DEARBORN, United States - It’s past midnight at the offices of The Arab American News, the nation’s most popular and longest running Arabic-English newspaper, and the staff is rushing to finish this week’s edition before the print deadline.
“It’s that time that we come together and (decide) what goes where, what takes precedent, and what should go on the front cover,” 25-year-old Lebanese-American reporter Ali Harb told Middle East Eye.
“Typically it’s a lot of screaming, it’s a lot of clashing between the different components of the office.”
Founded to serve southeast Michigan’s Arab-American community - the largest concentration of Arabs in the US - the News has printed weekly bilingual newspapers for over 30 years.
Tonight, reporters are still putting the finishing touches on this week’s stories, many of them focused on the water crisis in nearby Flint. Graphic designers are hard at work superimposing a picture of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder onto an image of the Flint River taken by one of the journalists earlier that same day.
“Put him right in the middle of the river,” Arab American News founder Osama Siblani told the young designers.
Soon, the reporters, editors and designers gather around a computer to look at the layout of this week’s paper. Raising their voices and code-switching between Arabic and English, they debate the wording of headlines and the placement of each story.
Thursday is an all-day work day for the Arab-American journalists, most of them in their 20s, who often head out to the field for the first half of the day before returning to the office in Dearborn, where they remain until the wee hours of Friday morning.
Syrian-American Tariq Abdul Wahid, an Arabic-language reporter for the News, told MEE that some Sunnis have stopped reading the paper since the 2011 Arab uprisings.
“Just in the last five years, especially when the Syrian crisis started, some people took a stand against The Arab American News, because – they are right – they think the publisher of the newspaper is taking the side of the al-Assad regime – which is almost true,” Abdul Wahid said.
“And because those who support (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) most likely are Shia, right now it’s sort of a division between the Sunni community and the Shia community. … The Syrian crisis has made this gap deeper.”
Additionally, growing Islamophobia in the US that has followed the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has seeped into the Chaldean, or Iraqi Catholic community, a number of News journalists told MEE. Recently, Chaldeans in the nearby suburb of Sterling Heights gathered for mass protests against a proposed mosque in the area, leading to further tensions between Middle-Eastern Muslims and Christians.
“It’s very painful when you see and meet your people, or who you consider your people … try to attack you,” Abdul Wahid said.
“As a reporter, you have to be neutral. … It’s a very critical job, especially nowadays. Because you have to keep your audience on the right track, not to push them to be biased or to be angry.”
Despite the weekly challenges in bridging the gaps between the various Arab-American identities in the area, Abdul Wahid is still confident in the News’ wide appeal to the community.
“At the end of the day, all Arabs read the paper because it is technically the best. There is no other publication that can deliver the news that people are interested in.”
A little past 2:30am, the reporters send this week’s paper to print and finally head home. On Friday, 35,000 copies are distributed for free throughout southeast Michigan.
The offices of The Arab American News pictured Thursday, 21 January (MEE/Dave Leins)