A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experiences at the WAM! conference in Boston. I had the pleasure of meeting Sabrina Hersi Issa during my time there, and interviewed her for MMW.
Muslimah Media Watch: You spoke on a WAM! panel about investigative journalism. Can you speak a little about your experience as a journalist?
Sabrina Hersi Issa: I started working in journalism at a network affiliate, where I helped reporters do research for stories, investigative pieces, find sources and anything else they’d let me do. From there, I transitioned to public radio where I stayed for two years working at the NPR station in Columbus, OH and since then I’ve been freelancing. My favorite aspects of those jobs was the fact that everyday I get to feed my curiosity, learn something new, speak with interesting people and test out new ways to tell a story. I never studied journalism, but I had great bosses and colleagues and learned a ton on the job.
MMW: What role do the Somali and Muslim communities play in your media making?
SHI: Growing up in an immigrant household, I’ve always been drawn to report on different aspects of the immigrant experience in America. I consider myself lucky that when I worked in Columbus, it was the second-largest city of Somali immigrants in America and I got to cover many stories coming out of the community.
Being a member of both communities, I feel like I see things and catch patterns that others would typically miss and I like to bring that into the media.
MMW: Tell us a bit about your media making and endeavors. You run a media firm, write, and are involved in several projects. What have you done and what are you currently involved in?
SHI: Well, I worked for a few NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and helped them explain their work and tell their stories using multimedia tools and online projects. From that, I pretty much got hooked on using my journalism skills to help social causes tell their stories, so I launched Be Bold Media, which is focused on creating media that empowers people to make a difference. It’s a form of storytelling that is a fun creative challenge and feeds my idealism.
I still report on stories for different media, contribute to the Organizing Young Women column on Feminst.com and, you know, fight crime.
MMW: What are your main focuses and interests regarding your writing?
SHI: I love writing about politics, heath issues and immigrant experiences, but I love writing about stories that feed my curiosity. I love asking,”why is that…?”, then never letting up until I find an answer.
MMW: Do you feel you write your stories for a specific audience?
SHI: Not really. I think a dream scenario is– after a story airs, imagining a listener or audience member out there in Audience Land lean back in their chair and say, “That is interesting. I did not know that.” I mean, they don’t even have to lean back in their chair per se, but sharing new information in an interesting way? That is gold.
MMW: Do you work to make a difference in Muslim and/or Somali communities? Has your work made differences?
SHI: When I report, I don’t have an agenda. If somehow my reporting makes a difference then, all the better. But I think the chief difference my work has made has been exposing people to new resources and programs they didn’t know was there. For example, I did a piece on these two guys, an African-American oncologist and preacher and their radio program that focused on raising awareness about cancer, heart disease and other health issues that disproportionately affect the black community.
A few months after the story aired, I swung by the studio before their show just to say hello and I ran into this woman in the hallway whose husband was a guest on that day’s broadcast. She said she recognized my voice and told me after she heard my story she started listening to their broadcast and it motivated her and husband to get check ups. As a result, he was later diagnosed and successfully treated for prostate cancer and she was getting treatment for breast cancer– that was caught early. That was amazing.