Expanding the Immigrant Narrative in MN

(Photo courtesy of Mukhtar M. Ibrahim)

Somali-born Minnesota journalist Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is leaving his job at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis to devote himself to making Sahan Journal, a digital-first publication, into “an indispensable source of news and information about immigrants and underserved communities in Minnesota.” His goal, he said in a telephone interview, is to make it must reading “for all Minnesotans.” In Somali, Sahan means pioneer.

Ibrahim was a young journalist when he first started Sahan Journal in 2013, in response to the mostly superficial coverage the Somali community received in mainstream media following news that some local young Somalis were supporting the group al-Shabab. In its first few months, Sahan Journal took off, he said, because there was a “hunger” within the East African community for an outlet that would give a voice to immigrant residents and accurately reflect their concerns and their communities.

With the passage of time, as Ibrahim pursued his journalism career as a freelancer and as a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and most recently at the Star Tribune, it was difficult to maintain Sahan Journal. But the impulse to serve immigrant communities never left Ibrahim. He says that when he applied for the Bush Foundation leadership fellowship that eventually yielded him a masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, he wrote about his desire to re-launch Sahan Journal as a nonprofit media organization that would cover all the immigrant communities of Minnesota, not just the Somali community.

Now that dream is coming to fruition. Sahan will receive initial funding from Minnesota Public Radio for a year and a half, and space from the Glen Nelson Center, a local media business incubator supported by American Public Radio. MPR will co-publish all of Sahan Journal’s stories on their website, and also share them on air.

The website will be redesigned, and a managing editor and business manager will be hired. Ibrahim hopes to line up more funding from local donors, foundations and corporations.

Laura Yuen, editor for new audiences at MPR, who was Ibrahim’s mentor when he was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and later his colleague at MPR, said she is “so excited about Sahan Journal. If anyone can figure out how to expand the narrative of what it means to be an immigrant in our state, it’s him.” Yuen will sit on Sahan Journal’s board.

Foreign-born immigrants accounted for 9 percent of Minnesota’s population in 2017, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, and adding their U.S.-born children could bring the population share well up in the double digits.

In addition to deepening and broadening coverage of immigrant communities, Sahan will “create a pipeline of young journalists of color by training them and providing them a platform,” Ibrahim says.

Even though he will be covering many of the same communities that existing local ethnic media outlets are covering, he says that “I don’t see the local ethnic media as a competition. Our model is producing high-quality professional and authentic journalism, and if other ethnic media outlets are interested in partnering, we would be happy to do that. The more media covering immigrant communities, the better.”

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