Logo Image
NPR co-host Leila Fadel joined Ralph Begleiter, founding director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, for a free-ranging conversation on the news media and journalism.
NPR co-host Leila Fadel joined Ralph Begleiter, founding director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, for a free-ranging conversation on the news media and journalism.

Honoring independent journalism

Photos by Maria Errico

NPR host Leila Fadel speaks at UD for World Press Freedom Day

The University of Delaware celebrated the 35th annual World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, May 2, with an appearance by Leila Fadel, co-host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. An award-winning international correspondent who covered the Iraq War and Arab Spring, Fadel joined Ralph Begleiter, former CNN World Affairs correspondent and founding director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, for a conversation about the news media in a time when journalism is increasingly under attack. Fadel offered advice to the many student journalists in the audience about topics ranging from utilizing social media to covering all angles of a story.

World Press Freedom Day was established by the U.N. in recognition of the fundamental role that journalists and media outlets play in promoting a free society. 

Fadel, a Lebanese American, grew up in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and spent summers in Michigan. She went to school in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War with a gas mask in hand. Even as a child, she recalled being struck by a surreal combination of day-to-day routine punctuated by graphic reminders that war was on her doorstep.

This experience shaped her career choice. She said her father pushed her to be a doctor, but after one semester as a pre-med student, she switched her major to journalism. 

“I wanted to tell stories about regular people trying to survive the news that is happening,” she said. “These are the stories that to me are the most important.”  

The conversation between Fadel and Begleiter turned to the risks that journalists face in many parts of the world today.  

“There have never been as many journalists killed in conflict as in the Israel-Gaza War — 97 total to date. What a dangerous time it is for journalists now,” Fadel said.

“You’ve been in some dangerous situations in your own career,” said Begleiter, referring to Fadel’s arrest in 2011 while covering the Arab Spring for The Washington Post, where she served as Cairo bureau chief from 2010-2012.      

“One day, they [the Egyptian government] just started getting sick of the foreign press so they started arresting us,” Fadel said. “I got detained along with three of my colleagues. I was detained for 16 or 17 hours, blindfolded, handcuffed and questioned. I was ultimately released, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I was an American and with The Washington Post.”

She noted that many local journalists were detained much longer, and many are held under house arrest for years.   

Sponsored by UD Journalism and Delaware Public Media, this annual event, dubbed “Byline,” was supported by the Edward A. Nickerson fund to enable UD students to learn from prominent journalists. True to that mission, Fadel spent time talking about the nuts and bolts of the craft.

UD student journalists and alumni spent time with Fadel before her campus lecture.
UD student journalists and alumni spent time with Fadel before her campus lecture.

Nadya Ellerhorst, former executive editor of UD’s student newspaper, The Review, asked how Fadel’s knowledge of a foreign language has been useful or influenced her career as a journalist.

“My Arab, for the record, is conversational,” said Fadel with a wry chuckle. “But, still, I can understand what people are saying and read the graffiti tags and political posters. Learning the language of the region you are covering opens up doors that an interpreter just can’t do,” she said.

Konner Metz, former editor-in-chief of The Review, asked Fadel how journalists should be using social media to understand and cover a story, as well as the role social media plays in telling stories.   

“Social media for me is really a double-edged sword,” Fadel said. “A video can tell a story of a version of what happened, but you don’t see all the other angles.” 

Additionally, she pointed out that news on social media often isn’t verified and that social media news outlets can be echo chambers that merely amplify the audience’s preexisting beliefs. On the plus side, she noted that social media can be a great resource for “getting your journalism out there.” 

“People are consuming news in different ways,” Fadel said. “They aren’t always listening to a 30-minute podcast or watching CNN for an hour, but they are consuming that one-minute viral clip of a question asked on CNN to a person they are interested in. When I am out in the field, I will do the long version for the show and then take a minute to do a version that will get picked up on social media by an entirely different audience.”

Casey Nyman, executive producer of STN49, UD’s student-run television network, said she thinks the biggest story student journalists nationwide are currently covering now is campus protests related to the Israel-Hamas war. She asked for advice on how to cover this story.

“Look at all the angles,” Fadel said. “Make sure you are including all the voices.” 

As Fadel noted later, “Allowing a person to speak their truth is not bias, but not allowing that for as many views as possible is. Every newsroom is constantly having conversations about how to tell stories in the best, most fair way.”  

“It’s why I believe in diverse newsrooms,” she noted. “And when I talk about diversity, I am talking about it in every way — age, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, conservative, liberal, independent. All of those things need to be in our newsrooms so that, not that we can have every idea in every story, but that we have people at the table who are thinking about things from different angles. In that moment, they can look at a story and say ‘Hey, something is missing from that story.’ That, essentially, is why I got into journalism.”     

About E.A. Nickerson

A former reporter and editor for the Associated Press, Edward A. Nickerson joined UD’s faculty in 1970 and established UD’s journalism program. After retiring in 1991, Nickerson established a fund to support UD students. Countless UD journalism alumni credit their experience in Nickerson’s classroom as a roadmap to their success in the field.

More Campus & Community Stories

See More Stories

Contact Us

Have a UDaily story idea?

Contact us at ocm@udel.edu

Members of the press

Contact us at 302-831-NEWS or visit the Media Relations website