That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

Certainly, the plight of Muslims in America is a relevant subject for quality journalism in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

But where is the quality?

When major newspapers decide to delve into that subject matter, I wish they'd do some actual reporting. Real reporting.

Instead, too many stories follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism: 

The latest example comes courtesy of the largest newspaper in Minnesota, a state I happen to be visiting this week.

In a story headlined "Non-Muslim Minnesotans are donning the hijab to show support," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune muddles through a hodgepodge of sources connected by random facts.

The lede:

Nade Conrad's long black hair disappeared under the cover of a lilac hijab.
"I feel different," she said.
Conrad, who is not Muslim, had donned the scarf to show support for a Muslim friend at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
Such acts of "hijab solidarity" are on the rise.
World Hijab Day, a global event inviting people of all faiths to post pictures of themselves in a hijab on social media, is gathering steam. It was at a World Hijab Day event at Normandale — one of several such events held at Minnesota colleges in early February — that Conrad first tried on a hijab.

Such acts "are on the rise." World Hijab Day "is gathering steam." Says whom? The Star-Tribune provides no attribution or hard data on either claim.

What motivated Conrad? What's her religious background? What was her experience wearing a hijab like? The Star-Tribune doesn't say. Conrad makes that starring cameo appearance but then disappears from the story.

Instead, the newspaper moves quickly from source to source — from scenario to scenario — never offering any substance. Yes, there is a mention of the Wheaton controversy. And of the now-famous Donald Trump comments. And of President Barack Obama's visit to a Baltimore mosque.

But all in all, it's the same ole, same ole. If you enjoy political correctness, you'll love this journalistic stew.

At the end, readers learn that — surprise, surprise — most people are "incredibly sweet, incredibly nice" to Muslims. You don't say? What's your news peg again?

What would make this story better? For starters, telling an actual story. 

If Conrad donning a hijab is the story, tell that story. Paint a much more complete portrait of Conrad and her Muslim friend and how their different faiths inform their friendship.

What would make reporting on the more general "Muslims under siege" narrative better? Some actual facts on incidents of anti-Muslim harassment or crimes instead of hearsay. Some actual exploration of Muslim theology, including mainstream teachings in the U.S. vs. the extremist brand touted by ISIS. And, yes, some actual consideration of what the presidential candidates (Trump and others) say on this issue.

If these stories are going to keep making headlines, why not engage in the actual practice of journalism?

That would be a terrific place to start. A terrific place indeed.

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