Faces of NPR, AAPI Heritage Month: Linah Mohammad
Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This month, we feature NPR's Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Next up is Linah Mohammad
Name: Linah Mohammad
Where you're from: Ein Al-Basha. It's a small town in Jordan between Amman and Salt. But when my family and I moved to the United States in 2012, we moved to Arlington, TX, so I think of it as my American hometown.
Title: Producer I, All Things Considered
How did you feel when you were notified that you were a Pulitzer finalist?
Two thoughts came racing through my mind- the first was, "Wow, people are following our work, and we're making a difference!" and the second was, "Wait, that means I'm actually good at what I do!" Then I started to cry, and my life in the United States flashed before my eyes- I thought of all the struggles my family and I have faced since we arrived here. Then I called my parents and said, "I made it!"
You've also won a Peabody for your George Floyd coverage. What did this mean to you?
Journalism awards are complicated, for me at least - because while they highlight the vital work you're doing, it also propels you, as the journalist, into the spotlight. And I never want it to be about me; my utmost goal whenever I'm making something is for it to be impactful, to teach the listener something new, and to make them think about something differently. And our coverage of George Floyd achieved just that - we let people hear him, like really listen to him, and get to know him as someone with hopes, dreams, and flaws, not just a symbol or a chant. And we showed people that his life was so much more than his tragic death.
Where do your drive and motivation come from?
My drive and motivation can fluctuate. It's important to acknowledge and address this reality in our field, especially because there's always been this push to keep creating and making more. But, I have days where I wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing and whether I fit in this whole journalism thing, even after winning a Peabody and being a Pulitzer finalist. I used to feel ashamed of these doubts, but now I see the value in regularly checking in with myself. It helps me stay focused on what truly matters.
But when I'm unmotivated, I will turn first to my family and faith — they always keep me grounded and humble. Then, I will try to read, listen, or watch something that inspires me. Finally, if all else fails, I channel my energy into other creative activities, like painting or cross-stitching. One of those usually does the trick.
How did you get on the path of journalism?
I have wanted to be a journalist since I was in the eighth grade. I grew up watching Al Jazeera daily, so its correspondents greatly inspired me. And to a great extent, living in Jordan had a significant impact on that decision. We were solidly middle-class, but we were Palestinian. What I didn't understand when I was younger was that that placed us on the margins. Palestinians in Jordan didn't enjoy the same opportunities as their native Jordanian counterparts, so my family's stories of displacement and misfortune motivated me to tell others' stories. That influence remains a big part of my journalism today, both in the stories I choose to tell and how I choose to tell them.
Did little Linah from Palestine know she was going to be an award-winning journalist?
You know, I never even dreamt that far as a child; all I knew was that I was a little nosy, always curious, I talked A LOT, and asked even more questions — much to the annoyance of my parents and older siblings, they'd often say that I "swallowed a radio" because of how much I talked. So I guess, in a way, it is fitting that this is my career. But to answer your question: No, it never even crossed my mind.
Do you have a beat you prefer to cover?
I have a lot, so being a news magazine show producer works well for me. The show is built to explore any and everything. One of my goals at NPR is to bring more Southwest Asian and North African voices to our air. I also enjoy telling stories from and about the SWANA region that go beyond war and trauma – and while those are important, I also want to hear uplifting stories of joy, hope, and love from the region. I am also interested in religion and faith and how religions evolve, particularly Islam, overseas and in the United States.
Music-related segments are also one of my favorite stories to work on. Music is a universal language. It offers a window into the human experience and into different cultures. So we can learn a lot from music. Besides, I really love mixing music pieces and interviews. It's one of my favorite things in the world - I can spend hours just playing around with the fades.
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