Islam in Iowa?

The sixth one…

“Iowa is more diverse than people think, if they think of Iowa at all.”

So says Mark Witherspoon, editorial adviser for the student newspaper at Iowa State University in Ames. He was one of three Iowans who brought Muslimedia to town after securing a $250 SPJ micro-grant.

The other two were his wife Brenda, a j-school lecturer who advises the SPJ campus chapter, and senior Nik Heftman, who moderated the discussion.

Brenda Witherspoon says there’s a thriving Muslim community in Iowa…

Our hosts told us that the Islamic Center in Ames serves people from more than 70 countries. Some previously lived in countries with thriving democracies; others didn’t. Some previously lived in areas with thriving journalism; others have little experience with that. (One Islamic woman who participated had trained as a journalist many years ago.) Some have lived in Ames for decades (or were born here); others arrived more recently to this country, to Iowa, or to Ames. 

Heftman moderated the afternoon, which was intentionally limited to 15 journalists and 15 Muslim community members. That decision meant attendees were “consciously submerged in the conversation and willing to learn,” Heftman says.

But he was most impressed by what happened beforehand and afterward…

I was surprised and happy to see everyone connect and start the discussion before the program officially started. After the event, I saw everyone exchanging contact information, story ideas, and their thoughts on the event. It seemed like we successfully brought local journalists and the local muslim community a lot closer. 

If you want to host your own Muslimedia, wherever you are, contact us.

TV and radio and terrorism

The fifth one…

When Nora Baldner heard about Muslimedia, she had an unconventional idea: Make it a centerpiece at the annual convention of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association.

That’s what happened in October in Quincy, Illinois. Baldner, a professor and adviser of the student newspaper at Quincy University, called it “the most impactful session of the weekend.” Here’s how she described it…

Reporters said they were changed by the experience and changed the way they wrote stories when they returned to their newsrooms. It was gratifying that a small gathering in Quincy with reporters and Muslims had a direct impact on national news reporting. We were able to hold a panel discussion, share a meal, and observe mid-day prayers.

One of those reporters was Cheri Preston, a morning anchor for ABC Radio who’s heard around the country.


“Sometimes, we automatically say it’s a Muslim extremist, an Islamic terrorist, rather than just saying it was a terrorist or an extremist,” Preston said. “So I think that conversations like this – one-on-one with individuals, especially in smaller towns all around the country – are really very helpful.”

Whatever the size of your town, you can win a grant to Muslimedia. Contact us.

Muslims and Jews and Presbyterians

The fourth one…

“When I asked the staff of our student newspaper, ‘How many of you have been inside a mosque?’ no one but our copy editor, who is Muslim, raised his hand,” recalls Judy Kleinberg Biehl, director of the University of Buffalo’s journalism program. “I realized there was a big gap between their perception of what they’re covering and reality.”

Biehl won one of our $200 grants to pay for a halal meal at her own Muslimedia, which she called Journalism & Islam: Food For Thought. On April 23, she invited not only veteran and student journalists to join her at the Islamic Center in Amherst, but also a rabbi from Temple Beth Zion and a reverend from the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Before the event, Biehl told Buffalo’s NPR affiliate…

We want the discussions to be blunt – the questions to be real. We’re not looking for politically correct answers. We want people to say what they are afraid of, and we want the journalist to answer openly what some of the fears are.

Watch the video above to see how blunt and real it got. And if you want to host your own Muslimedia, contact us.

Sooner than later

The third one…

Rival schools teamed up for the first Midwestern Muslimedia. On April 15, SPJ chapters at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University co-hosted an intimate gathering for 29 people at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.

Barbara Allen, who advises the Oklahoma State SPJ chapter, says attendance “was actually pretty remarkable considering the event was held the Saturday before Easter,” when many students go home.

Judy Gibbs Robinson, adviser of the University of Oklahoma SPJ chapter, moderated the discussion with a panel of “three Muslims-who-are-not-journalists and three journalists-who-are-not-Muslims.”

Explains Robinson…

I deliberately avoided inviting religion writers because I wanted reporters with no special knowledge about Islam. So I was surprised by how much our three journalists actually knew. Each had reported previously on stories involving Muslims. Unfortunately, those stories tended to be about vandalism and violence against the community.

If you want to host your own Muslimedia, big or small, contact us. You don’t need any special knowledge.


Coast to coast

The second one…

Muslimedia debuted in South Florida, but the followup happened in Southern California – thanks to Michelle Dowd, a professor and newspaper adviser at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

On the evening of March 2, at a mosque with the awesome name of the Islamic Center of Inland Empire, 55 people ate dinner, attended a sunset prater, and met on the floor in a circle. They talked for 2 1/2 hours about journalism and Islam.

Dowd says it was “warm, communal and eye-opening.”

“Our journalism students learned – from an imam, an attorney, professors and activists – that Muslims are a community of people who love one another, who have a faith that informs their ethics, and who do not condone violent acts of any sort, let alone those committed in the name of Islam,” Dowd says. “I am so grateful to Nadeem Riaz for opening the mosque to us, and to Masood Kahn, Saheb Ashrafi and Niveen Behairy for generously sharing their personal stories and their professional wisdom with us.”

Dowd concludes, “We are forever changed.”

It doesn’t take forever to organize Muslimedia where you are. And it doesn’t even cost pocket change – SPJ will buy your meal. Hit us up.


Food for thought

The first one…

The first Muslimedia didn’t go like we planned it. In fact, the first one didn’t happen at all. It was scheduled for October in South Florida – days after Hurricane Matthew skimmed the coast.

So we were forced to postpone. When we rescheduled for late November, Donald Trump had shocked the Electoral College. The conversation was more ominous and more important than we expected.

We learned a lot from our first effort, and we can tell you all about it. We can also help you host your own. Weather permitting, of course.



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