My Portfolio

Here is a collection of my multimedia work as a writer and reporter. Please feel free to comment, I’m always looking for feedback, tips and tricks!

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NEWS REPORTS

The Shalit Release: The View From Two Brooklyns

My colleague Anna Hiatt and I went down to get the reactions of Brooklyn residents to the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas.  She went to the Jewish neighborhood of Midwood, while I spoke to people in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Bay Ridge. (Originally published in The Brooklyn Ink, Thursday Oct. 20th, 2011)

Ali Al-Badawi speaking outside the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge Mosque. (Omar Bilal Akhtar / The Brooklyn Ink)

The faithful walk in and out of the mosque at different points in the day. Mohamed Abdou, 48, is an electrical contractor who has missed the afternoon prayer congregation, but comes in to pray anyway. As he puts on his shoes after leaving the prayer room, he says the Arabs must look at the exchange practically: “Listen, if I can get freedom for more than a thousand brothers against just one guy, then what’s better than that?” …Read the whole article at The Brooklyn Ink

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Fear Grips Midwood Residents after Anti-Semitic Vandalism

A vandalized park bench in Midwood ( Omar Bilal Akhtar / The Brooklyn Ink)

On Saturday morning, Chaim Weiser opened the newspapers and saw something he says shook him to his core.  It was something he had seen 70 years ago. Back then, it had marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

Arsonists had torched three cars and painted several park benches with red swastikas and the letters “KKK” in an act of anti-Semitic vandalism that took place in the early hours of Friday morning. The cars were parked on Ocean Parkway, between Avenues J and I, in a quiet, leafy neighborhood of Midwood, a predominantly Jewish area…Read the whole article at The Brooklyn Ink

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Undercover Operation Angers Brooklyn College Students

Students at Brooklyn College reacted, at turns, with both outrage and acceptance over a report that the New York Police Department used undercover officers to infiltrate Muslim student groups on campus.

Students Outside Brooklyn College (Gloria Dawson/ The Brooklyn Ink)

According to a CBS news report this morning, The Associated Press obtained documents that show that the NYPD has been sending undercover officers to schools and colleges like Brooklyn College to infiltrate Muslim student groups and monitor their activities.

Read the article at The Brooklyn Ink

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Business Stories

TARGET CORP. POSTS STRONG YEAR-END EARNINGS, DESPITE HOLIDAY DIP.

Retail giant Target posted a less than stellar earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2011, but finished with a solid performance for the year overall.

In an earnings report released on February 23, Target Corporation reported fourth quarter net earnings of $981 million and full year net earnings of $2929 million. Compared to the same time last year, net earnings for the quarter were down 5.2 percent while the figure for the year in total stayed almost the same, going up 0.3 percent.

In terms of adjusted earnings per share, this translated to $1.45 a share for the quarter and $4.41 a share for the full year, representing increases of 8.3 percent and 14.3 percent respectively.

Despite the holiday season dip, Target exceeded many industry expectations, with its adjusted earnings per share of $1.45 well above the analyst’s projected estimate of $1.39. Target outperformed competitor Wal-Mart whose earnings performance trailed industry estimates as their aggressively low pricing hurt profit margins in the fourth quarter.  Continue Reading…

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OHIO UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DROPS

The state of Ohio, one of the Rust Belt’s hardest hit economies during the recession, is now recovering faster than some other states.

It has done especially well compared to states that were not affected as much by the recession. Last year, the U.S. Labor Department said Ohio businesses added almost 69,000 jobs between May 2010 and May 2011, making it seventh on the list of total adjusted job growth, behind North Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Utah.

The state ended the year in December with an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, down from 8.5 in November. Ohio’s unemployment rate remained lower than the national figure of 8.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the

state’s unemployment numbers generally mirrored the national average, 2011 was the first year since 2003 that Ohio’s unemployment rate had dropped below that of the national rate.

Continue Reading…

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Feature Stories

America’s Funniest Muslim Women

How female Muslim comedians in America are using humor to combat negative stereotypes and challenge perceptions about their faith.

by Omar Bilal Akhtar.

Negin Farsad held the microphone with both her hands, clutching it close to her chest. She wore a black sleeveless dress, bright red lipstick and large round silver earrings, her short, black hair parted to the side. It’s a look that stood out amongst the often drab and colorless wardrobe of New York City comics. It also gave the 33-year-old comedian a coquettish, little-girl vibe. Her colorful presence was in stark contrast to the rust brick wall that served as the backdrop to the stage at Standup New York, an Upper West Side comedy club.

