The AUI-S Voice, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, is a publication of the students of The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUI-S). AUI-S is a private non-profit university offering a comprehensive American-style liberal arts education to all qualified students regardless of their affiliation or origin. It opened its doors in October 2007.
The AUI-S Voice published its first issue on 31 January 2010 and to date has published 24 issues, with articles about a Facebook ban on the university campus, student feelings towards a ‘liberal arts’ education, tree planting on campus to reduce CO2, and student support for Egyptian protesters.
Arez Hussen Ahmed, who majors in international studies, is the Editor-in-Chief and leads a staff of 50 students at this first independent student newspaper in Iraq. Ahmed, 19, calls the work challenging and says that the Voice, whose first commitment is to news about the university, ‘records the history of AUI-S.’
In an article published yesterday on the American Journalism Review website Jackie Spinnner, who was the founder and first faculty adviser of the Voice, describes it as ‘a scrappy bimonthly newspaper with an excess of spelling and grammatical errors as well as an abundance of ambition.’
She goes on to say that the Voice ‘is attempting to do what few professional media outlets have been able to accomplish since the fall of Saddam Hussein: to bring Arab and Kurdish journalists together in a politically and ethnically divided Iraq with no alliance to any political party or religious sect, with no allegiance to anything at all except fairness and accuracy.’
The Voice’s website describes itself as ‘an independent publication and is not connected to any political party, religious group or ethnic group’ and says it ‘will defend [the newspaper] against influence from any group or individual, including those who support [it] logistically and financially.’
The newspaper got off to a rocky start though because of attempts to control it. When it first tried to begin publishing in 2009, political parties tried to control it through the students, and the AUI-S administration immediately shut it down.
Now the Voice prohibits students in political party leadership positions from overseeing the staff, accepting financial contributions from political parties, and publishing stories or editorials about political issues.
The staff members consist of Kurdish and Arab students, diligently working to create a sustainable publication that could serve as a model for other student newspapers in the country.
The Voice’s first photo editor, Hazha Ahmed, says the staff ‘all started from zero and had no skill of how to work in a newspaper, but with the passage of time and engaging more with the work, I learned that we are capable of managing a newspaper that achieved many accomplishments.’
Namo Kaftan, the paper’s first Web editor, assigned video reports, created multimedia and updated the site. The Voice’s website contains some video reports and slide shows as well as .pdf copies of all its issues.
Former faculty adviser Spinner says though that ‘the students have not produced any new multimedia reports or posted breaking news on the Voice website in five months because no one has taught the new staff how to produce the reports or stressed the importance of the Web.’
Iraqi media specialist, Mohammed Salih, who is at AUI-S says this commitment ‘to having an independent campus newspaper is a cause for much celebration.’ He adds that ‘it is also a cause for hope that the young generation, through some assistance and liberal education, as offered at AUI-S, is capable of putting forward a different vision for the future of the country, one that shows despite all differences we can work together in a productive manner.’
Kurdistan Commentary wishes the staff of the Voice success in their journalistic endeavours. It is a worthy undertaking that we hope will produce the next generation of journalists in a region in need of a free and fair media, reporting and publishing freely and without the stress of undue political influences.
Spinner, Jackie. Letter From Iraq, American Journalism Review, 03 March 2011.
AUI-S Voice website
The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani website