The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press, Part Six (The Conclusion)

“One Team, One Newspaper

The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press

Part Six: “They Had Never Seen Something Like This”

On the first day the Voice appeared on campus at AUI-S, 15 students stopped by Jackie Spinner’s office expressing an interest in joining the staff.  “The students, and I’m talking about readers now, they had never seen anything like this before,” said Spinner, the paper’s faculty adviser.  “They had never seen something like this– where editorials are clearly labeled, opinion is clearly labeled, the news stories are pretty free of bias, the students writing the stories are not involved in the stories.  They were excited.”

By contrast, she described administrators as equal parts impressed and relieved– that the newspaper looked professional, read as journalism, and did not step into sensational or reputation-sullying territory.

The paper’s prime territories: breaking news and thoughtful views.  Proof is in its pages.  Less than a month after issue one, upon the school’s reopening after semester break, a second Voice resonated on campus.  Issue two (front page screenshot below) featured an interview with the famously-displaced Zimnaku Mohammed Saleh, now known as the Lost Boy of Halabja; told the tale of AUI-S students who contacted a textbook author about perceived mistakes in his chapter on Islam; and analyzed a stricter university attendance policy causing concerns among some students.

Subsequent issues have presented stories on the library’s push for more books; the starting of a martial arts club and IT students’ association; the premiere of the Drama Club’s first off-campus performance; cafeteria food criticisms; the lack of Internet service in the dormitories; concerns about students forced to enter and exit the university through a back gate instead of the two in front; student athletes competing for the first time in five sports; and student romantics who feel “caught between cultures as they explore a more Western style of relationships in an Eastern place.”

The Voice’s survival throughout the semester has also at last broken the Curse of the One-Issue Wonders, proving with the right mix of passion and prompting that an AUI-S student publication can produce more than one edition.  In addition, the Voice is the newest member of the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) and the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate.

Staff now enjoy a dedicated newsroom space sporting wood-paneled walls, ornate couches, computers, and the expected pile-ups of page proofs and old issues.  Students are even eager to start a related chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, mirroring Spinner’s efforts in Berkeley years before.

Student staffers at work in the new Voice newsroom at AUI-S.

Staffers chat with Spinner in the paper's newsroom.

Couched in between these once-unimaginable perks and associations, the newspaper has not been immune from occasional criticisms and staff turnover. The most dramatic intertwining of the two: the resignation of Dana Jaff, the first editor in chief.

Jaff had grown concerned about the amount of influence he said Spinner was asserting over editorial decisions, a charge she and other staffers refute.  He said his breaking point was Spinner’s refusal to cede control over the editor selection process– although it is common for publication advisers to have the final say in such decisions.  “From the beginning, Jackie has had the first and the last word in everything related to our work,” he said.  “In the beginning, I took that [as] normal and thought that we were in need for her help and guidance as we were beginning our work.  But the intervention continued and I really felt that I was just a puppet there with a title of editor in chief.”

In response, Spinner reiterated her appreciation for Jaff’s passion, while admitting he had developed a “pretty toxic” leadership style that alienated staff whom he did not consider up to his intellectual or journalistic standards.  “My biggest concern with Dana, in the end, was his unwillingness to learn anything beyond what he already knows,” said Spinner.  “He wanted independence, but then as the students were getting criticized for some of the larger grammar and spelling mistakes, he wanted me to take responsibility. . . . Because there is no model for what we are trying to do in Iraq, Dana didn’t understand that we are a learning laboratory.  Everyone gets an opportunity to work for us.  I believe in everyone’s potential.”

Top reporter Arez Hussen has taken Jaff’s place, closing an introductory e-mail to his nearly 50 fellow staffers in mid-April with the rallying cry, “One team, one newspaper.”

Arez Hussen Ahmed, 19, the new Voice editor in chief.

Well, two newspapers, really.  The Voice has sported an online presence from the beginning, including a Web site featuring text and video content; a Twitter feed; and a Facebook page with nearly 250 fans– especially impressive given the school’s still-small total enrollment of 375.

A recent screenshot of the Voice Web site.

“The print edition is only for our campus, but the Web edition is like out in the world, for everybody,” said Web editor Namo Kaftan.  “The only way the world can hear about us and know about our newspaper is by Internet and our Web site. . . . We want to tell all other countries that we exist. . . . We may not be the perfect newspaper, but our collaboration and union leads us to perfection in our work step by step.”

When asked what he wanted the world to know about the newspaper, new editor Hussen said, “I just want you to deliver this message that the AUI-S Voice is the first student newspaper in the whole country.”  Yet, as Spinner said more generally about the paper’s long-term goals, “I learned this in college: The key is to be first and to be right, but it is more important to be right than to be first.”

:-) || THE END || :-)

Just In Case|| Part One || Part Two || Part Three || Part Four || Part Five

Comments
11 Responses to “The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press, Part Six (The Conclusion)”
  1. Davis Shaver says:

    Great stuff Dan, I really enjoyed this series. Mabrook to the gang at AUI-S!

  2. Hello,
    Thank you so much Dan, it is a Great Honor for all the AUI-S Voice Staffs. We will work harder.
    Mahdi A. Murad
    AUI-S Voice Staff Reporter

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