Building a Social Profile

By Sihem Fekih

On Monday, April 28, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism hosted a panel: “ Your Journalism, Your Brand How to Build an Effective Social Profile.” Participants included: Buzzfeed Social Media Editor Michael Rusch, ProPublica Senior Reporter Charles Ornstein, Mashable Real-Time News Editor Brian Ries, and Reportedly Social Media Reporter Kim Bui.

Introducing the panel, Social Journalism program director Carrie Brown said: “Even if social media is not new any more, I still get a lot of questions from journalists saying ‘I still feel like I’m not taking advantage of [social media] enough. How should I prioritize my work there? How can I better use it to build trust and engage with my audience? How can use it to enhance my career and develop new sources?”

Speakers started by detailing their roles and responsibilities. Opening the panel, Charles Ornstein talked about the importance of integrating social media into his beat. He curates the best health care stories he finds for his readers and shares them on social media, establishing his authority and expertise in his beat.

Ries primarily uses social to establish himself and Mashable as key sources for breaking news responses. Kim Bui said she devoted a majority of her time to digging up and verifying news on social media. For example, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Bui and her colleagues used social media to research the suspects police had identified.  She also explained how she verified that the third suspect – a high school student – wasn’t involved by tracking tweets from other students at his high school who confirmed his presence in class during the attack.

“I spend the whole day reporting and writing on Facebook and Twitter. And I do occasionally write on Medium for longer stories,” she said.

The speakers were all animated by the necessity to develop an identity on social media and build a true relationship with their audiences.

Rusch built his reputation as a journalist using social media. For two months, he found himself on an investigative journey in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, shooting video and collecting footage of the natural disaster with the help of the Coast Guard. After three years of social media experimenting and building his own brand, he developed a relationship with BuzzFeed Editorial Executive Ben Smith and eventually got his job there.

Engaging with your audience is also another way to enhance social media credibility, and sometimes it can be the more reliable way to contact a source. Charles Ornstein from ProPublica said: “I engage with people. I do engage with the dean of Harvard on Twitter if I can’t get him to pick up the phone.”

For Kim Bui, the engagement leads her to develop a long-lasting relationship with readers: “I feel like if I’m informative and I’m telling a really good story, and if I’m giving citizens on the ground the credit they deserve, people will start to follow me and engage with me,” she said, before mentioning that she uses hashtags, buzzwords, and exclamations like “wow” cautiously.

Panelists called DataminR the most powerful and efficient analytics tool on the market. Bui said DataminR is too expensive for smaller outlets like hers, and they use coeverywhere instead.

The panel’s discussion taught us to consider social media as a tool we can use to get more confident in our beat and to track stories.

How do you plan on building your personal brand/reputation through social media?

 Could you imagine yourself building a methodology of sourcing specific information from your community on social media? What would it be like?

26 thoughts on “Building a Social Profile”

  1. The event at CUNY was interesting because it started as “how do I build a personal brand on social networks (or in Twitter, really)” and developed into a debate on sourcing. It is nice to have questions on both fronts, Sihem.

    And answering the first one, I think it is important to try to follow and report on your beat through social media, and that is the most reliable way to grow a following. There are already too many people posting about everything, jacks of all trades and master of none as they say. And since my (and every media person) timeline is so crowded in 2015, maybe it is easier to secure a spot being “that person that tweets smart stuff about X” than “that funny/smart person”.

    Of course you need to be a person-person, and tweet/instagram regular stuff about your life (that also “builds your brand”). But some sort of specialization is crucial. If that comes natural — like if your community is Brooklyn and you are constantly retweeting things about Brooklyn, or soccer — I would say that you are on the right track. The “follow your passion” cliché is really true when we are talking about social journalism. Of course there are beats that can attract more followers than others, but we should look for other metrics (next semester, maybe). The thing is: building an expertise will help you build a brand.

    Buzzfeed’s Michael Rusch said during the panel that students/freelancers or people that are “building a brand” should try to find exclusive angles or information as a way to catch established media’s attention. He recommended people on the audience to go to Baltimore, for instance. “It is an opportunity to go to where the story is. Tweeting to us, or to other media places, will make you sellable.”

    So I think if you are building your brand around a subject/community, when something happens involving that community, or when there is a specific angle that you can write through their eyes, you can be “sellable”, as a person in the know, constantly sharing information on the topic. And that leads to opportunities, from freelancing to consulting. To achieve that, you should maintain a constant flux, post frequently, reply to the right @s, etc. Quality is important, but don’t underestimate quantity, as Brian Stelter teached us.

