Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Pakistani journalist learns about U.S. community journalism through stint at Rapid City Journal

Sarah B. Haider, a Karachi, Pakistan-based features writer and copy editor who works for The News International, a 10,000-employee national daily published from three different Pakistani cities, had the opportunity to learn about community journalism in the U.S. under the International Center for Journalists fellowship program run by the U.S. State Department. Haider spent three weeks working at the Rapid City Journal. She wrote about her experience working at a community newspaper and going from a city of 20 million people to one of 70,000. Here is an excerpt from her column.
Sarah Haider
"The thought of meeting new people, adjusting to an alien culture, performing to the best of my abilities and most of all, being accepted while being so different, was frightening for me. But after spending 21 days here, my perception about Americans and their culture has been completely changed—and in the most positive of ways.

"Before landing in Rapid City, I had envisioned it to be something like New York—a fast-paced lifestyle, skyscrapers, double-decker buses and people of all shades of color. However, Rapid City turned out to be nearly the complete opposite: small, peaceful, extremely beautiful but not so ethnically diverse. I had never lived in a small city before, so being in Rapid City was a welcome change for me. I loved the scenic view of the Black Hills surrounding the city, the eateries in every nook and corner of the city and those unique life-sized bronze statues of American presidents situated throughout downtown.

"The placement gave me a chance to learn about community journalism, which is not practiced back home. Going on reporting assignments and covering issues which people face on a community level was, indeed, eye-opening. I really appreciate how I was allowed to work independently and was given a chance to go and cover different events and stories, which helped me to understand the kinds of issues that people in America face. I really appreciate how each of my stories received detailed feedback from the editors. This practice helped me improve my writing skills to a great extent. I was also able to observe how the newspaper industry in the U.S. struggles to remain in the business and how newspapers strive to survive through the Internet in the face of competition from other media outlets.

"Most importantly, this journalism-exchange program helped me remove many misconceptions that people in Pakistan generally have about American society. First, most people believe that being the citizens of a superpower country, Americans are arrogant people. This is completely unfounded. Throughout my stay here in the U.S., I found Americans to be extremely friendly and humble. If you ask them for help, they generally go out of the way to assist you, irrespective of your background.

"Second, Americans are by and large peace-loving people and are not warmongers as they are perceived to be. Just like every other country in the world, the views of the government do not necessarily reflect that of the public.

"Similarly, people-to-people contact helped me present a positive view about my country, too. Issues related to terrorism and political instability, killing of journalists and other social problems are very much real in Pakistan, but that doesn’t mean that every Pakistani subscribes to terrorist ideals. It’s only the small percentage of people who make headlines and then, the world generalizes."

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