By Farrah Hamid
August 3, 2009
On the surface, Rima Abdelkader may be yet another grad student pursuing a Masters degree at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, but in actuality, she’s already well on her way to giving Barbara Walters a run for her money. An emerging name to watch both in the media industry and in the Muslim world, Rima’s list of accomplishment includes doing broadcast reports for local TV stations on Hurricane Katrina (before she even finished her undergrad degree), and starting her career with a not-too-shabby gig as a print journalist at the United Nations. Currently in Syria teaching the world of social media to young students, elan grabbed Rima to shed light on her career path so far, and to share her words-of-wisdom for aspiring journalists:
Q. What made you want to become a journalist?
A: In the summer of my junior year of high school, I met NBC News anchor Maurice DuBois, who is now an anchor with CBS News, and I immediately became drawn to broadcast journalism. He had a natural talent for reporting, had great camaraderie with his colleagues, and loved his job. That was enough for me to want to learn more about the field. Best of all, he met and interviewed the most interesting people from a variety of disciplines. Before I knew it, I helped produce my high school graduation when I secured Maurice to speak at my commencement, and did some reporting when I shared the news about his accomplishments on stage to my classmates. He encouraged me to be the best and to pursue what I love.
At the time, I was matriculated in a high school business curriculum at New Dorp High, and thought perhaps I could become a business reporter. Rather than study journalism, I studied business at Pace University for substance. I wanted to apply my background knowledge of business in my reporting. My interests in journalism broadened soon after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and I became interested in international reporting. So, I took up studies in Political Science in addition to my business major studies.
When I received a scholarship through the New York Women in Communications, Inc. organization in 2003, I felt empowered after meeting so many inspiring women in the field. That pushed me further to pursuing a career in the field.
My interest in journalism cemented after I interned for CNN’s senior international correspondent Richard Roth at the United Nations in 2006. His show, “Diplomatic License,” covered the UN and world affairs and whetted my interest in the field.
Q. What has been the high point and the low point of your career so far?
Not knowing what story is in store for me can be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. But, as my international reporting professor Lonnie Isabel once said, “We’re not there to fear it; we’re there to reveal it.”
Q. What have been your challenges as a woman in your field? What advice do you have for young women who are aspiring journalists?
A. I haven’’t encountered major challenges pursuing journalism as a woman, but there are areas that will not be accepting of women, and you have to be cognizant of that. You can disagree with someone’s values or a host country’s values, but that won’t help you get the story quicker. While there might be times where gender cannot be overcome, there are ways to survive it as a reporter. You just have to think more creatively, and always remember to keep a positive attitude. A positive attitude helps you think more clearly, and will help you believe that you can do your assignment when there’s a lot of negativity around you. You CAN do it!
Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Muslim community?
A. The ability to find their voice, and not be afraid to share their point of view. Mona Eltahawy and Wajahat Ali are two examples of successful bloggers who have done just that, and who have encouraged others to do the same.
Q. Who is your biggest inspiration?
My mother is my biggest inspiration. My mother often dreamt about mapping out a career for herself, but a woman in her time aspiring to be anything other than a good, obedient daughter or wife was as close to the glass ceiling my mother could have reached. She pushed me to pursue what I love and to always remember that there are no limits to how much one person can make a difference in their life and in the lives of others.
Q. What project are you working on/what’s coming up next for you?
A. I will soon be traveling to Syria for the month of August as a part of a student exchange program to help students learn how to document their journey through social media, then I return to finish my last semester of graduate school.
Q. Complete this sentence: On Sunday mornings, the first thing I do is_________?
A. On Sunday mornings, the first thing I do is wake up, put my two feet on the ground, thank God for all that I have and don’t have, and prepare for an intense workout to keep me energized throughout the day!
Q. What was your nickname as a child?
A. Rumrouma or “RIIIIMA!!!” if I didn’t listen to my mom, haha.
Q. What is the soundtrack to your life?
A. “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra
Q. What’s your indulgence?
A. Red velvet cupcakes, having my grandmother read my Turkish coffee cup (or what my cousin Carmen calls Rima’s Daily Coffescope), and hearing my aunt Nawal’s Sunday Arabic jokes that don’t translate well into English, but still getting a kick out of it.
Q. Who would play you in a movie?
A. Anne Hathaway.
Q. What’s the one thing you can’t live without?
A. Hope for a better day, a better tomorrow.
Q. What advice do you have for young Muslims looking to get a start as a journalist?
First ask yourself why. Why do you want to pursue a career in journalism? Once you’ve figured out your own journalism, you could begin to tell others’ stories. My advice is simple: Stay on top of the news. Read a variety of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, online news media, and news blogs. Social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are also great sources for news and information. It’s also important to do a lot of shoe-leather reporting. Go out into your communities, speak to the people, learn more about them and the world they live in. A reporter who comes to work and says there’s no news isn’t doing their homework. There are stories out there waiting to be heard, to be told.
Photo Credit: John Smock