Each student in the competition had a limited amount of time to complete a creative assignment in their field of expertise: writing, photojournalism, radio, television, or multimedia. A week before arriving in San Francisco for the competition, Rob found out his assigned topic was “diversity and multiculturalism in the Bay Area.”
Rob came up with several story ideas and ultimately decided to focus on the American Muslim perspective because the competition fell during Ramadan. As he was road-tripping to San Francisco, he dashed off several cold emails to various Muslim groups in the Bay Area. One of those groups gave him contact information for a woman heavily involved in local politics.
“She was gracious enough to allow me to tell part of her story when I got there,” he says.
He had two and a half days to make the video. After a welcome event and formal meetings the morning of his arrival, he met up with Hala Hijazi, the woman he’d decided to feature. He rode along with her as she drove to a mayoral campaign in a neighboring town called Dublin, 40 minutes away. Rob didn’t start filming right away but used the drive as a chance to chat with and get to know Hijazi. When they arrived in Dublin, Hijazi jumped into the campaign and he pulled out his camera.
The next day, he filmed more of her work, plus an hour-long interview with her. She even let him film her praying in her mosque. The third day, he filmed even more of her work and conducted a follow-up interview. By the end, he had an hour and a half of interview footage plus several hours of scene footage. He needed to condense it all into a three-minute video.
“I think I got two hours of sleep,” Rob laughs later. The long days and sleepless nights turned out worthwhile, as his video won first place.
Before he found out the judges’ decision, he sent the video to Hijazi.
“That was actually more important to me than the competition,” he says. “And she actually loved it, which meant the world to me.”
Next week, Rob will start a ten-week video internship at the Los Angeles Times. In August, he’ll return to UNC for a dual masters in mass communication and environmental science.
“I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I’ve been provided at UNC to get to where I am right now,” he says. “It’s the classes that I took, and it’s also the opportunities I had through the Discovery Fund.”
After all, the Discovery Fund paid for Rob’s journalism workshop at the end of his junior year, as well as the travel he undertook to compete his initial Hearst entry, “Don’t Think Twice.” A current Morehead-Cain scholar, Nicholas Byrne, did the sound editing for “Don’t Think Twice,” and a band comprised primarily of Morehead-Cain alumni donated music for the video soundtrack.
Rob hasn’t yet published his three-minute short about Hijazi, but “Don’t Think Twice” is viewable here.
Description of the championship-winning video:
Hala Hijazi is the first Arabic Muslim woman to be appointed as a San Francisco human rights commissioner. She has developed a network to support her community of nearly a quarter of a million American Muslims in the Bay Area. This year, election day overlaps with Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and prayer. Hijazi is forced to balance her faith and her work as she reflects on the challenges facing American Muslims and the hope of a new election cycle.