Although he’s still a student at New York University’s Tisch School, Keem O. Muhammad already has big plans for his career. First, he plans to get more education. After graduation, his goal is to get two master’s degrees: one in strategic communications from Columbia University and another in art and public policy from New York University.
What does he want to do with those degrees? He wants to educate others as a media studies professor and work as a chief communications and operations officer in a non-profit. He also hopes to start a media organization and even enter public office.
This desire to educate others comes from his father’s passion for people to have access to information. Muhammad recalls childhood summers selling newspapers with his brother while their father taught them about the importance of the news media. That early education in media literacy and freedom of information has inspired his goals. Acknowledging that it will take a considerable amount of work, he hopes to positively affect American civic engagement and bring about a revolution in news media. At the end of his career, he wants to see a more educated, better-informed public.
Muhammad has some lofty aspirations, but he’s started getting to work by joining the SPJ board as a student representative and planning to start a student chapter at NYU. For now, he’s using his resources to help others become more aware of journalism training and tools like the ones that SPJ offers its members. He thinks those tools could provide value to the average person. His term as editor of Louisiana State University’s Legacy magazine gave him a chance to personally help educate new staff writers with little journalism experience.
As a student himself, Muhammad also has plenty of advice for future journalists. First, he encourages taking full advantage of university resources and other organizations, like SPJ. He said students should explore niche topics and take opportunities when they’re available. The most important bits of advice he has, however, are simple: Learn to edit your work. Apply for as many positions as reasonably possible. Don’t stop writing.
Unique for a student, Muhammad has spent time working as an election stringer with The Associated Press, later becoming a consultant to the Elections Unit and working to make information such as final election tallies and demographic research available to news organizations. He calls it the “impartial, yet ‘dirty work’ of journalism: the importing, organizing and exporting of raw data.”
The Elections Unit he worked with only collects the data and doesn’t report. So his time was spent leading a project working to collect headshots and background information on each candidate for congressional, gubernatorial and presidential elections.
Muhammad sees the future of journalism in educating others and being an example of ethical decision-making. The SPJ Code of Ethics and training tools could become critically valuable resources to everyone in the U.S. and beyond, even those without journalism training. He believes that the increase in citizen journalism during the 21st century allows a huge opportunity for new information to arise in areas as varied as protest coverage and niche media.
What is SPJ’s role in this vision? To connect journalists, students and citizens to education, journalism tools and resources, as well as to connect media organizations, freelance journalists and other organizations to each other. He hopes to see SPJ at the forefront of expanding media’s ability to cover local and regional communities through programs like Muslimedia, which brings journalists to mosques to increase their understanding of Islam.
No matter what SPJ does next, he thinks the most critical step is to include voices of diverse communities. In the end, it comes back to raising the bar together: Improving media literacy in consumers is just as critical as building news organizations’ ability to produce compelling news.
The future of journalism, according to Muhammad, is as simple as what his Nana told him growing up: “Always mind your momma, keep your head in them books and leave places better than you found them.” To him that translates easily to strong journalism; it’s a journalist’s duty to uphold ethics, make your work about the facts and tell the truth so compellingly that others listen and understand.