What may seem like an intimidating and daunting undertaking for some people was one of many exciting adventures to come for FIMS student Dana El-Tawil. As an intern for Al Jazeera English, known as one of the most ethical news corporations in the world, Dana packed her bags and took off to Doha, Qatar for one of the most desired internships for journalist students. Growing up she wanted to be a fashion designer, among a dozen other careers, unable to make up her mind.
Energized by change, politically aware and passionate about delivering accurate, informative news, Dana traveled across the globe to get a taste of journalistic culture and has made up her mind. After working at Al Jazeera, she is now hungrier than ever to play a part in the dynamic field of journalism.
I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Dana and asking her about her unique experience so she could share it with the FIMS community. Talking with Dana her dedication to honest, intelligent journalism and her willingness to work hard and take risks in order to learn and gain experience, made her an obvious choice for Student Spotlight.
by Molly McCracken
Name: Dana El-Tawil
Program: Year 3, Media, Information, and Technoculture & Political Science
Future Aspiration: to become a journalist
A: It was a month, from the start of May to the start of June. I heard from a few people that they took only a few University students, they said “it’s very selective but you should apply anyway, your interest in journalism will help.” So I emailed, it was my second year and I was kind of sparking my interest in journalism, so I wasn’t entirely sure yet. To my surprise, I got it – I was ecstatic, I thought it would be a great experience and it truly was. What was funny was I felt like it was like a mini-Canada – there were two people that graduated from Western, a couple from Ryerson and McGill, just so many Canadians. Each week I was on a rotation and shadowed someone in a different department. It was such an energetic, vibrant but extremely stressful environment.
I was there at a very volatile time in news, it was really intense. It was only a month after Osama Bin Laden was killed, the Arab uprising was happening and we were in the early stage of the Syria revolution, as well as the height of the Greek debt crisis. Additional to all the stress in the nature of this field, all of this was happening too. So, it was possibly the best and worst time to be working in a newsroom.
They really needed all of the help they could get, so I wasn’t just in the back stapling papers and getting people coffee. It was nothing like that, I was calling people all around the world to get pre-interviews with experts. It’s interesting because you have to keep up with the World clock. You are working around global timezones, not in your own timezone. I did an over night shift because I wanted to see what it felt like – It was really weird. News is 24 hours, right? It doesn’t stop. It’s so weird how journalism has evolved, people don’t sit around and wait for six o clock. It’s go go go – What happened 2 seconds ago is old. It just keeps changing so you have to be there every second, people I worked with would say if they were not there for their shift, they were just always connected on and off work.
As well as the newsroom, I was also in the Social Media department, so it was interesting to see what they selected to tweet and who they followed. It was more what I was interested in, it was a very vibrant department and very constant. The viewers, comments, and responses was really interesting, it was more of an insider perspective for me because I’ve only seen it as a follower. My third week I was in the creative/graphics department and then in my last I returned to the newsroom. Everyone was extremely helpful, they truly wanted you to be there. It was crazy, I just thought I would be shadowing but after the first week they gave me tasks and real responsibility. I almost felt like I worked there, like an unofficial employee.
Q: What inspired you to get this particular internship?
I really wanted to see what goes on behind the camera.
I feel like people are extremely critical of what journalists, the media, and news corporations do, and everything that goes on behind the scenes. I feel like people have a very negative stereotype of the media. I don’t know about other news corporations, I’m a news junkie kind of person, I do like the news – but I think their ethos and the way Al Jazeera is set up is extremely non-bias. It truly is unbiased, I’m not just saying that because I interned there, if anything my experience is the reason why I believe that it is true. There is no bipartisan influence, it is not owned or run by the government, it’s sole purpose is to report the news. The fact that it did play such a part in the Arab revolution serves to show that it really is for the people. It’s about what is happening and getting to the bottom of it. Because I am so big on ethical news, I was very lucky to get an internship at that particular news corporation as opposed to anywhere else.
Q: What was your most satisfying accomplishment?
I really enjoyed working with the interview producers because I spoke to absolutely incredible people. I was given the responsibility to conduct pre-interviews so I would call up an expert – say a professor, doctor, scholar – whoever it is that has an in-depth knowledge about the case being covered I found it really rewarding to be able to talk to so many big people who are so influential all over the globe. It’s funny because at the same time, they have no idea who I am – I would say “it’s Dana from Al Jazeera English, can I pre-interview you?” – they don’t know who I am but I know who they are, so it was kind of inspiring in that sense. They’re very nonchalant with you, very straightforward and casual with you, prior to appearing on live TV.
Q: And greatest challenge?
Well, lasting for eight hours…
Aside from that, it’s always hard because you know you’re an intern, and you know your position, so you don’t want to go too far with that. At the same time you don’t want to close your self off. At the start I was holding myself back because I didn’t want to be ‘that overeager intern.’ I didn’t want to be that person. I think my greatest challenge was communication at the start… all of the pre-existing stereotypes I had in my head set me back, but then once I saw how friendly and approachable they all were it was great. I feel like everyone had that quality there.
News is very teamwork oriented, everyone has a really big part to play. Once I realized that I began to apply myself a lot more, and was a lot less reserved.
Q: What is your advice for students interested in similar work?
First and foremost is to really find something you are passionate about. I feel like a lack of passion is extremely fatal for anyone’s career or interests. You really need to know what you’re passionate about and if you don’t know then I think the most important thing is to be open minded and keep your options open. I was extremely confused in what direction to go in, but I feel like MIT gives you so many options you can get lost in them, but that’s what is so unique about us. So talk to people, look for opportunities, when an opportunity comes at you – jump at it – apply yourself as much as you possibly can. What you put into something is what you get out of it. You don’t want to live in the shadows, make as many contacts as you can because those contacts really will help you out later in life. It’s always good too because one of the people where you intern could be your reference letter, so make a lasting impression, it’s a really good stepping stone in your career.