    On the sourcing question, I’d say that is hard to structure a methodology, but I definitively see some guidelines, and they are pretty much the same for any journalistic medium. P. Kim Bui said that sourcing through Twitter for Reported.ly is “pretty much shoe-leather reporting in a different place”. And seeing the amount of research and background check that Reported.ly do before every retweet, that seemed about right.

    Of course, because of the speed of the reporting/publishing on social networks, errors are bound to be made. And all panelists agreed that we should be humble, apologize, thank for the corrections and “own the gaffe”.

    So my two takeaways on the whole sources would be: treat your community on social media as “real” networks of sources; trust but always double check; know who to go to for each story; be prepared to displease some parts of the community; apologize when you make mistakes. There are probably more tips, but I think we should practice more of that to develop a clear methodology. I’m curious to know what others think.

    1. Very good, Pedro – I think you’ve distilled some of the key tips on sourcing there.

      And absolutely. That’s probably been my biggest piece of advice over the years to journalism students. Develop some expertise about *something.* It will take time, and consistency, and effort, but it works.

  2. I think building credibility through a personal brand on social media is essential not only for getting jobs, but for establishing trust among your audience. I’ve found this to be the case with my reporting on Brazil. Through Twitter, I’ve built an audience that I managed to parlay into both freelance and full-time jobs, and I’ve established a network of sources and fellow journalists who follow the same topic. I’ve also built my reputation on social listening and aggregation, so I’ve worked hard to look for the most credible sources and to filter out less reliable ones.

    While establishing a personal brand, it’s also really important to engage with people who follow the same issues. I’ve found that I not only have made a huge amount of contacts among journalists, but I’ve also managed to connect people with similar interests who wouldn’t otherwise have met.

    As we read this week in “Secrets to a Successful Social Media Strategy”:

    “…Don’t just broadcast to people, arrange interactions between them, too. And once the company facilitates these interactions, it can go back to those who it helped and say, ‘Now we want you to do something for us.’ This quid pro quo is at the core of an effective social strategy.”

    I think this applies on a personal level. For example, when an editor contacts me on Twitter to get help finding a source and I help him out, I’m going to expect him to return a similar favor eventually. It’s really important to cultivate goodwill among your followers, and they’ll be more willing to offer you tips and useful information.

    I’m still at the beginning of this process for my own community on social media. I hope that by already having established credibility among Latin America journalists I’ll have an advantage, but I’m also working to connect to advocates, allies, and immigrants themselves. I think it’s something that takes time and requires being as active as possible.

    In terms of building a methodology for sourcing information, I don’t really think the community matters as much as the methodology itself. Reportedly and Storify have a lot of experience in this area, particularly looking at a person’s social media history, connections, previous posts, and contacting people directly. I’ve been using similar techniques to verify social media content and I especially like Reportedly’s approach, so I think it make sense to implement already-existing guidelines.

    I’ve mostly done this for my Latin America reporting and not so much for my immigration work, but the times I have used it so far this semester I’ve contacted people via phone and email to get their full story that they’d shared in a condensed form on Twitter. It wasn’t an issue of verifying a photo or video, but I think establishing contact is also important in that case.

    Fundamentally, I agree with Kim Bui that using social media to do reporting is just doing old-fashioned reporting on a new medium. You still have to use the same techniques you would “in real life.”

    1. I was going to mention that snippet from Secrets to a Successful Social Strategy as well. It’s so easy to relate when they put it in terms of someone introducing two people and then in a way you owe them.

    2. Good, Rachel and I agree – no need to reinvent the wheel – Storyful, Reportedly, and others, including Craig Silverman all have great guidelines and tips to use.

      Also, yes. It’s a small world out there in journalism, and being responsive and helpful can take you quite far, I think, especially over the long haul.

  3. The “Your Journalism, Your Brand” presentation brought up a lot of interesting points regarding my own presences on various platforms as well as how I relate to different audiences and the strategies used for developing sources.

    Each of the presenters discussed their personal brand in an enthusiastic, almost proud way. Though it was engaging to hear how Michael Rausch mentioned the “sellable” points of a journalists presence, I would much prefer to be anonymous in most engagements, so it was a cringe point that was iterated over and over by the other speakers. Where as now, I’m completely transparent on my Facebook both as myself and as the publisher of Make Queens Safer, it’s disturbing to share content between my private friends vs. the associates and readers I have as a journalist. The life expectancy of stories and news articles on the web is another daunting challenge to overcome, for as I get older and more experienced professionally, those ghosts of the past naiveté are still in existence for thorough journalists to dig up, quote or otherwise use as a representation of who I am and what I support.

    Aspects of sourcing and old methods of chasing leads were most interesting to me in the arena of social media. It is here that I feel most confident in doing the research and filling out stories. As a representative of a community group which is extremely timely and politically as well as socially relevant, sourcing on social media has been invaluable. I’ve infiltrated groups, expanded my reach, interacted on a national level and been able to outreach in extents otherwise impossible. But, as all presenters agreed- getting out in the field, meeting with associates one to one, and being in the place where the thing is happening aids in validating ones brand.

    Charles Ornstein mentioned how his aggregation work after Hurricane Sandy led to other sellable work. Aggregation has been one of my goals of the program, as each reporting project tends to push the last one out of the way. When I compile all the specific safe streets reporting that has been done, it will surely be a nice resume.

    Mistakes, misreporting and errors are handled differently these days. As Carrie noted, “People trust others as much or more than other institutions on twitter.” A simple apology or a quick admission of an error can go far in maintaining a good relationship with readers.

    To answer Sihem’s, question of how do I plan on building my personal brand on social media, it will be a combination of interactivity, straight reporting and physically being out in the field where things are happening. The combination of the three can create content that can be combined or repurposed for both the long and short news cycles of social platforms. In saying that, I don’t aspire to use the same content across platforms. As Charles Ornstein mentioned, content from one platform can’t just be plugged into content from another.

    1. While it’s possible to be relatively anonymous, I think it is somewhat difficult in this field to do successfully. Some manage it, but there are a lot of benefits from having some willingness to engage as a real person on social, even if it’s primarily in a fairly narrow area.

      Several good insights from the talk noted here, well done.

  4. Great job, Sihem!

    How do you plan on building your personal brand/reputation through social media?

    I totally agree with Rachel’s initial comment. Building a personal brand/reputation on social media is so important as it creates a stronger relationship between you and your audience. Funnily enough I was talking to my wife last night about certain fashion bloggers on Instagram. My wife, Jen, follows Julie Sarinana aka Sincerely Jules. She has over 2 million followers on Instagram and has recently been sent by a show company to promote some shoes in the Amalfi Coast. I wanted to tell my wife, that Jules has worked incredibly hard to create a “next door girl’ image with a really approachable way of talking to her audience through really captivating images regarding fashion, food, etc. Regardless of what you think of her work, there is no denying how successful she is about creating a powerful brand on social media.

    Myself, I have done many things in order to keep building my own brand. Since the beginning of this course I have totally redesigned my own brand and remained consistent with the content I put out there. I have made more of an effort to engage and connect with people throughout all my platforms. I think it’s also important to keep the message simple. Don’t over complicate.

    Could you imagine yourself building a methodology of sourcing specific information from your community on social media? What would it be like?

    Totally. My ultimate goal is to create this by connecting all aspects of my community and creating links around them. For example, news about professional athletes or sports can have a strong effect on its fans – so we want to create bigger connections i.e “LeBron James is from Akron, Ohio. What are the issues that Akron’s youth basketball programs have today and how can his influence make a positive impact on the community?” or “NYCFC and its alliance with South Bronx United – a non profit organization that helps young, local soccer players improve their academic and athletic abilities.”

    Social Media can help out in gigantic ways as it directly gives you an opportunity to reach out to people whom you never thought possible.

    1. Good, Luis, and I think you are doing a nice job cultivating your social media brand/expertise.

      Calculated strategy works, but for most of us, its also got to be genuine, or we don’t connect as well.

  5. “Treat every tweet like a mini performance,” said Brian Ries. This reminded me a lot of what every social platform is like right now. For Instagram, you want each post to make it look like you’re in beautiful scenery, with great friends or having a good time in general. Even if you’re posting a quote, it should be a quote that really means something to you and reflects your personality so your following gets a better understanding of you: the performance of you at least.

    This event was a great way for everyone to take a step back and get a little bit smarter about how we speak about our communities. On Twitter, I’ve always had a more sporadic spew of tweets, some about my community, some just about what’s going on in my day. Seeing how dedicated these successful speakers were was inspiring and made me want to hone in my focus a little bit more. I plan to tweet more about queer women to start building up more credibility that I have an understanding of what’s going on in the community. I’m studying it, meeting people within it, analyzing what I get – why wouldn’t I talk more about it? I would also love to start more conversations and get involved with those willing to engage.

    By doing this I’d have to take the advice of Kim Bui by double-checking my posts across all social media. When you see newspapers make typos it makes you wonder how that could have happened. There are dozens of people in the newsroom, how could the NY Daily News spell “exchange” incorrectly in their headline yesterday? Newspapers shouldn’t be able to get away with making typing errors (especially when you think about bloggers who do it better) without losing some credibility.

    Regarding methodology, I appreciate when Pedro mentions you should know whom to contact for each story. This is something I hope to accomplish. I don’t believe I’ve had enough experience in my community quite yet but I am seeing with some sources that they’re willing to send through other people’s information to me if I ask about a specific topic.

    1. As someone who’s made a typo in a huge headline on a front page of a newspaper before, I gotta say it just happens. At least six other people signed off on the page after I made the typo. No one noticed until after it went to press. My fault, but sometimes the editing system overlooks things while it focuses on others. The thing with social media typos is that instead of having six people sign off before the world sees it, only you see it and sign off on it. I think on social media people are more forgiving of mistakes, like Kim Bui said during the event, because we recognize each other as people and not as institutions.

    2. Good…I think that you could build a great Twitter presence following that plan. And I love that Ries quote, glad you noted it here. 🙂

  6. What I really enjoyed about the panel was hearing such different perspectives. Being that the panelists not only come from different companies, but also that their experience with social media as individuals was so varied made this event extremely valuable to me. Everyone was terrific, but I especially enjoyed Michael Rusch from Buzzfeed and Brian Ries from Mashable. Mostly because of what the companies are doing with entertainment news and pop culture since I have a great deal of experience in these areas as a television producer. At Mashable, Ries mentioned that they’re always looking to tell a story in a visual way. Rusch said at Buzzfeed they’re looking for people who are only telling stories on social media. This really got me thinking about my own brand and how much I enjoy telling visual stories.

    Being that most of my experience is as producer I’m always looking for innovative ways to tell stories. So, with my brand I want to really focus on telling stories about artists and their fans both visually and audibly. To be honest, I never thought about telling stories through Twitter before the panel. I know that many newsrooms and journalists use Twitter, but unfortunately I have yet to utilize Twitter as I’m being told I should. Rusch encouraged people like me to give Twitter another shot. Aside from it being a great way to gather information and connect with other industry people, there’s also ways to tell visual stories on the platform. Buzzfeed, for example, uses Twitter slideshows to tell stories. Rusch also mentioned Vine, Instagram and Facebook of course. However, I’d like to also give Snapchat a chance. After doing a lot of research this semester I see how some brands finally exploring Snapchat, but there are so many new possibilities on this platform. Especially when it comes to reaching the 13-23 year old demographic. I’ve also discovered bands can connect with fans and make money through Snapcash. You can build a reputation on this platform for your visual storytelling, just like so many other platforms.

    I feel like I’ve gotten a great jumpstart into exploring what works on each platform. Now, it’s about time to really hone in on branding myself. My biggest challenges moving forward will be really be aggressive about telling visual stories every day. Also, connecting with more people by having conversations on Twitter and even Instagram.

    When it comes to sourcing specific information on my community I believe Instagram is a good place. For musicians and music fans it’s a great place to see what others are doing as well as stay on top of trends and breaking news. I think exploring more celebrities who are music fans and/or following subcommunities can help put someone like me ahead of the game. Lots of entertainment news and music sites repurpose material from the web, whether it’s Instagram or Twitter. For example, this week I read a Hello Giggles article with a video from Zach Braff’s Twitter account which featured Ed Sheeran doing a cover of a Britney Spears song while several celebrities were singing along. A friend of mine recorded a video of Ryan Adams singing Bryan Adams “Summer of 69” and many music news sites picked it up this week. Just by being able to catch this type of content you can stay on top of trends and create out your own content around it. I have several ideas to use Instagram, Twitter and YouTube videos to create content while also creating my own visual stories surrounding the music community. From there it can all be shared uniquely on each platform. My biggest takeaway this week is realizing how important it is to know who you are as a brand (and individual) so that way people will recognize your vision as a company (or producer in my case) and seek you out as a valuable member (and hopefully leader) in your field or community.

    1. Excellent, Erica! I think your talents in visual media and experience in TV actually make you a natural for social media – once you’ve found the best way to meld your skills with the platforms you can really make a big impact.

  7. Using social media for sourcing has been a significant factor in my reporting this semester. My community is virtual via social media and so using it is how I found members. Also, I used social media for outreach and garnered a response faster than any other form of first communication.