Against this background, Farsad looked tiny, her high-pitched voice adding to her diminutive stature. With a slight quiver, she began her set, telling the audience she was now going to discuss her “areas.”

“I recently had to get an STD test because …I was a raging slut for a period of my life…that ended last week.” said Farsad. Her punchlines rolled out deliberately after every pause, each revelation raunchier than the last.

As the crowd responded with a mixture of gasps and guffaws, Farsad continued, “The good news is that my vagina is closed and disease free, until marriage! Or you know…until someone takes me out to dinner at a restaurant with a Zagat rating of at least eight out of 30.”

That kind of raunchy humor might be standard fare in the New York comedy scene. But the person performing it doesn’t fit the mold at all. Negin Farsad is an Iranian-American woman who identifies herself as a Muslim. She is, in her words, “totally screwed.”  Continue reading…

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Chinese Mormon Church: How Mormons Are Using English Language To Reach Immigrants

The Dyker Height 4th Branch Mormon Church. (Omar Bilal Akhtar / The Brooklyn Ink)

Bing Ley asks me if I love English. The question takes me by surprise. I’ve been speaking English all my life and it never occurred to me that I could love the language. I tell him I think it’s alright. Ley looks down at his sneakers and takes his hands out of the pockets of his gray hoodie. He isn’t very tall but he hunches with apparent deference, making him look smaller. With an earnest smile, Ley tells me slowly and deliberately, “I…love…English.” With every word, he emphatically taps his chest and makes sure I understand him. He looks up at the two, tall, young Caucasian men, standing on either side of him. They nod their approval and one of them encouragingly puts his hand on Ley’s shoulder.

“How did you learn English?” I ask.

Ley once again looks at the two young men and with a broad grin and says “The church taught me.”

Read the whole article at The Brooklyn Ink

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Muslims in Brooklyn: A Community on The Edge

Ten years after 9/11, the Muslim community in Brooklyn has been forced into the public view again in the wake of recent revelations that the NYPD were conducting secret surveillance programs against them. Omar Akhtar documents his journey through Muslim Brooklyn.

Almost every Muslim I speak to at Brooklyn College tells me about Fahad Hashmi. They speak of him much the same way as they would about a terrifying urban legend. Each one of them tells me to “look at what they did to Fahad Hashmi.” Hashmi, an outspoken Pakistan-born American and self-identified Muslim activist, lived in Queens and studied political science at Brooklyn College. He graduated in 2003. But his story lives on as a cautionary tale handed down from junior to sophomore to freshman. The message is always the same:

If it could happen to him, it could happen to me.

Read the whole article at Illume Magazine

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Radio

The Brooklyn Bike Patrol

Jay Ruiz, founder of the Brooklyn Bike Patrol (pictures by Omar Bilal Akhtar)

The streets of Brooklyn became a terrifying place last year when there was a series of sexual assault cases between March and October. One man decided he wasn’t going to wait for the police to protect the women of his neighbourhood.

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Audio Postcard: The Universal Hip-Hop Parade

Every year the Universal Hip-Hop Parade is held in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. The event is now in its 12th year and remains popular as ever amongst Brooklyn residents.

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Audio Slideshows

Palestinian Students speak out at Brooklyn College

Palestinian-American students at Brooklyn College, NY talk about their generation’s experience growing up with the Israel/Palestine conflict. ( Part of a larger series, view it here at The Brooklyn Ink.)

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David Ledge, the entrepreneur.

I met David Ledge on the subway in New York City where he was pitching ideas to random people, looking for investors for his idea. Here’s the piece I did on him.

Pictures and Audio by Omar Akhtar and Alexander Abnos.

Edited by Omar Akhtar.

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Video

Fadi Ebrehm: Poet

This a profile on Fadi Ebrehm, a young spoken word artist from Brooklyn who converted to Islam when he was 16.

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Occupy Wall Street protesters take back Zucotti Park.

After being forcibly evicted by Mayor Bloomberg, The Occupy Wall Street protesters were let back into Zuccotti Park after a court decision ruled they could come back in but not camp overnight. I was at the scene, able to capture the moment they were let back in.

