Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue

On September 29 and 30, 2009, The Paley Center for Media hosted a Media Council Dialogue, titled Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue, at our New York City headquarters.

•Download PDF Report: Media and the Muslim World
Click here for a list of resources and tools

Held in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, this Dialogue explored how to improve the depth and quality of the US news media’s coverage of Muslim cultures, both here and abroad. After in-depth consideration of the successes and failures of news coverage on this front, we set out to reach a straightforward goal. We sought to illuminate new approaches and resources that can help journalists and news executives overcome challenges to providing comprehensive and accurate information on Islam and Muslims to the American public—information that is vital for meaningful and productive public discourse on major foreign and domestic policy issues.

The program began with a keynote session with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on the evening of September 29, before an invited audience of approximately 160 guests. The following morning, senior members of the news industry and experts on the Muslim world, selected for their variety of perspectives, convened for discussion. Garrick Utley, president of The Neil D. Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce at the State University of New York, served as moderator for the discussion. The following is a summary of Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue.

Editor’s Note:
Download the complete report of Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue. We consider this report to be a living document. As such, we would like your input in improving it as an ongoing reference for the journalism community. If you would like to contribute your thoughts, new resources and tools, or editorial input, please email us at mediacouncil@paleycenter.org.

Executive Summary

According to the Pew Research Center, fifty-eight percent of Americans say they know little or nothing about Islam’s practices, and thirty-five percent say they have a negative opinion of Muslims—opinions that respondents say are largely shaped by the news media.  Where do these negative perceptions come from? Does the media’s tendency to focus on adversity and conflict contribute to these attitudes? What can the news media do to provide a fuller, more informed, and more normalized view of Muslim issues? These questions formed the backdrop for Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue. The Dialogue had a number of goals. Our first was to frankly consider these issues with newsroom leaders representing a broad cross section of American journalism. The second was to bring new tools and resources to bear on the challenges facing all journalists striving to improve coverage of the Muslim world in the United States. And the third was to create first-person connections between Muslim community representatives and journalists, as a way to personalize relationships that would lead to richer coverage of the Muslim world.

The keynote discussion with Christiane Amanpour reinforced many of the verities of journalism, beginning with her stirring affirmation of the central role international news plays in our democracy. The CNN anchor’s conversation with The Paley Center for Media’s President and CEO Pat Mitchell also set the stage for a deeper discussion of the Muslim world, as she introduced many of the main themes that Dialogue participants would consider the following day, including the journalist’s commitment to revealing the truth, reaching the audience, and the importance of explanation and analysis in covering a world unfamiliar to so many in America. Ms. Amanpour also spoke about specifics pertaining to the Muslim world, including the breadth and diversity of its population, the role of women, the demographic explosion of young people throughout the Muslim world, and her personal history of years covering these issues as one of America’s most recognizable and trusted journalists.

The themes broached at the keynote then became the basis of the following day’s Dialogue. In the Kissinger Global Conference Room, under the seasoned hand of veteran moderator and career-long journalist Garrick Utley, twenty-one leading print, broadcast, and new media journalists joined academic experts and Muslim community representatives to mull over the questions of how to improve American coverage of the Muslim world.

Utley began the proceedings with a review of who we are talking about when we talk about the Muslim world and of attitudes and perceptions of the community culled from both the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. This led to the issues at hand, beginning with the challenges facing journalists.

Participants discussed shrinking news budgets, less time and space devoted to international coverage and investigative journalism, and the increased competition for the public’s attention as the news space becomes increasingly fragmented. Featured in this conversation was the effect of budget considerations and increased business pressure, the necessity of covering what’s exceptional in the news and how that can lead to the constant coverage of conflict, the complexity of covering something as vast as the Muslim world, inadequate staffing, and newsroom diversity.


Facing the Challenges

Following the discussion of the challenges, our conversation turned toward a list of resources and tools to improve coverage. There were three main areas, each with a specific focus.


Reporting Networks and Partnerships

One way to confront the increasing cost of coverage of international news is through partnerships between traditional media outlets and new reporting networks. For a more complete list of resources, see our report.

GlobalPost is an Internet journalism site devoted exclusively to international news and related content.  Its mission is to provide Americans and all English-language readers around the world, with a depth, breadth, and quality of original international reporting that has been steadily diminished in too many American newspapers and television networks. And they are actively seeking partners, having already made agreements to provide their coverage to outlets including CBS News, the New York Daily News, and Worldfocus among many others.

Bureau for International Reporting, cofounded by Kyra Kay and Jason Maloney, is a nonprofit video news production company dedicated to offering affordable coverage of overlooked international news stories to American news providers and hence to the underserved American public.

GroundReport, founded by Rachel Sterne, is a citizen journalism site with a wide international reach. Its world news platform combines digital reporting tools and a selective human network to power global citizen journalism on the web. Reporters submit articles, photos, or videos of news events to GroundReport, which are vetted by editorial staff prior to publication. Content partners with verified status bypass the submission queue, publishing instantly.

PulseWire, founded by Jensine Larsen, is a media enterprise covering global issues through the eyes of women. They are dedicated to listening to and broadcasting the unheard voices and innovative solutions of women worldwide. They produce World Pulse Magazine as well as PulseWire, an interactive community newswire where women can speak for themselves to the world and connect to solve global problems.

 

Notable Online Research Tools

The next challenge discussed by participants was the glut of online information and resources—making it difficult to find quality tools. A number of journalists and bloggers provide first-rate online information and analysis of the Muslim world, including participants Genieve Abdo, Marc Lynch, and Steven Waldman. The following is a sample of some of the most successful sites for research and analysis.

Bitter Lemons is a Web site that presents Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. It focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and peace process. It is produced, edited and partially written by Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian, and Yossi Alpher, an Israeli. They also feature a free, downloadable book.

Beliefnet founded by Steven Waldman, is the largest spiritual site on the Internet. They are independent and not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement. They provide their audience with access to the best spiritual teachers and clergy in the world, thought-provoking commentary, and a supportive community.

• The Century Foundation has launched insideIRAN, a special project taking readers inside the political crisis in Iran. TCF fellow and Iran analyst Geneive Abdo leads the project Web site, which features articles, analysis, and the latest media reports from some of the world's most prominent Iranian scholars, journalists, and bloggers.
 
• The International Center for Journalists’ Fighting Words: How Arab and American Journalists Can Break Through to Better Coverage is a nuts and bolts guide about coverage issues including stereotypes, and loaded words and images. It has an extremely useful appendix and resource guide.

Link TV’s Mosaic is a daily compendium of reports from broadcasters throughout the Middle East, all translated into English.

•  Dr. Marc Lynch’s blog began in 2002 under the name Abu Aardvark. In 2005, it was revealed to be the work of Marc Lynch, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University and author of Voices of the New Arab Public (Columbia University Press). He is currently blogging on Foreign Policy’s website and writes about Middle East politics, Arab media, Iraq, Islamist movements, and whatever else interests him.

In addition to these resources, there is a more extensive list of recommended Web sites vetted by Dialogue participants in our downloadable report of the Media and the Muslim world conference.


Human Resources

One of the principles of improving coverage of the Muslim world was laid out by Christiane Amanpour during the keynote conversation. She spoke of the need for journalists to get out and talk to people in Muslim communities and make first-hand, personal connections to the subjects of their stories. This lack of the personal has been a criticism of some journalism that does not reach into a community, or that only relies on the usual suspects as experts and representatives of Muslim communities.

The discussion of human resources provided some eye-opening opportunities to improve coverage of the Muslim world.

Global Expert Finder is a free online resource of opinion leaders who provide quick reactions and accurate analysis to journalists worldwide on complex political, social and religious issues and crises.

Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, founded by Daisy Khan, is an organization of more than 300 Muslims around the world who are media trained and ready to speak about the issues relating to Muslims across the board—from religion, to security, to business. The MLTs provide what they call an ‘opposition voice’ to extremists. Khan offered to assist journalists who are seeking experts, commentators, or just everyday people, for their stories.

Muslim Public Affairs Council Edina Lekovic, Communications Director, acts as a spokeswoman for the American Muslim community to media outlets, government officials, interfaith leaders, academic institutions, and community groups. She helps lead journalists in their quest for information about the Muslim world. Lekovic offered to guide journalists who are seeking entrée into the Muslim American community for their stories.

• Religion Newswriters Association offers a number of interesting resources, including Islam: A Guide to US Experts and Organizations on their ReligionLink site. This guide contains more than 100 experts who specialize in such areas as civil rights, politics, foreign affairs, art, culture, history, law, family issues, and more. It also includes information on Muslim advocacy organizations, research centers, and think tanks.

