Muhammad Ittefaq, journalist and researcher, might have a different perspective to share on the topic of diversity when he attends the 2018 Excellence in Journalism (EIJ) in Baltimore, Maryland, from Sept. 27-29. Ittefaq is a SPJ international student and journalist from Germany and has won the Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership fellowship to attend the national convention. He is also a member of SPJ Florida.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists website, SPJ.org, Dori Maynard was well-known for tirelessly working to ensure diversity in the newsroom and challenging news media to look at themselves and what she called “distorted coverage of communities of color” when covering America’s ongoing racial struggles and what it does to the country.
“She was a passionate advocate for advancing diversity, yes, but just as importantly she was a passionate advocate for better journalism,” said Robert Leger, president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.
The SPJ Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership program and fellowship was first introduced in 2005. Since then 58 SPJ members have gone through the program. Participants indicate on the website that they appreciated getting to know members of the SPJ national leadership ladder through the program. The program also affords fellows the opportunity to feel more connected to the organization and to the conference through their program participation.
Ittefaq said he wants international journalism students and professional journalists to acquire more knowledge about American journalism, network with American journalists, attend annual conventions and support independent journalism across the globe.
During the conference, he said he expects to meet with several journalists as he did last year in Anaheim, California. With this, he said “I will try to connect with the international community in this regard. I will attend sessions … I haven’t decided yet which one I will go but I will attend all the meetings, gatherings related to SPJ.”
Like many who attend the EIJ convention, Ittafaq said he wants to make new connections in the Society of Professional Journalists organization like he did when he attended 2017 EIJ. He said he plans on attending the SPJ board and business meetings to become acquainted with the organization. “I am regional member of SPJ Florida chapter (and Region 3) and I would like to involve myself more and do my best for SPJ regional and national,” said Ittafaq.
President of SPJ, Rebecca Baker said that diversity is important to SPJ because one of their purposes is to promote a broader voice in newsrooms across the country.
“We want to help expand the quality of news reporting, do better sourcing through diversity in newsrooms. It’s been shown that a diverse newsroom is a stronger more diverse workplace,” she said. “The more views you have, the more perspectives you have, which results in richer and fuller news coverage and this program is just one way that SPJ helps achieve that,” said Baker.
Ittefaq became aware of the diversity fellowship application when SPJ Assistant Region 3 Director, Sharon Dunten, sent him a link through Facebook and encouraged him to apply for the program.
“Initially, I thought I wouldn’t get it because I’m not an American citizen. Secondly, my portfolio was weak, but I am glad that I tried and made it finally. I have learned a very important lesson from this application that we should at least try to do something.” – Muhammad Ittefaq
Dunten said she felt Muhammad would be a great candidate for the diversity fellowship. “He can bring a different perspective to the program, not only because he is a SPJ International community member, but because he is from a country where journalists’ rights are violated daily and the lives of journalists have been threatened,” Dunten said.
She said we as American journalists may not fully understand the censorship, obstacles and violence his native country’s press goes through to make sure there is accountability and justice through the press. Ittefaq is originally from Pakistan.
In comparison to Pakistan, Ittefaq said the field of journalism is completely different from the United States.
Ittefaq said he firmly believes that journalism, as a field, has several challenges across the globe. These include “digitalization, ‘googlization’, fake news, political pressure and press freedom issues.”
“I think Pakistani journalism is [an] infant and [is] still evolving with the passage of time. Pakistan has very vibrant electronic [broadcast] media, but newspapers are facing many challenges including revenue and decreasing readership,” he said. “I would like to see Pakistani media fully free, independent, and objective.”
He also said that he would like to see Pakistani journalists with more training, ethically professionalized — journalists that stand with truth and real “watchdogs of the society.”
“We [Pakistan press] still need an improvement in press code of ethics,” said Ittefaq. He said that American journalists should know that Pakistan is one the deadliest country for journalists. “Pakistani media is not free media especially in minority reporting and establishment issues,” said Ittefaq.
According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Pakistan ranks at 139 out of 180 countries as the most dangerous for journalists. At least 117 journalists have been killed in the past 15 years in Pakistan, and of these, only three cases were taken up in the judicial courts, reports RSF.
Universities and colleges in Pakistan also lack the resources to educate students about press rights, he said. “My stress was related to education problems including seminary schools, lack of libraries in schools, and educational curriculum problems,” Ittafaq said.
He attended The University of Punjab in Pakistan where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts – BA, in Political Science and Indo-Pak History from 2011-2013. After undergraduate school, he went to back to The University of Punjab for Graduate School, where he obtained his first master’s degree in communication studies from 2013-2015.
In 2018 Ittefaq earned his second master’s degree in media and communication science at the Institute of Media and Communication Science, Technical University in Ilmenau (Technische Universität Ilmenau), in Germany.
“My main area of interest during my [second master’s] degree was social media and agenda setting, public diplomacy and crisis communication,” he said. His master’s thesis topic was “Pakistan’s and India’s Digital Diplomacy – A Cross National Comparison.
“My area of writing for journalism is public diplomacy and how foreign ministries and state institutions use social media to communicate with foreign public. I also write about journal culture and journalism practices in developing countries,” said Ittefaq.
In the last two years, he has attended various national and international conferences including the International Journalism Festival in Perugia Italy, International Communication Association in Prague Czech Republic, and Exchange program for Regional Integration of East Asia and Europe in Poland, Belgium and Germany.
Ittefaq has also written many news stories for Pakistani newspapers but also writes about press freedom issues around the world including for the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy’s blog. He also has recently published three research papers in different academic journals. “One of my papers is published in Sage and the Digital Health Journal,” he said.
Ittefaq is now focusing on the study of health communication and how people communicate through social media about their health-related issues. “I am conducting research in this area to look into the role of new in healthcare professional and patient communication,” he said.
In ten years he said that he wants to become a lecturer in a reputable media and journalism school in the United States or elsewhere. “I would continue writing academic research papers and opinion articles on variety of issues,” he said.
Today, Ittefaq is a graduate teaching assistant at the Department of Communication and Journalism located at the University of Maine in the United States. Ittefaq said his interests are health communication, digital diplomacy, public relations and social media. He also writes for various organizations as a freelancer, volunteer, and blogger. He has already worked as an English newspaper, The Educationist, as a reporter.
“I will remain active in SPJ and would like to start a new student chapter at the University of Maine,” said Ittefaq. He said he would also be more than happy to join the [SPJ] New England Pro Chapter. “The Society of Professional Journalists is very important and dear to me” … and encourages international journalism students and professional journalists to join SPJ.
Ittefaq said he loves to play cricket and table tennis in his free time. “I also use to go for running on daily basis and watch movies based on true stories,” he said. “As journalist and junior researcher, I spend most of time on reading and writing.” He also likes to cook daily and enjoy his meal with his friends.
Isaiah Singleton is SPJ Region 3’s 2018 summer intern. He is a senior at Savannah State University majoring in Mass Communication with a concentration in online/print journalism. Singleton is a contributing writer for the Savannah State University’s student-ran newspaper, The Tiger’s Roar. Raised in Stockbridge, Georgia, writing has always been his passion. During childhood, he wrote numerous fictional stories about his life and what he wanted it to be. firstname.lastname@example.org