The footage shows the NYPD issuing the conditions for re-entering the park and the protesters walking in through the NYPD inspection.

Shot and Edited by Omar Bilal Akhtar/The Brooklyn Ink.

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Data Visualization

Brooklyn Sexual Assaults

I created a visualization showing the dates, times and locations of all the reported sexual assault incidents in Brooklyn that took place between March and October 2011.

If you click on each marker, it pulls up a box containing the information and a short brief about the incident.

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Op-Ed Articles

The Myth of Objective Journalism

Go on and find a living room, gather around a group of people you know and ask them what is wrong with the media today. You’ll get a whole bunch of responses as everyone stampedes to condemn the various evils afflicting our media. The media is too sensational. The media is money hungry. The media is the puppet of ethnic groups. The media is a Zionist conspiracy. But you’ll find that the most common complaint being parroted about is how ‘the media isn’t objective’ and ‘they don’t show both sides of the story’.

Read it at The Express Tribune

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The Senseless Media Coverage of Flight ED202

The country mourns yet another tragedy, the horrifying Airblue crash on the morning of July 28. There has been round-the-clock coverage of the disaster, something we expect in this age of 24-hour news cycles. What we shouldn’t have expected was the offensive and absolutely tasteless reporting from our television news channels.

Read it at The Express Tribune

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What Happens When We Run Out of Coke ?

Coke Studio is the single most-watched musical event in the history of Pakistan. This year it shows no signs of slowing down, with the first episode from the latest season already receiving a record number of views online and on television. Coke Studio has become more than just a music show — it has captured our imagination and has come to define Pakistan.

However, in the wake of Coke Studio’s tremendous success, the rest of the Pakistani music industry has become a barren wasteland. You can count the number of new album releases on both your hands; there are no other record deals; new music videos and singles have ground to a screeching halt; and the big name artists seem to be focusing on anything but new music.

Read it at The Express Tribune

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Music Reviews

Review Preview: Mumford and Sons: Sigh no more

Mumford and Sons seem like the kind of indie band one would love to hate. They’re scruffy. They hate being classified. Their lyrics make literary references to John Steinbeck and William Shakespeare. Their lead singer runs an online book club on the band’s official website and I can’t decide whether they use the banjo ironically or not.

Wait, what? An online book club? Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a dove, Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the devil for success, Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue literally died for 10 seconds and then came back to life after a drug overdose. But Mumford and Sons… run an online book club.

Read it at Dawn.com

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Reviews Previews: Adil Omar featuring Xzibit: Off the Handle

Any apprehensions, criticisms or snarky observations I might have had about Adil Omar’s new single Off The Handle flew out the window when I heard him rhyme a reference to my hometown “And you wonder why I’m cocky/ cuz I stay burnin’ hotter than a summer in Karachi”.

Now, I realise this was a ploy, but I wholeheartedly embraced it because let’s face it, desis and hardcore rap haven’t always gotten along. To see our boy Adil Omar representin’ with rapper/actor Xzibit fills me with an unholy strain of patriotic pride. In fact when I heard Xzibit dedicate the song “for my land in Pakistan” I was tempted to jump up and hold the Boom Boom Afridi victory stance (there’s a reference to him as well!).

Read it at Dawn.com

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Humor/Satire

I Support The Internet Bans

A couple of days ago it was reported in this newspaper that the Lahore High Court may ban several websites and search engines, including Google, Yahoo, MSN, Amazon, Hotmail, YouTube and Bing. This all came about because a citizen in Bahawalpur decided that he was the sole protector of all things Islamic and filed a writ petition seeking the ban of these sites.

I for one, fully support this ban.

Read it at The Express Tribune

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The Funny Side of Interviewing Michael Moore

In journalism school, they start by throwing you into the deep end of real reporting situations. There are no practice drills, no warm-ups and no guidelines. All you have is a notepad and your instinct. And your instinct is to curl up into a foetal position.

I was out on assignment covering Occupy Wall Street, the populist movement in New York City that is currently rallying against American corporate greed. One weekend, the protesters announced that they were going to occupy Times Square. They intended to march all the way from Washington Square Park to Times Square and hold a massive rally there.

A rally in Times Square was sure to get them national coverage and it was guaranteed to make the New York Police Department bring out their riot gear. While the thought of being around law- enforcement officials makes most desi men think of rubber gloves and Guantanamo, I knew I had to be there.

Read it at Herald Magazine

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