By Tithi Patel
Growing up in California, Dena Takruri, Senior Presenter and Producer at AJ+, the digital news channel of Al Jazeera Network, always knew she wanted to be a journalist. Summers spent in her parents’ native Palestine made an early and lasting impression about injustice in the world, while watching the nightly news with her family left her seeking better on-screen representation. As an Arab-American woman, she developed an early awareness of how marginalized communities are often misrepresented in the media. “As a minority in America, you see how people are reported on and how they’re often dehumanized and not given their fair shake,” said Takruri in an interview with Nieman Storyboard. “Seeing the really negative portrayal of Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians, which I also am, I wanted to correct that.”
Now, with a fan base of 117,000 Facebook followers and 40,000 more on Twitter, and her own show—“Direct From with Dena Takruri”—she says her guiding principles in her work as a journalist are “to give voice to the voiceless, to challenge power, and to challenge the status quo—including the media status quo.” As one of the original founders of
AJ+, Takruri wanted to make news that would appeal to millennials by bypassing traditional media outlets and delivering her content directly to social media. Dena was among the first to use Facebook Live as a reporting tool while covering the refugee crisis in Europe. Short, compelling videos proved effective in countering mainstream news, but Takruri quickly found that this medium was also perfect for building an
emotional connection between the viewer and the story by enabling viewers to see the human impact and hear directly from those affected. Takruri has traveled the globe many times over, reporting from the West Bank, the Korean DMZ, South Africa, Spain, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter protests, the DNC and RNC, AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and Michigan during the Flint water crisis, just to name a few.
Takruri, who has been featured in the Peabody and Emmy-nominated series “The Secret Life of Muslims,” has not shied away from making her intersecting identities as a woman, a Muslim, and a Palestinian-American known. “I’m comfortable speaking out about racism, bigotry, xenophobia,” she told Nieman Storyboard. “My identity as a woman of color shapes that. I think it’s been an asset. My identity and being open about it often creates trust with the people I’m reporting on [by] approaching subjects as a person of color who can empathize.”
Takruri says she began to develop the intellectual framework that would guide her studies and her desire to correct false narratives as early as middle school when she read Jack Shaheen’s The TV Arab, and, later Edward Said’s Orientalism. After studying International Development at University of California, Berkeley, she went on to earn her graduate degree from Georgetown’s MAAS program. “I credit MAAS for awakening my critical senses towards the role of power in defining mainstream discourse on issues,” says Takruri. “I engage with it, and try to challenge it, on a daily basis. I have also benefited tremendously from the depth of regional knowledge I gained as well as my drastically improved Arabic skills, which I’ve used reporting in the field.”
It was during her time at MAAS that Takruri got her start in journalism as co-host of “ART America,” a show produced by an Arab satellite channel and hosted by young Arab-Americans. After graduating from MAAS in 2008, she was hired by Al Jazeera Arabic to produce “Min [From] Washington,” a live show on current affairs, which she did for four years. Takruri then moved to New York to work with HuffPost Live before joining AJ+ in 2013.
In September 2017, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) awarded Takruri the Rose Nader Award for her “unwavering dedication and commitment to values of equality and justice.” In accepting the award, Takruri reflected on her time as a journalist: “I’ve seen firsthand how we are all connected by our struggles, whether we know it or not… At the core of our commitment to social justice and equality is a fundamental kindness we have to possess as humans and a recognition that we are all the same. We have to be a compassionate society where love and acceptance triumphs over fear.”
Takruri dedicated the award to the people whose stories she has had the “immense privilege and responsibility” to tell. “I am just the messenger,” she said.
Tithi Patel is a senior at Georgetown University, majoring in International Economics.
This article was published in the Winter/Spring 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine.