Ibrahim Hirsi reports on the challenges and satisfaction of covering controversy
Editor's note: Bias vs. balance is a perennial debate in journalism. Ibrahim Hirsi, a Minnesota Daily reporter and SJMC student, witnessed this firsthand last spring when he wrote a two-part series looking at the Islamic movement in Somalia and its impact on the Twin Cities Somali community. He reflects on his experiences here.
As a Somali journalist, I covered high-profile stories last spring for The Minnesota Daily about several young Somali men who returned to Africa to fight. While reporting these stories, I often felt caught between American readers who thought I was not tough enough on my community and Somalis who felt I was disloyal to it. While some readers accused me of being biased because I'm Somali, some Somalis didn't want the glare of publicity and considered it a betrayal that I wrote about the sensitive issues concerning the Somali community.
For example, I interviewed Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar Ahmad, imam of Abubakar As-Saddique mosque who was accused of recruiting the men who left. The imam said that the mosque was helping Somali youth to escape from gangs and drugs and to learn about Islam. After the story ran, some readers said my article was too sympathetic just because I interviewed the imam. Others said I supported those who want to destroy the mosque just because I titled my online story "A mosque under fire." The title was too sensitive and gave the "enemy" a feeling that they were winning their battle against the mosque, they said.
There were times when many people, including some University of Minnesota students who are related to the missing men, declined to speak with me. But being Somali and knowing the language, culture and people gave me an advantage in covering the story. It was not easy finding sources, but some talked to me because they trusted me more than non-Somali reporters.
I worked to find the truth and to talk to all sides. That was often hard. Students whom the FBI interrogated were eager to talk to me. Some accused the FBI of harassing them simply because they were Somali. But when I tried to speak with the FBI, the agents always declined to speak to me. As a result, my stories provided more information from the students. Because of this, some readers called my articles unbalanced.
Meanwhile, many from my community reproached me and told me I was endangering the entire community's future by writing about these issues. They thought these stories would create suspicion in the minds of those they work with and would jeopardize their jobs and lives in America. Others wanted to know why I haven't reported on the community's success stories--the thousands of Somali students who every year graduate from high schools, colleges and universities.
I told them that it is my job to write newsworthy stories and that writing about Somali graduates is not as important as the stories I was covering. I also told them that I could write only one story a week, and for this reason I had picked up the most interesting story. I told them my job is not about revealing my community's success or dark stories but about learning how to become a better reporter.
I learned that no one can satisfy all readers, especially in a story as complicated as this one. I consider myself a journalist first and foremost, and therefore, it was my obligation to the university community to bring stories that were relevant to them. Despite the online comments, I kept moving on and tried to produce balanced stories.
I learned how to approach people to develop more sources and also to ask for evidence when people accused others. Whenever one group accused another, I contacted the other group and asked for comment on the accusation.
Covering the issue was the most challenging thing I have ever dealt with, but I feel great about the in-depth reports on this issue which I contributed to The Minnesota Daily. As a Somali man trained in journalism, I was able to find important sources that other reporters would have had difficulty obtaining.
My unique perspective and knowledge of the Somali language resulted in balanced reports with a variety of voices. The challenges and pressures I faced were beyond my expectations, but they became lessons that strengthened my journalistic skills.
National Student Advertising Competition team members share their story
Editor's note: Students from the 2007 award-winning National Student Advertising Competition team are profiled in a new advertising strategy book titled "Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, and Design." In this excerpt, team members and SJMC grads Matt Nyquist (B.A. '07) and Brenna Whisney (B.A. '07) share their story.
Hundreds of students from the nation's top advertising programs compete every year in the National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC), sponsored by the American Advertising Federation. While it's a rewarding experience for all, there is only one winner. Here's the story of how the University of Minnesota team won the regional and ultimately national championship:
"There we were. Hearts pounding. Hair standing on end. And the biggest damn grins we've ever worn. We were the 2007 NSAC champions. Dozens of late nights, gallons of Red Bull and plenty of spirited debates had paid off.
Ten months before, we were presented with a daunting task: Take the most ubiquitous brand in existence and increase brand health and brand consumption by 3% each among 13-24-year-olds (Millennials) living in the United States. We had to once again make Coke relevant, while battling deep-rooted perceptions, an increasingly competitive category, and a fickle audience. To start, we knew we needed to learn about Coca-Cola and Millennials to identify where they intersect.
To get smart, we took a trip to interview MTV, a brand with their finger on the pulse of this generation. We ran focus groups. We had Millennials make collages and yearbook entries. We had Millennials create Facebook profiles for the Coca-Cola brand as if it were a person, to help articulate brand qualities in an outlet that they understand. We administered over 1,000 surveys nationwide. We interviewed anyone who would talk to us ... and some who wouldn't. We learned Millennials desire social connection above anything else. While these learnings were vital, we couldn't ignore everyday truths.
When you sit down with friends for pizza and order pitchers of soda for the group, inevitably someone says, 'Is Coke OK?' There is a collective acceptance. This is telling in and of itself. But dig deeper. Think about the context of a pitcher of Coke sitting in the middle of the table, surrounded by friends. It is metaphorically and literally a component and facilitator of the best social situations.
Coke helps people connect and our targets' lives revolve around their social experiences--YAHTZEE! The articulation of this idea served as the foundation for our creative strategy: Coke is an uplifting part of your favorite, shared experiences. This idea was so central to our campaign, not only was it the focus of all messaging, it informed the vehicles for messaging as well.
We created an iPhone application that used GPS technology to brand maps and show the location of your friends and Coke vending/retail locations. Our TV ads made Coke the hero by creating a connection between people that wouldn't have been possible without the brand. We created a program with Coke as the exclusive sponsor where youth could support Tolerance Centers, places aimed at fostering education and tolerance of different races, religions, and cultures. Plus countless events and promotions all intended to place Coca-Cola in the center of our target's shared experiences.
Will this campaign work? Our research said we were 'right on.' "Did it work? Well, not only did we win the NSAC national competition, but Coca-Cola's leading marketing judge said, 'We could run your campaign tomorrow!"