities. Specifically, I have created news stories that primarily pertain to political organizing and decision-making, food systems, and police brutality. Though still near the beginning of my journalism career, I have endeavored to focus my own journalism within a social justice frame. Currently, I am completely focused on becoming a better journalist and creating meaningful journalistic news within that social justice frame. Thus, the “Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting” program was envisioned. 

As a community organizer, I have often been hired to do cause-marketing. Because of this, I have come to understand the cautious and particularly complicated relationship between community organizing and independent journalism. I have also come to understand the unique dependency they have on each other. This program dispels any notion that separates the purpose and work of community organizing and independent journalism.

This program seeks a new relationship between independent journalism and community organizing. This relationship aims to shift the balance of power not away from equality but towards a balance of context, accountability, knowledge-production, and knowledge-sharing. Very simply it aims to create justice-framed journalism, connecting marginalized communities, investigating and contextualizing social movements and oppression, from the spaces between (but within) social movements. This project is not aimed at mainstream audiences; its audience is members and allies of marginalized communities. 

It is my own experience that independent journalism within marginalized communities struggles to sustain itself meaningfully. Community organizing, however, can sustain itself only be recreating or participating in the very systems it seeks to dismantle. This project proposes a type of independent journalism for and by low-income individuals and communities of color. This journalism exists within the fight for justice, though it behaves like a separate entity. It seeks to create a more sustainable independent journalism for individuals and organizations in order to hold social movements account to their work and their values.

This project has several key components: research-oriented, education, and experiential. It is very important to remember that this is an idea still in its infancy, although I am fully committed to it. What excites me about this-as a journalist, educator, researcher, and community organizer-is the opportunity to create meaningful work and define my own space within the fight for racial equity and social justice. Over the last several years I have attempted to maneuver the world of journalism and community organizing without abandoning one or the other. I believe this project provides an avenue to more effectively maneuver the relationship between journalism and community organizing. I see in this project the space to create publishable research, embedded journalism-in-action, and various forms of education and training. I also know that this project can be so much more and I am excited to journey through it.

The most important piece of this entire program is its experiential training program. As a young journalist who has worked in community-based media, I think that the single most important tool that this program can provide is a training program for young journalists out of these marginalized communities and social movements. I believe that voice is a key voice missing from other independent media or typically unorganized on social media. By training young potential community organizers, leaders, and activists, we can bring a new voice to the professional journalism on social movements and oppression. And those young embedded journalists will have a unique understanding of how they can use their voice without stripping themselves of a commitment to social justice, equity, or liberation. 

Again, this project is still in its infancy. I have a seemingly unlimited number of questions. However, my current and primary focus pertains to building a working understanding of embedded journalism as a research topic and experiential journalism model. I’m going to be using this blog space as a way of working through all my questions, developing a coherent philosophy, and sharing meaningful examples of embedded journalism. My primary goal now is to ask and begin answering the questions most pertinent to this project, while also developing as an embedded journalist.

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Journalism and Community Organizing (a blog in which I mix too many metaphors)

It has been a very weird summer filled with a lot of travel, a lot of family time, a lot of writing. After two years of intense study in food systems transformation and social movement development, I graduated in May with my graduate degree from Prescott College. I begin my Ph.D program (also at Prescott College) in Sustainability Education (focusing on independent journalism) in just a few weeks.

I spent a lot of time in my head and heart this summer. With so many plane rides, train rides, ferry rides, and long drives, it’s hard not to do so. As a young girl, I grew up wanting to be a journalist. Specifically, I grew up wanting to be a print journalist. I ended up taking a different route to my current destination in life, though. I went the route of community organizing. Now, that’s not something I’ll ever regret. As an organizer I learned more about the world and who I am in it than anything else might have taught me. I learned a lot of professional skills and learned how to be strong in who I am and how I present myself to the world. I built a lot of important relationships and did good work with good people time and time again. These are very, very good things.

But the journalism dream has never gone away. And I’ve found myself growing cynical of organizing. I ask myself if I really believe organizing works (my answer: yes), if nonviolent revolution works (my answer: sometimes/usually), if I have my own space in the organizing world (my answer: no), if I’m happy with my work as an organizer (my answer: yes, but it’s not a sustainable happiness).

I’ve made the decision to step away from the organizing world. For a long time, I was an organizer who had a familiarity with journalism. These days, I feel I’ve found where I’m meant to be, a journalist with a background in social movement development.

I made the decision to take the next immediate exit off of the community organizing highway early in the summer in order to re-committ to journalism. This has meant putting myself through self-taught journalism school with the help of friends, editors, and partners. Though I’ve worked professionally as a journalist before, this is really the first time I’ve felt confident in my ability to take a seat at the journalism table. It’s a world, I can see a future for myself in. Not a future without potholes, but nonetheless a really fulfilling future.

That’s not to say I’m not committed to the work for social movements. For the last several months, I’ve been developing a program called “Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting,” (the topic of a future blog post). I’m trying to take everything I was fortunate enough to learn in the first decade of my professional career (starting with The Wheel at CSC/SCU years ago) and apply it to my new journalism self.

