By Danish Raza |

Before this fellowship opportunity, life back home in India had become very comfortable — the kind of comfort that hinders growth.

I could take up reporting assignments for the Hindustan Times across the length and breadth of India. Editors would rely on me to write about crucial issues. Stories would get recognised in the form of awards and shares and social media. Fellow journalists would want to swap careers with me.

Deep inside, I felt stagnant. I had hit a professional plateau.


I wanted to reboot my system. I was yearning to get out of my comfort zone to be in an environment in which I could explore, unlearn and absorb.

Through the fellowship, I am doing that and much more.

During the extensive training, which took place the first three weeks of the fellowship at the Missouri School of Journalism, I revisited skills which I already possessed and practiced new ones, particularly tools for data journalism and investigative journalism.

It was an all encompassing training program. I was face-to-face with people who were incredible in their respective fields: Investigative Reporting tools by Mark Horvit, Media Ethics by Katherine Reed, Photography by Brian Kratzer, Business & Economics reporting by Randy Smith.

Additionally, the experience helped me gauge where I stood vis-a-vis experienced and talented journalists from other countries.  

Living with other fellows, I realized how similar and different our cultures, governments and media practices were.

I was pleasantly surprised when Dumitru Stoianov, the fellow from Moldova told me that Hindi movies from 1980s were quite popular among senior citizens in his country. He could sing “Jimmy Jimmy Aaja”, the superhit song from 1982 film Disco Dancer.

Hindi films have an audience in Moldova—who would have thought? Such is the power of cinema.

My conversations with Yan Zhang (the fellow from China) helped me understand how it is being the citizen of a country which is considered an emerging superpower, is the most populous and is often critisised for its high-handedness when it comes to dealing with the rights of the citizens. It took me some time to come to terms with something which is very normal in her country: she cannot cover election because there are none in her country.

Our kitchen adventures were full of discoveries. All of us got to eat, relish (and, at times, develop a dislike) for recipes from other fellows’ nations. Why would Dima (Dumitru Stoianov) mix coconut oil in black tea will always remain a mystery for me.

April first week, I joined my host newsroom, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis. The newspaper’s turnaround story is cited for its business models, as noted in this analysis by Poynter and captured here by the Columbia Journalism Review.   

The newsroom has received the Pulitzer Prize twice and was shortlisted in 2019.

Frankly, I wondered how a regional newspaper achieved this feat. In the weeks to come, I got the answers—rigorous fact checking, knowing its strengths and building upon them, solid command on issues of local communities, and most importantly, caring for people.

So far, the biggest highlight within the newsroom has been my meeting with Sid Hartman. America’s oldest sports columnist, Hartman celebrated his 99th birthday two months ago (March 2019). He has been with Star Tribune for 70 years. His first column got published in Sep 1945. And last counted, he was 19 stories short of 21,000 (yes, twenty-one thousand) bylines. Beat that!

Who wouldn’t want to work for a newsroom with these values?

Apart from routine assignments, I witnessed two big-ticket events: President Donald Trump’s visit to Minneapolis and the trial of police officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of murder for shooting an Australian woman.

Outside the newsroom, I take time to explore Minneapolis, which has to be one of the most livable cities in America. In terms of its pace, it is between Missouri and New York. It offers the right balance of nature, history, culture and civic amenities.

At another level, this has been the journey to bring to life the cook inside me. Back home, I wasn’t even allowed in the kitchen because they know that it would result in a mess. Here, I have had my anxious moments trying to manage it on my own as I cook from scratch – in a place where just procuring Indian spices and vegetables can be a challenge. I have been taking tips from cousins and family members and scanning multiple websites to explore recipes.

I have just started here. It seems like this is going to be an enriching ride that will help me evolve as a person and a professional. 

Link to Danish’s articles in the Star Tribune

  • Minneapolis could soon be home to a permanent memorial to survivors of sexual violence, which organizers say would be the first of its kind in the country.
  • The number of people moving into the Twin Cities from abroad fell dramatically over the last two years, based on new Census estimates that show the effect of shifting federal immigration policies.
  • People gathered for a midday mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis on Tuesday in a show of support for Notre Dame Cathedral after the Paris landmark was heavily damaged in a massive fire.