When I launched Sahan Journal in 2013 with the help of some friends, I envisioned a digital platform that would provide authoritative, fair and original reporting and analysis about issues related to Somalis in the diaspora, in East Africa and the greater Horn of Africa.
We succeeded in that initial effort. The website’s growth, reach and audience’s response were phenomenal. We published hundreds of stories across the Somali diaspora. Our work has been cited in books and in the media, including Kenya’s Daily Nation, the New York Times and the Guardian. Well-known Somali authors and intellectuals sent us their writings.
We did this without the backing of an organization or a wealthy donor. It was purely on a voluntary basis. I think you can imagine the challenges.
After a couple of years of running Sahan out of my apartment in St. Paul, life got in the way. I devoted more time to raising a family. I put more time into building my journalism career and advancing my skills. Eventually, Sahan fell by the wayside.
Now, six years later, I’m relaunching Sahan with a new mission.
I live in Minnesota, a great state that has been home to my family since 2005. This state is different now than when we resettled more than a decade ago. The demographics of a predominantly white state are rapidly changing.
People of color now make up 20 percent of the state’s population, which is nearly double from 2000. Nearly all of Minnesota’s population growth is coming from populations of color; since 2010 the non-Hispanic white population has grown by 1 percent, compared with 26 percent among populations of color.
So, who’s telling their stories?
Minnesota’s immigrant populations are increasingly politically active. Professionals from immigrant backgrounds are a growing force in the labor market. Where can they find high-quality journalism that’s about — and for — them?
As one of the first journalists of Somali background in Minnesota to work in mainstream newsrooms, I have seen firsthand how traditional media underserve Minnesota’s immigrant communities.
As a reporter, I felt an immense responsibility to help colleagues find contacts in immigrant communities, translate interviews and pass on story ideas to editors and reporters in the hopes of boosting coverage of immigrants outside the news cycle.
Cultural competency, however, remains a challenge for mainstream newsrooms.
That’s why I’m committed to working on Sahan full time and making it an indispensable source of news and information about Minnesota’s new Americans.
Sahan will chronicle how these communities are changing and redefining what it means to be a Minnesotan.
We will also create a pipeline of young reporters from immigrant backgrounds. We’ll train them, and Sahan will provide a platform for their stories and their growth as journalists.
We believe this project is timely and a much-needed addition to Minnesota’s media landscape. At a time when immigrants and refugees are targets of hateful rhetoric in politics and some media, we need more accurate and nuanced stories that present the reality of what it means to be an immigrant in Minnesota.
We will create a membership program as a standard for base support and seek underwriting sponsorships and philanthropy. We will collaborate with established media partners.
Sahan Journal, an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit news organization, is actively researching new revenue models for journalism.
MPR News is highly invested in supporting success for Sahan Journal, recognizing this as an opportunity to transform the narrative in covering important new segments of Minnesota’s population and accelerate change at MPR News. Sahan Journal operates out of Glen Nelson Center, MPR’s new venture accelerator, which provides office space and business coaching to our team.
So far, we’ve received $15,000 in startup funding from the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations, and the McKnight Foundation has committed to giving us a one-time gift of $75,000.
We have submitted requests for funding to major Minnesota foundations and are gratified by the enthusiasm we have met.
Our most urgent needs are to hire an editorial staff, to accelerate fundraising and business planning, and to engage stakeholder communities deeply in the development of this project.
We need your help in making Sahan an indispensable source of news and information about Minnesota’s growing immigrant communities. If you believe in our mission, visit https://www.sahanjournal.com/donate to learn how you can support our nonprofit newsroom.