Right now, this means going back to the beginning. I’m researching and studying journalism, trying to learn everything I can all over again. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to freelance with The UpTake (where I got my first big break many a year ago) and other organizations. My reporting has focused on stories from marginalized communities (my reporting will ALWAYS focus on marginalized communities).  I’m helping to build the new Rizoma Community Media Collective. And I’m trying to pay my dues, while also realizing that I have something important and powerful and needed in the journalism world.

It’s exciting to see this future laid out before me, because I’m building it bricky-by-brick and I believe in it and I believe in me within it.

I take so much of what I have learned in the last ten years with me and I’m hoping to take the relationships and partnerships I’ve built as well. Right now, my plan is to find journalism mentors, to find and use the resources I need to learn more, and to write and write and write (freelancing, blogging, research-writing, thinking out loud). For those of you I’ve worked with as an organizer, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. For my journalistic allies and partners, I have a lot to learn from you and I am grateful to be doing so.

I’m going to be mapping this journalistic future on this blog and on Twitter and I’m looking for all the support I can get. Overall, however, I sense something really important is coming my way and I’m excited for the new future and the new horizon I’m headed to.

“The end’s not near, it’s here.”

Graduation is in under four days. Graduation. From my Masters program. God that sounds weird. I rushed this program, ran right through it. But it doesn’t feel like I began yesterday and I feel older and more tired than I ever felt. With the exception of one email from a professor, my semester ended today. I finished the end-of-semester paperwork in the library and that sat in my chair for hours too tired to move.

For the last year, I’ve been immersed in one project and one project only, really. My thesis and all the research and thought that went into it, “Integrating Food Access, Food Security, Food Justice, and Food Sovereignty Paradigms in Order to Develop an Integral Food Systems Theory of Change: A North Minneapolis Case Study.” What has amazed me about this research has been quite simple: the extent of the radical, transformative organizing happening in North Minneapolis and the importance of community-based research and research structures in powerful community organizing. Which is not to say my research is the end-all and be-all of research in North Minneapolis, but what I have learned from this is fairly straightforward. Marginalized communities, much like they need their own food systems and banks and policies and social systems, need their own research structures and researchers.

One day soon I’ll have a link to the completed thesis up on this blog. But I want to say two other things first. I’m currently working on two very inter-related and intersecting projects, two projects I feel intimately connected to, the Rizoma Community Media Collective and a training series I’m calling “Embedded Journalism for Solidarity Journalists.” Rizoma is one of less-than-a-handful of independent media organizations in Northern Arizona. It is a founding collaboration amongst myself, a PC student Mack Macner, and our mentor faculty Ernesto Todd Mireles. Our aim is to build a collectively-run, community-based news organization that aims to both amplify the voices of marginalized communities (through multimedia news platforms, trainings, etc…) and connect the Prescott College community with marginalized communities in Yavapai county.

For the latter of these goals, we are asking whether or not research can be be effectively used as a tool for social change. For the training program “Embedded Journalism for Solidarity Journalists,” I’ve just begun considering a training manual, a white paper, a way of teaching new journalists and change agents how to tell and share the news from within social movements. Taking the best of citizen journalist, independent journalism, and legacy journalism, and lessons learned from each of these journalism modes, and then developing a new way of doing social movement journalism. My goal for the next year is to continue reporting from within protests, rallies, and social movement discussions and activities. My intent is to continue learning from these journalism experiences and then develop a publish-able white paper on the topic. More importantly, however, my goal is to develop a training curriculum on the topic, as well as an entire class on the topic. I don’t doubt that this project will be incredibly intense and require more out of me as a journalist than anything I have ever encountered. For all that is meant to be educational, I know that I will learn more about the world, journalist, and my role and work as a journalist than I could have ever imagined before.

The projects, the commitments above, all three of them: my thesis research, Rizoma, and the training program, I’m so excited for them. It’s been a good long while since I’ve not felt cynical about either journalism or community organizing, but I feel like I’m more realistic about these projects. My intentions for myself and this work are more clear. And I am very, very excited. It’s tough to not be working on any one of the three.

With graduation on Sunday, it’s really fulfilling and rewarding to know I have work on the horizons that is even more exciting, that these projects would not have happened without having attended graduate school (let alone this graduate program). I’ll keep you updated as to what’s next.

Speaking of what’s next, two things. First, I apologize for the near-radio silence over the last few months. I’ve been dug deep into my thesis. Second, expect some changes and additions to this blog space in the next month or so, accomplice links, my training portfolio, resume, published thesis, and writing & media portfolio, as well as some exciting new content.

This Feels Like a Great Time to be Emotional and a Grateful Mess

In just over two weeks, I graduate with my Master’s in the Humanities (Concentration: Justice, Activism, and Solidarity), a limited-residency program from Arizona’s Prescott College. Graduating from this program is something I am so proud of and excited for. I’ve loved this institution. Several weeks ago, I had a chance to say a word at an on-campus graduate celebration. I noted there that attending Prescott College hasn’t changed who I am, it’s just made me more of who I would have been but might not have been if I had gone elsewhere.

I picked up my regalia today and plans are underway for graduation celebrations. However, I wanted to take a moment to offer a debt of deep and sincere gratitude to so many people who have provided with some of the strongest support structures an individual could have asked for. This seems as good a time as any to be deeply emotional and reflective about this mind-blowing, completely transformational experience.

First to my brother Jesse, my sister-from-another-mother Amy, and two more best friends friends Ariel & Christian. You all gave me so much strength and support in these past two years and I’m eternally grateful for that. I would not have made it throughout this program without the shoulder to lean on, pancakes to laugh or cry over, a new story to read. Thank you.

And I also want to thank my mentors Todd and Ned. Attending to Prescott College, moving here to support the work of my students as they become community organizers or journalists, deciding to continue on with my doctorate program, has been a series of life-changing decisions made at the many crossroads of life. I have been eternally lucky to be guided by two amazing community organizers, incredible mentors and friends. Ned, you taught me how to be an organizer. You also taught me how to build the most trusting, authentic relationships I can and to invest in myself; I will never forget that. Todd, you trusted me to share my organizing world with your students, and in doing so I learned to better trust myself. I am also very grateful for all the support you offered me this semester in the move to Prescott. Thank you for the laughs, the guidance, the food. You both took a chance on me and taught me to take a chance on myself. Thank you both.

I also wanted to thank everyone at Asamblea (Pablo, Antonia, Gloria, Melina, all of you wonderful people), my friends and comrades. You’ve taught me to see the world with new eyes and that has made all the difference as I move forward with the world. I’ve said this to you before, but to me you are what the world should look like. I’ll always stand with Asamblea. I’m also so, so grateful to Mike at The UpTake and Bruce & Kris, the best damn co-workers (and editor) a young journalist could have asked for. Thank you for the lessons learned, the laughs had, and the amazing work we did together.

To Mack, you and I have started to plan for a new world, a world we’re building together. Thank you for believing in me and for walking with me into this brave new world. You hold me accountable to myself and you’re an amazing friend.

And to the Loehrs. Dustin, I am so grateful that you are in my life as my friend and business partner. Your passion, authenticity, humbleness, talent, the world needs more people like you. And Caila, while you & I never went to school together officially, you have been an irreplaceable part of my college experience. I’m so excited for the work we get to do through Transformative Arts Productions. We’re on to something amazing here and I wouldn’t want to be doing so with anybody else.

To the wonderful people I met at Prescott College- my student-peers (the SJHR cohort and the Journalism class), Haley, GTAP and Joel, Bev, Joan, my cohort-thank you for everything you taught me.

And finally, to my family. My parents, my grandmothers, my aunts and uncles and cousins. You all are the most wonderful, fabulous people I could have had in my life. I missed you all in this graduate-school induced radio silence and I love you all so much.

I Am Dangerous; the Trauma of Passing

I am a young Arab-American woman of many identities and I pass as white, but I am not white.

I hate that I feel like I need to educate people about this.

Passing is the process of being assigned a value by someone else, whilst your true identity is devalued, disrespected, and marginalized.

Most Arab-Americans and Arabs I know identify as white, though more and more do not. For those of us who do not, it’s usually because we recognize the role that colonization has played in making us think we were just white enough to ignore all the trauma, marginalization, and systems of oppression that has been inflicted upon us by international political systems and countries like the United States and Israel.

Hey, if we’re white, it’s not racism, right? But by stripping us of our cultural identities and our sense of self, a huge chasm has successfully been created between our true identities, our sense of identity, and our chance to successfully defend that identity, whether through writing or through war. This leaves our cultures and countries open for business by anyone else with enough money to steal, adopt, or “borrow” as needed.

I didn’t choose to identify as a person of color, I only recognized that I always was.

Identifying as a person of color, a young radicalized brown woman, was a reclamation of self, a recognition that my identity was not a cultural pawn to be shared and passed amongst white peers who could do with my identity what I wished, who could assign me value based on their own values, who could use my identity as they needed.

My body, my sense of self, my cultural understanding, my family, my traditions, my experiences (even those of marginalization, disenfranchisement, and prejudice) are NOT yours to use to for your own purposes. They are not anyone’s to assign value to or not. Nobody get to assign me an identity based on your (privileged) understanding of how I can be useful to you.

You know what I get to do though? I get to break free of the collar of colonized thinking, accept who I am and who I have always been; recognize how I have been othered; recognize the trauma inherent in passing; get very angry; and decide I have value anyway as I truly am, regardless of any perception of how I could be useful to anybody else.

By recognizing myself as a person of color, who I am and why I am what I am, I get to help bridge the divide in cultural movements. Can you imagine the day when Arab-Americans stand in solidarity with African-Americans, Latino and Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans of all cultural backgrounds? Does that scare you and your privilege? It should.

Check out Koa Beck’s article from “Salon” on passing for white and straight: here: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/09/passing_for_white_and_straight_how_my_looks_hide_my_identity/