Ada Mullol was well on her way to a career in journalism when she decided to pursue her Masters in Arab Studies at Georgetown. She first honed her reporting skills as an undergraduate at Autonomous University in Barcelona, where she studied journalism, wrote for the university magazine, and received an investigative reporting award for her work on the Syrian regime’s suppression and surveillance of Syrians in Spain. Mullol went on to pursue training at the London School of Journalism and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Barcelona Institute of International Studies, and to publish articles in national and international magazines. She had long been interested in the Arab world, though, and knew that developing regional expertise and improving her Arabic skills would enable her to better tell the stories she cared about. In 2016, she joined MAAS, where she is writing her thesis on the intersection of media, public opinion, and foreign policy. This March, Mullol participated in a competitive journalism fellowship program called “The World in 2030,” which was sponsored by the International Center for Journalists and the United Nations Foundation and included three days of intensive career training.
We asked Ada to share a little bit about her experiences and work in the media—as both a journalist and a scholar.
By Vicki Valosik
How did your investigative work on the Syrian regime and its efforts to suppress its citizens abroad come about?
In 2012, only a few months after the start of the Arab Spring, I had the opportunity, along with three classmates in Catalonia, to interview people from both sides of the Syrian conflict, including representatives of the Syrian regime, such as then-Acting Ambassador of Syria in the Syrian Embassy in Madrid, and realized that Syrian communities abroad, and even families, were divided on their loyalty, or opposition, to the regime. According to some of the sources consulted, the regime was trying to prevent the birth of an organized revolt from abroad through espionage, threats, and the gathering of information on demonstrators by the intelligence services. I had access to NGO reports and external actors, such as members of Amnesty International, journalists reporting on Syria, and experts in the region. However, the most impactful interviews were the first-hand testimonies of Syrians in Spain on how the regime had threatened their families in Syria in retaliation for their demonstrating in Spain, and how, despite these threats, they continued to openly show their opposition to the regime.
The lengthy process of obtaining and preparing for interviews, gaining an understanding of the hardships and fear that Syrians were suffering, and writing the final feature covering all these issues—and being recognized for these efforts—made me realize that there were still millions of stories to be told in the region, and that I wanted to be there to tell them. It reinforced my conviction that my vocation is to become a journalist reporting on the Arab world.
How do you think your time at MAAS will affect your future work as a journalist?
After these two years studying the politics of the Arab world, as well as their different social, cultural, religious, economic, and historical nuances, I feel that I am better equipped to report in-depth on the particularities of the Arab world. I am better able to draw analogies and discern differences between remote parts of the region and its different ethnic and religious populations. I am sure that the Arabic I learned at MAAS will help me a great deal in the future if I have the chance to work in an Arab country. Finally, I have gotten to know incredibly talented professors in the program who continue to be an inspiration through our shared passion for the Arab world.
As a journalist, you bring a unique perspective to your academic research on the relationship between the media and foreign policy. Why have you chosen this subject for your thesis research?
Journalism is the medium through which most people learn about what is going on in the world, but in my opinion, reporting goes beyond simply informing the population of what is happening. Journalism has a duty not only to inform, but also contextualize, give voice, and serve as a forum to improve societies and enhance people’s peaceful coexistence. The Arab world has experienced many sociopolitical conflicts, and it is especially vital to pay attention to how the media reports and frames the political developments in the region and their broader implications. This is why for my MAAS thesis research I decided to focus on the role of international media coverage of ongoing wars in the Middle East, and their potential to influence foreign policy changes. I believe that doing this kind of introspective analysis—and critique—of media coverage is fundamental in improving the journalistic profession and reporting on this region in particular.
You recently participated in a competitive fellowship program for journalists. Tell us about it.
Last February I was awarded a fellowship to participate in the reporting program “The World in 2030,” organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the United Nations Foundation (UNF). During the three-day training program, we attended lectures at the United Nations Foundation Headquarters in Washington, DC, visited National Public Radio’s newsroom, and started working on our own multimedia pieces related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), — a set of 17 global goals established in 2015 by UN member states.
The 20 participants were divided into groups with different topics of focus. My group’s focus was “women and girls,” so we decided to report on Macy’s introduction of the first hijab to be sold in U.S. department stores and how that may empower Muslim women. I interviewed many Muslim Americans as well as some non-Muslim Arab-Americans for our group article and photo-essay, as well as for my own individual piece on the socio-political situation of Muslims in the United States. The fellowship was a really enriching experience and gave me the chance to explore how current Muslim Americans feel in relation to their fellow Americans, and also made more eager to investigate other aspects of the Muslim community in the US… New articles are on the way, so stay tuned!
Vicki Valosik is the CCAS Multimedia and Publications Editor. A shortened version of this article was published in the Winter/Spring 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine.