Posted by Tess Waggoner on January 24, 2020 in Blog

Over fifty attendees gathered on Thursday, January 23, 2020 for the first Arab American Generations program hosted at our office in Washington, DC this year. The gathering and discussion brought together Arab Americans and others for an evening with journalist Joyce Karam, Washington Correspondent for The National and adjunct professor at The George Washington University. In an intimate conversation with our Executive Director, Maya Berry, Joyce spoke frankly with attendees about navigating the journalism industry, the role of social media and the fight against disinformation and xenophobia shaping the industry today. 

Berry kicked off the discussion with some timely and pressing questions about the evolving nature of the news media business here in Washington. Karam spoke candidly about how social media is evolving all aspects of the profession, including in the fight against disinformation. She cited numerous examples from recent events, in the United States and the Arab world, where early or false reports are shared on social media without verification. She didn’t do so without humour though, quipping “I mean, Mubarak died so many times.” Berry asked Karam about the lack of deference to regional experts in the chaos of the Twitter-verse,  and how we can amplify credible information. Karam urged all attendees, not just journalists, to seek credible sources of information and to verify information before spreading it on social media sites in particular. 

Karam grew up in Lebanon, and during the discussion she cited the ongoing political instability there as a factor in shaping her career choices early in life. When Berry asked which of Karam’s achievements make her parents proud, her response was deeply personal and echoed with many in attendance: 

“We grew up in the war- this applies both to me and my siblings- we’ve survived. We made it. It wasn’t easy...I’m sure for your parents too, it’s a big deal to emigrate to a new country on your own… but we’re good, we’re safe, we’ve made it.

Throughout the conversation the two explored the challenges facing journalists in today’s climate head-on, including the need for transparency and protection for journalists under threat. Karam described feeling unsafe at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016, noting,  “it is a very different atmosphere that we’re dealing with now.” It was hard to hear her share that she has had difficulty covering “guns rights” rallies, because the climate of xenophobia and instruments of violence there evoked experiences of the Lebanese Civil War in her youth. Speaking about the need for truth in this moment of political crisis, Karam observed,

“You can’t do that without free independent journalism.” 

Rather than being discouraged by this climate, Karam uses it as motivation. She said that her experiences demonstrate over and over that journalism “needs to reflect how diverse the society is.” 

In the Q&A session, NPR’s Neda Ulaby asked how Karam maintains what Berry called her “spirit of joy” in her work in spite of the heavy nature of its substance. Her response was a fitting close to an evening of demystifying the human and the need for truth.

“On a basic level you just have to separate: this is what I’m covering. And, it may get better. You have to have faith in the people you’re covering. And, I think exercise actually. I’m thankful for music.”

When Berry asked Karam to reflect on sources of hope or concern following her most recent trip to Lebanon, Karam said,

“There’s a lot to be hopeful about if we get this right…. We are in different times. Because of what we cover, being able to see these videos, being able to transmit what’s happening to everyone, there is more accountability.” 

Each month, AAI’s Generations brings together Arab American professionals in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate, learn, serve and network with one another. 

Be sure to check our calendar for announcements about our upcoming events.