Hibah Ansari vividly remembers her first experience with local journalism. Her family was featured in a story in their local paper about local Muslim families and how they were navigating a post 9/11 world. Ansari recalled holding the newspaper clipping in her hands and seeing a photo of her 4-year-old self and her family in the piece.
“I physically saw myself and my family in the news, but I also have seen how impactful it can be when other people see people who look like them in news, and their stories are actually cared about in a nuanced way,” Ansari says.
This experience proved to Ansari how valuable it was for reporters to understand what their community looked like and intentionally work to include these voices. Ironically, Ansari interned at the same paper the story appeared in following her graduation from UW–Madison in 2019 with a degree in journalism and then master’s degree from the Columbia University Journalism School.
Ansari currently reports on immigration for the Sahan Journal, a publication dedicated to reporting for immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota. Throughout her career, Ansari has worked to create news that serves communities historically marginalized by the mainstream media.
Minneapolis is home to thriving immigrant communities, yet these stories aren’t necessarily included in mainstream news, Ansari notes. Sahan Journal was created after the publication’s founder noticed that immigrant communities and communities of color were treated as a niche audience in mainstream media. Sahan Journal was founded to bring these communities to the forefront of news.
“Dealing with a lot of the issues that many immigrant communities face is very inspiring, and it’s also rich with human stories that are not being told in mainstream news,” Ansari says. “I feel really grateful that I work for a news outlet that takes that very seriously and has formed its mission around serving those communities and writing stories about and for those people in those communities.”
Ansari prioritizes creating news that serves these communities by ensuring the coverage is useful and accessible for its audience. Ansari gave the example of covering a new law and creating a reader guide to explain how the law might impact undocumented immigrant readers, then translating the guide into different languages to ensure different audiences can read the guide.
On a reporter-level, Ansari explains she interviews sources in a way that gives them agency, letting them direct the conversation too. On an organization-level, Sahan Journal has a presence in these communities through community engagement projects.
“They know that if you come to us with your story, we will tell it with empathy and care and hopefully have some impact as well,” Ansari says.
Ansari’s appreciation for community-engaged work dates back to her time at UW–Madison, when Ansari worked at the Morgridge Center for Public Service as a communications and marketing intern. At the Morgridge Center, Ansari saw how people used the space to bring their work outside UW–Madison and into the rest of the community. These stories about community-based projects were her favorite to write, Ansari says.
“There are real and existing communities and neighborhoods outside of campus as well,” Ansari says. “People are raising families, going to school, and living everyday lives. They have needs as well, and those needs should not be overlooked by something as large of an institution as UW–Madison, so I really appreciated that the Morgridge Center existed to do exactly that.”
Throughout her career, Ansari has seen how community-engaged journalism can make a difference. Ansari recounts her favorite story, a piece about prisoners with detainers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that cannot access early release programs.
The story followed a man in prison who still could not access early release programs, despite getting rid of the detainer through the immigration process. Following Ansari’s story and the attention it brought to the issue, the man was granted early release, and he sent her a handwritten thank you note.
“It was a really special moment. It’s not something we always set out to do as journalists, and you have to manage your expectations,” she says. “But when you have moments of that, where you’ve made a clear impact in somebody’s life, it’s very motivating and just a good reminder of why we do what we do.”