December 2016

December 2016

Updated by
Mukhtar Ibrahim

It has been six months since I was selected as a Bush Fellow. It’s incredible how fast time flew by! I’m writing this report during the last week of the fall semester at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where I’m pursuing my master’s degree in investigative journalism. I’m deeply grateful to the Bush Foundation for giving me the opportunity to study at Columbia University. 

My journey as a fellow since July has been an exhilarating one. When I got the fellowship, I was a staff reporter at Minnesota Public Radio, covering breaking news, crime, religion and features. While there, I spent a considerable amount of time reporting on community-related issues and the challenges and successes of immigrants. The Bush Fellowship came at a perfect time in my life. Throughout my short career as a journalist, I always wanted to write about immigrant issues and how our state is transforming. I wanted to spend more time with people from underserved communities so I could tell their stories in authentic and meaningful ways. I envisioned to start an independent media that targets these communities. But I felt I was lacking knowledge in certain areas such as long-form, immersion reporting, investigative journalism techniques and the expertise to manage a media company. 

With the full support from the Bush Foundation, I moved to New York and enrolled in at the Columbia Journalism School. It was a tough decision, but one that was necessary. During my first semester at the school, I have learned a lot. Under the guidance of veteran journalists, I was able to learn more about investigative journalism, nonfiction writing and digital media. I took classes in reporting, storytelling using audio, how to use data, mobile and social media tools in news gathering and audience engagement. I came to Columbia with some previous reporting experience, but the skills I have acquired so far have tremendously helped me become a better journalist and a strong leader in my profession. 

And in an effort to prepare and educate myself about how to start and manage an independent media organization, I took a class called business of journalism, where I learned digital media trends and changes in the media industry. I learned about the challenges of creating a successful entrepreneurial online operation and how to measure audience and viewers, and why that matters. The fellowship has enabled me the opportunity to reflect and think about my longterm goals of starting an independent news outlet, which is the main reason why I am pursuing a master’s degree in journalism. This is an area I’m passionate about. And in these changing times, hearing and elevating the voices of minorities is so critical. 

So for the six months of my fellowship, I connected with a couple of people who are leaders in the media industry. There’s so much one can learn in the classroom, but I often gain more insight and knowledge by meeting with people I admire over coffee, and surrounding myself with individuals who are smarter and more experienced than I am. These people are caring and eager to share their expertise with like-minded people. They understand that it’s OK to make mistakes along the way and not to be afraid to challenge and set higher goals for yourself. They understand that the way someone could make a significant contribution to his or her community is by demonstrating achievement in his or her profession. 

This is an exciting and uncharted territory for me: As is common in many immigrant families, I’m the first in my family to become a journalist. I am incredibly fortunate to have had the unconditional love and support of my family throughout this fellowship and my studies. They have always stood by me, encouraging me to do better and keeping me motivated. 

Small things in life do matter. I learned that having a few minutes to yourself each day for self-reflection will help you relax and give you more energy to focus on the tasks ahead. It’s so easy to get distracted from the vision you set for yourself without peace of mind. I know this because there’s an inevitable stress that comes with being a reporter. We have deadlines to meet and people to interview and we are constantly under pressure. We work long hours and sometimes write heartbreaking stories. But with this fellowship, I learned the importance of self-care and self-development. It is OK to turn off my brain for a few hours or days when things get tough. And I try to remember that every day through my journey as a Bush Fellow.