Introduction and Discussion of Goals
Improved media coverage of Islam in the United States is contingent on journalists learning to ask the right questions, working to understand the answers in context, and explaining those answers to the public in appropriate ways.
In introducing the Western Knight Center’s seminar “Covering Islam and Muslims in America,” Michael Parks, Jeff DeWind, Diane Winston, and Vikki Porter welcomed the journalists in attendance and outlined the aims for the conference.
Parks, Director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC, stressed that Muslims in America must no longer be treated as an “other” that journalists and social scientists seek to understand and explain.
Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to get journalists out of the newsroom, due to the scarcity of time and resources, Parks said he applauded the news directors and editors of the journalists in attendance for allowing them to come to the conference. He encouraged the reporters to communicate the value of such conferences, as well as the value of the information learned, to their colleagues when they return.
"If it works for you, take it back, share it, and tell your bosses to send more,” Parks said.
Josh DeWind, the director of the Social Science Research Council and the International Migration Program, remarked that interdisciplinary groups have been brought together by the Council since the 1920’s.
With the very diverse panel as a resource, DeWind said that he expected the conference to be more of a conversation than a training. Specialists and journalists can learn from each other and figure it out together.
"The transition from Muslims in America to Muslims of America is both interesting and important,” said DeWind, “and journalists play an integral role.”
Echoing the sentiments of Michael Parks, DeWind presented several questions regarding how journalists can best understand and report the transition.
- What do we need to know?
- What questions should we ask?
- What is real knowledge about Islam in the United States?
One must also remember, he noted, that what leaders, scholars, and other journalists think is important is not necessarily what is.
Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion, agreed with Parks that journalists must get out of the office to participate in in-depth learning activities.
She noted that since religion penetrates almost every story, journalists must develop an equal understanding of all religions and therefore foster responsible media coverage. The prevalence of Islam in current events makes contextual, informed reporting especially important.
"I hope to improve, expand, and enhance coverage of religion in the media as much as possible,” she said.
Identifying herself as “first and foremost a journalist,” Winston said she spoke to experts, activists, journalists, leaders, and scholars, among others, to identify underreported topics that could be addressed in the seminar.
One question that emerged was: What will Islam in America look like on the ground for the next generation?
Winston said that immersion, to the extent that it is possible in a short-term seminar environment, is a useful tool for gaining insight and awareness. The journalists at the seminar were scheduled to participate in a fieldtrip during the week, including stops in Little Arabia and at the Council on American-Islamic Relations offices in Anaheim.