Questions That Matter: Reporting the Middle East and the future of investigative journalism

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Leila Fadel (Photo by Allison Shelley/NPR)
Leila Fadel (Photo by Allison Shelley/NPR)
Hannah Allam (Photo by Shatha Alawsy/NPR)
Hannah Allam (Photo by Shatha Alawsy/NPR)

The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz will present "Reporting the Middle East and the Future of Investigative Journalism"—the sixth installment of its signature Questions That Matter series—on Tuesday, February 4, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in downtown Santa Cruz.

The inaugural event of UCSC’s new Center for the Middle East and North Africa, the evening will feature the center’s founding director and associate professor of history Jennifer Derr in conversation with veteran NPR journalists Hannah Allam and Leila Fadel.

The two international correspondents have worked extensively in the Middle East--including in Iraq during the aftermath of the U.S. invasion--and they are currently reporting on questions of culture, race, and diversity in the United States.

“This event will be an opportunity for members of the UCSC community and the Santa Cruz community at large to engage with what it means to do journalism in today's world,” said Derr. “It will also be a chance for all of us to understand how the profession has changed and the challenges--in both the Middle East and the United States--that its practitioners confront.”

Derr noted that the NPR journalists will discuss how news is produced about the Middle East, and how that news comes to the American public. They will also discuss the work of reporting on questions of culture, race, and extremism in today's America.

“The focus of our conversation will concern the contexts within which Fadel and Allam have worked and work currently,” said Derr. “In the Middle East, those moments include the Iraq War, the Arab Spring, and the war in Syria. We will discuss how the process of reporting the Middle East has changed in the past decade, and what the implications of this are for what the public understands about the region--an important subject in light of the rising tensions between the Trump administration and the Iranian regime.”

Fadel is currently is a national correspondent for NPR, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race in America. Previously, Fadel worked as a journalist in the Middle East. She covered the Iraq War for nearly five years working for Knight Ridder, McClatchy Newspapers, and later the Washington Post. She also covered the uprisings that comprised the Arab Spring as the Cairo bureau chief for the Washington Post and as an international correspondent for NPR.

Fadel’s foreign coverage of the human toll of the Iraq war earned her the George. R. Polk award in 2007. She was also awarded the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club for her coverage of the 2013 coup in Egypt and its effect on the country and Egyptian families. And in 2017, she earned a Gracie award for the story of a single mother in Tunisia whose two eldest daughters were brainwashed and joined ISIS.

Her coverage has also included stories of human smugglers in Egypt and the desperate Syrian families that were willing to pay to risk their lives and cross the ocean for Europe.

Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she worked as a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions.

After moving to Washington to cover foreign policy in 2012, she began a yearlong series documenting the rising hostility toward Islam in America, and her coverage of Islam in the United States received three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019.

Allam was also part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and has served on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.

“As a historian of the Middle East, I closely follow the journalism that concerns the region and the journalists who do this work,” Derr noted. “I even include it in the courses that I teach. I pay close attention to who has spent significant time in the region and who understands the nuances of its politics and culture. The work that Fadel and Allam have done in the region stands out. For years, I relied on their coverage of Middle Eastern politics. In the period since both began reporting on domestic affairs, I have followed their work with the same trust and enthusiasm.”

“It is my hope that those who attend this event take away a better understanding of how news is made and the challenges that journalists face in bringing us knowledge of the world in which we live,” she added.

Questions That Matter: "Reporting the Middle East and the Future of Investigative Journalism" takes place on Tuesday, February 4, at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Doors open with a reception at 6 p.m. The program begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, including light refreshments. For more information, call (831) 459-1274 or email This event is presented by The Humanities Institute and the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz.