PULLMAN, Wash. – “Covering Islam in America” marks the title of a free online course designed to prepare journalists to bridge cultural gaps and accurately put news about Islam and Muslim communities into context.

The course is being offered by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and The Poynter Institute’s e-learning project News University.
The project, launched today, was developed by Lawrence Pintak, founding dean of the college and a former CBS News Middle East correspondent. He brought together a team that includes some of the country’s top academic experts on Islam and several journalists who write extensively on the topic.
The project editor is former Chicago Tribune Middle East correspondent Stephen Franklin.
Scholars tapped
“We turned to the scholars who know this subject inside out and helped them present their knowledge in a way accessible to general assignment reporters on deadline,” said Pintak, who has written several books on media and policy in the Muslim world.
“We have no ax to grind, other than a desire to see accurate, balanced reporting of this topic, which has such broad impact on American society today,” Pintak added.
“In our increasingly polarized media landscape, having the facts about any topic is vital to good journalism. And this is especially important when covering topics such as religion. We are delighted to partner with The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University on this important project,” said Howard I. Finberg, Poynter’s director of interactive learning.
“Our e-learning module on NewsU is an effective and accessible way for journalists to get the training they need to cover Islam and Muslims in America.”
Pintak and Finberg said the course is meaningful as the nation and the world commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.
Islam on Main Street
In addition to the online course at Poynter’s NewsU, a version with more readings and analysis, called “Islam on Main Street,” is offered through WSU’s own Center for Distance and Professional Education. They can both be accessed at or directly on the NewsU ( and WSU ( distance learning sites.
Both versions of the course cover a wide range of topics — everything from a primer on the beliefs of Islam and the history of Muslim immigration to the role of women in Islam and the relationship between Islam and Christianity. Over the coming weeks, additional interactive sections will be added to the NewsU course.
Audience beyond journalists
The course is designed for journalists, bloggers and students, but it also may be useful to educators, government officials and anyone involved in the conversation about Islam in America.
Pintak said the online course offers the kind of education about the Muslim community that he wished he had received before he was assigned by CBS to Beirut 30 years ago. “I had been reporting on wars in Africa, so I knew how to dodge bullets. Of Islam, the dominant religion in the region, I knew essentially nothing,” Pintak said.
If foreign correspondents assigned to the region have such a “limited” understanding of Islam, there is no reason to expect reporters and editors based in the U.S. to be any more prepared to tackle stories involving Islam and Muslims without access to a the kind of background offered in the course, he concluded.
Contributors to the project include scholars from Harvard University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Boston University, DePaul University, and the University of Washington.
Project support
The project was supported by the Social Science Research Council and the Carnegie Corporation of New York under an initiative to make academic expertise on Islam accessible to the public.
About Poynter
The Poynter Institute trains journalism practitioners, media leaders, educators and citizens in the areas of online and multimedia, leadership and management, reporting, writing and editing, TV and radio, ethics and diversity, journalism education and visual journalism. Poynter’s website, ( is the dominant provider of journalism news, with a focus on business analysis and the opportunities and implications of technology.
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