    As I listened to my community online via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and reached out using these platforms, I started to build trust and relationships with them using social first before phone or in-person interviews.

    Also, curating content geared towards a specific community yet engaging a larger amount of followers were both crucial as well. In “Social Media Tools,” we are curating content and building a brand around engaging followers with communicable content that has a niche and voice.

    Social reporting is brand building, and a way to connect and engage with the world. But I’m talking about finding and building trust with sources. But sourcing content can be messy too and cross-lists with ethical guidelines. When curating content and building my brand around that content, I made sure I aggregated only real content. But during one’s career, sometimes mistakes can be made.

    I tweeted at the “Your Journalism, Your Brand” event last week from Brian Ries, “@moneyries: “Think about it before you tweet.” When you live in the spotlight of a journalist, when you mess up then own it. #socialj.”

    I agree with Pedro. Treat your social sources as real sources or social as a form of communicating with sources. Also, when aggregating and curating sources via social and mistakes are made — apologize for them. It happens, but it’s how you handle it in the aftermath and fix it, that shows your true character and professionalism.

    1. Deron, I think you need to articulate much more specifically what you mean, e.g. “My community is virtual via social media and so using it is how I found members.” You don’t just magically “find” members or build trust using social media. There has to be real thought and strategy put into it.

  8. Like Deron, I’ve used social media to find sources several times this semester. Usually I would reach out on Twitter first to ask the best way to get in touch. I’ve found it more effective to get an email address that way than to just cold-call email someone using the email address I find by Googling.

    Part of my challenge in building my brand identity on social media is focusing it in. I’m interested and talkative about so many parts of the media industry (metrics, design, data, job moves, audience engagement techniques, breaking news coverage…) that I see myself fitting into the definition Pedro described: “There are already too many people posting about everything, jacks of all trades and master of none as they say.”

    So one of the first things I did to address that was create a separate account (that I used for my curation project) that just focuses on the news design and data worlds. By separating those out, I was able to attract and engage with a group of people who only have that shared interest with me, and would rather not hear all my other musings on media. This other account is still connected to me, so should I need to use it to get a job it’s there.

    The next thing I did was create a Twitter list just of those within my audience development/social media editor community. It’s my second column in Tweetdeck (prime real estate), and I try to engage with people in that column more than in my overall feed.

    The other main thing I do to create a public identity on social media is taking part in virtual events. Mostly Twitter chats (like #wjchat), or tweeting a lot during an event that has a hashtag (especially conferences). I’ve found many of my community members and sources during those times, and begun to feel more comfortable with them because I see their handles in these same discussions. I hope that feeling of familiarity goes both ways, and that people start to recognize me as a consistent voice in the conversation.

    As for a sourcing methodology, I think it’s important to both look at who someone is on social media (what accounts they have, who they follower/are followed by, what kinds of things they post) but also find out who someone is off social media. At least one trustworthy page where they’re listed as an employee of a company, or listed as attending a community meeting, or something. As with all other sources, it’s important to try to reach out to them directly and have a conversation, preferably in a voice-to-voice way (if not face-to-face). Also, use your networks. Ask people if they know of someone. Ask people if they know someone you should know.

    (Including a plug here for my Storify of the “Your Brand, Your Journalism” event.)

    1. Julia – solid strategy, and I think that the level of familiarity DOES go both ways, especially over time.

  9. Both are great questions, Sihem.

    As far as the personal brand, that’s where I find the value on a class like Thomas McBee’s. I can only speak for my experience, but I found that once I began combining news and information on my community AND combining that with my own personal posts, I’ve managed to gain a following. I’ve built my page to over 330 followers, and even my unrelated Twitter account has gained about 45 followers over the semester. I think it’s the variance in content that does it. If it’s too monolithic, people will lose interest. You need to blend persona with content, but that’s just an observation.

    I don’t really see myself sourcing information on a community, given the path I see myself on here. However, it is something I’m immensely interested in researching, particularly in the grassroots political realm. Social media has a dearth of applications, and we’ve just yet scratched the surface of the ice.

    1. Yes – personally, I think you are right that blending persona and content is very valuable. Would like to hear a little more about what you mean in the last paragraph.

      1. To clarify, I see myself in the role as a student of journalism, not necessarily an advocate for my community in the community organization sense. I love ethnography, and I think I can use it well. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective on my part. I’m not here trying to change the world; just study and report on how it changes around me.