• The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) serves as a clearing house for journalists seeking on-the-ground assistance throughout the Muslim world, providing recommendations on hiring experienced translators, guides, and local journalists. They also provide advice to organizations seeking to recruit and hire their member journalists.

Research Sources from Participants

A preconference survey and discussion during our conference generated a list of online resources that our participants were already using. We include that list here, on the assumption that our experts in the field have combed research material and esteem these sites as valuable sources of information.

The following are the resources cited by at least one participant.

Abu Muqawama blog: A blog which says it is dedicated to following issues related to contemporary insurgencies as well as counterinsurgency tactics and strategy.

Afpax Insider:  A news site describing itself as, "Your one stop Af-Pak info sources."        

Ahmed Rashid: The blog of Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of the book, Descent Into Chaos.

Al-Hayat: One of the leading daily pan-Arab newspapers.

Al-Jazeera: The English language Web site of the television news network.

Angry Arab: The blog of As'ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley.         

The Arabist: The Arabist says it is dedicated to covering the politics and culture of the Arab world. It is published in Cairo.

Asharq al-Awsat: Asharq Al-Awsat calls itself "the world's premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously on four continents in twelve cities."

Dr. Barham Salih on twitter and on his webpage. Dr. Salih is the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Daily Star Beirut: The Daily Star is the on-line edition of the Lebanese newspaper and calls itself, "the Web's leading source of Lebanese and regional news."

Iraq Oil Report: Iraq Oil Report claims it is the world leader in providing business, political, and security news and analysis on Iraq.

Jakarta Post: The online home of the Indonesian newspaper.

Long War Journal: The Long War Journal says it is "dedicated to providing original and accurate reporting and analysis of the Long War (also known as the Global War on Terror)."

Al-Masry al-Youm:The online, English language home of the Egyptian newspaper.        

MERIP: The Middle East Research and Information Project and the Middle East Report Online

Mideastwire.com:Mideastwire.com offers a daily email newsletter of concise, translated briefs covering some of the key pieces appearing in the media of the twenty-two Arab countries, Iran, and the Arab Diaspora.

The Mideast Mirror: An online publication devoted to fostering a deeper understanding of the Middle East and to promoting constructive dialogue about the region and its relationship with the United States.

The National (Dubai): The online edition of the The National newspaper from the UAE.

Tehranbureau.com: An independent source of news on Iran and the Iranian Diaspora, Tehran Bureau is a "virtual" news bureau.


Final Note and the Way Forward

Please read the entire report of the conference, which contains a more detailed description of the events as well as further information about resources and tools to improve coverage of the Muslim world. Download the entire report.

 

While we hope that the information developed in Media and the Muslim World: Enriching the American Dialogue will serve journalists in many ways, we also believe it is only the beginning of the discussion. We do not want this to serve as a snapshot in time, rather, we want it to be an organic effort that will grow as more resources and tools are developed and discovered. Please share your thoughts with us, and keep us apprised of any developments of which we should be aware. To reach us, send an email to mediacouncil@paleycenter.org.

 

Dialogue Participants

Moderator:

Garrick Utley, President, Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce of The State University of New York

Participants:

Geneive Abdo
Foreign Policy Analyst
The Century Foundation

Deborah Amos
Correspondent
National Public Radio

David Clark
Executive Producer
Fox News

John Daniszewski
Senior Managing Editor
Associated Press

Walid El-Gabry
President
Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association

Kate Felsen
Senior Producer
ABC News

Brooke Gladstone
Host
On the Media
National Public Radio

Nisid Hajari
Foreign Editor
Newsweek

Andrew Heyward
Senior Advisor
Marketspace LLC/ Monitor Group

Janice Kaplan
Editor
Parade

Daisy Khan
Executive Director
American Society for Muslim Advancement

Edina Lekovic
Communications Director
Muslim Public Affairs Council

Marc Lynch
Blogger, Foreign Policy.com

Irshad Manji
Director, Moral Courage Project
Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
New York University

Pat Mitchell
President and CEO
The Paley Center for Media

Dalia Mogahed
Senior Analyst and Executive Director
Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

Lawrence Pintak
Founding Dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Washington State University

Howard Rosenberg
Producer
60 Minutes

Charles Sennott
Executive Editor
GlobalPost.com

Jamie Tarabay
Correspondent
National Public Radio

Steven Waldman
Editor-in-Chief
Beliefnet.com