NU-Q’s Journalism Residency Program Remains Uncertain Due to COVID-19

(Photo/ NU-Q)

Juniors majoring in journalism and strategic communication at Northwestern University in Qatar started their journalism residencies remotely on Feb. 14, 2021. The majority of the 28 journalism students are currently interning online due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, with the exception of those with internships in Qatar, who are following a hybrid model. 

Prior to the pandemic, NU-Q’s junior journalism majors used to travel abroad and intern at a foreign organization for 10 weeks, in order to acquire professional journalistic or strategic communication experience. For instance, Muhammad Saad Ejaz, a journalism senior at NU-Q, interned at The Guardian in New York during Spring 2020. “I really enjoyed my JR experience. I think it’s one of the best things we get to do as journalism majors. I got to work in an environment that was so thrilling and fast-paced and everyone there was so talented and friendly,” he told The Daily Q. 

However, the pandemic disrupted Ejaz’s experience when he had to go back to his home country, Pakistan, in the middle of his JR. He found the transition to online work hectic and difficult as everything was new to him. “The online part was the roughest for me because I really couldn’t do any real reporting while I was there. I was also demotivated the entire time,” Ejaz recalled. 

On the other hand, the journalism majors of the Class of 2022 had no choice but to do their residencies remotely from the start.

Current residency students say they are struggling with the time difference. Maryam Gamar is currently working for Vox and told The Daily Q that because of the time difference between Washington D.C. and Doha, her meetings with her editor are at 5 p.m. Doha time, which is a struggle for her.  

“I’m the type of person who likes to wake up early and get my work done and then have the afternoon and evening to just not do anything,” Gamar said. She added that doing JR remotely forced her to give up on her preferred form of journalism for the residency—podcasts—because they require in-person gatherings to guarantee optimum sound quality. 

Al Anood Al Wahaibi faced a similar dilemma when it came to choosing a news agency to work with. 

“I’ve had to change my options for my JR more than once because of the pandemic. Some of my top options no longer accepted interns even online and so I had to change, look for ones I’d get the best experience at,” Al Wahaibi said. 

Other students struggled with sudden changes and decisions due to the pandemic. Salma Al Delaimi was initially supposed to intern at Vice News as a video editor, however her internship got canceled three days before the starting date. She eventually managed to find an internship with Resolution Films in Doha. “Things happen for a reason, it may be very upsetting, and it leaves a bitter taste on your tongue, but I believe that every experience is a learning experience and there’s always a treasure in disguise waiting at the end of the so-called terrible experience,” Al-Delaimi said. 

During a period of uncertainty and disconnect, students relied heavily on the assistance of Professor Mary Dedinsky, director of NU-Q’s journalism program, who organized the residencies for the Class of 2022 and provided support and guidance by meeting with the students for hours via Zoom. 

“Organizing JRs during the pandemic was in many ways a nightmare because students really wanted to try to go person-to-person, and we were making these decisions on the run and the media sites were in disarray and were just having so many stresses,” Dedinksy said.

Despite the unusual challenges brought about by the pandemic, NU-Q students still managed to get internships at top-notch news organizations including USA Today in Washington D.C, Euronews in France, the Pulitzer Center and Vox in New York, and Al Jazeera in Qatar.   

As for next year’s journalism residencies in Spring 2022, Dedinsky said she hopes that with the increasing vaccination rates, news agencies will slowly open for in-person internships.  

“Most organizations told me right away it’s going to be remote, don’t even plan on anything else. I see that many news operations are pivoting or doing a lot more online work and not necessarily bringing people into the main newsroom. We have to see how that plays out,” she said. 

In terms of making the most out of the residency program, current journalism juniors and seniors have emphasized the importance of finding the right news organization that aligns with one’s interests and passion. 

“Don’t go in just looking for a name. Go in searching for skills you need and connections you hope to make. You need to bring out the different sides of journalism in your personality for every single news organization,” Ejaz said. 

Echoing the advice that Ejaz gave to upcoming journalism classes, Al-Delaimi said, “Research the institution that you want to go to, do heavy research and don’t try to go to a place just because it’s a big name. Try to find a place that will work with your own work ethic, with your own personality and the stories that you are passionate about.”

NU-Q’s journalism Class of 2023 is torn between excitement for a new professional experience and stress caused by the pandemic. Dedinsky hosted the first JR meeting for them on Feb. 24, 2021, where John Jeter, an adjunct professor at Converse College and a journalist, spoke about the importance of branding and building a unique identity before applying for JRs. Dedinsky told The Daily Q that she is planning another meeting for them where she will emphasize the importance of working on resumes and portfolios with the Department of Career Services.

Dedinsky also said there will be a heavier focus on sending students to organizations in the global south for their JRs as the new Dean and CEO Marwan Kraidy aims to foster a more diverse environment at NU-Q.   

  “I want to hear from students about a placement not necessarily in the United States or London but places in the global south,” said Dedinsky.


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