  10. I plan on building my social presence with Twitter and Instagram through consistent content and posting. I still consider myself new to Twitter as I joined only one year ago; I’m now seeing how to effectively tweet, and it’s more nuanced than I initially thought. Proper formatting and tagging the news outlets and other users with handles takes a little more time, but since I’ve started to take my time and double check handles I’ve started to see great results.

    News outlets such as The Guardian have started to publish articles on N. Brooklyn that I retweet myself with quick insight. By tweeting an article this week on eco-gentrification in Greenpoint, I came in contact with the author who is a Harvard professor and we now both follow eachother. It seems simple but it took me this long to develop better tweeting habits.

    At the panel discussion I related to Michael Rusch’s experience as falling into journalism through immersing himself in a developing topic at the time: the oil spill in Louisiana. I’m also immersing myself in an oil spill situation in Greenpoint, because the issue entails so many of my interests. I think authenticity can be a valuable asset to a journalist; when you’re passionate about you’re work, a certain quality shines through. Much like Rusch I’m networking with people close to the story and am learning as I go.

    1. Awesome. I love that you found the Harvard prof and started following each other. In my experience, that kind of thing will continue to happen more and more as you are on there longer.

  11. “Unacceptable behavior in the offline world might be perfectly acceptable in the online world.”- Carmen Nobel, in Secrets to a Successful Social Media Strategy, a review of Misiek Piskorski’s new book, “A Social Strategy: How We Profit From Social Media.

    As most of my classmates and some of my professors know, I already push the limits of communication in the offline world.
    Regarding personal branding for social media, I need to take as many risks virtually as I do while live reporting. No matter how strong a first impression is, without the online presence to back it up, my credibility in and influence on the topics I am passionate about will be jeopardized.

    Above, Pedro has summed up all the best takeaways from this all-star panel. For me, the most inspiring story came from the social media editor at Buzzfeed, Michael Rusch, who we affectionately nicknamed “The Beard”. Not climbing up through the traditional ranks of journalism, for some time Rusch was residing in some artist loft in Bushwick and dabbling in the restaurant business.

    On a whim, he decided he wanted something different out of life, pitched a tent down near the Gulf of Mexico, and started tweeting incessantly about the BP oil spill. He found his niche and made a name for himself by specializing in a critical beat that not a lot of people had access to. Big names in media began relying on him as an expert and reliable source, and he ended up catching Buzzfeed’s attention, which he parlayed into a job.

    Compared with some of my classmates, I have taken a much more cautious approach to immersing myself into my community, as I’m hyperaware of a plethora of unique challenges that must be handled with care, especially by someone who is an “outsider.” However, my goal for creating my personal brand is to boldly cover my niche. In the past, I have been hesitant to reveal opinions that could be perceived as controversial, and have focused most of my social media posts on informing others of relevant events and news related to my community. I now realize that to become someone people look to for unique angles and perspectives that would set me apart, is to start tackling some tough issues, and going a step beyond just aggregating content for my community.

    The most recent example that comes to mind is when I attended an “Islamophobia” debate during Brooklyn Academy of Music’s RadioLoveFest. One of the biggest draws to this event was to be the appearance of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist and writer. Her harsh stance on Islam, the religion she grew up with in Somalia, has earned her a reputation as an “Islamophobe,” and is considered virulently anti-Muslim. A couple of days before the debate, it was announced that Hirsi Ali had pulled out due to “unforeseen circumstances”. I interpreted this to mean she was intimidated by some of her opponents, or that she had another last-minute obligation.

    However, as it turns out, one of her friend present at the debate announced to the audience that Hirsi Ali’s absence was due to security reasons; there had been threats of violence, and the NYPD could not guarantee her safety. When I tried to verify this with BAM, I was directed to their publicity department, and am still waiting for a response. I found nothing related to this in the media, and at this point cannot verify that this was indeed the case. However, if it is true that a speaker was not able to attend a debate on “if Islamophobia is an issue, or if it secondary to Islamic terrorism,” due to threats of terrorism, the public ought to be informed. Although my tweet on this news didn’t get much traction, I need to start somewhere, and then, eventually people will tune in. I also think that once I have built a certain reputation and trust with my community, sources will also be more likely to come forward.

    1. Betsy – great comment, very thoughtful with a lot of specific examples.

      I think your caution makes sense given the complexities in your community, but am glad you want to be as bold as possible going forward.

      I think people like opinions but often only when they are backed by facts, reporting, information. So I think there too you are on the right track.

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