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Straightwords Tells It Like It Is

NCM Profile

NCM, Brahmani Houston Posted: May 18, 2004

The term Straightwords comes from an injunction in the Koran that says we should speak straight words, and not use clever language to obscure the truth, explains Richard Muhammad, editor and publisher of the online magazine Straightwords that tries to do just that.

Muhammad took the column he had been writing since 1989 for The Final Call, a publication of the Nation of Islam, and expanded it into his own Internet publication, found online at http://straightwords.typepad.com/straightwords_ezine/.

Interested in strengthening coverage in black news, Muhammad left The Final Call and started looking for freelance possibilities. But he began to feel that many African American publications were following the mainstream lead, or running the same story themes over and over.

I was frustrated by this lack of original content, he says. From time to time, you get a glimpse of how corporate agendas do not correspond to the peoples needs. But people need to be aware that they are supporting that. They support it every time they pick up a daily newspaper or pay their cable bill.

Muhammad realized he needed to do it on his own if he wanted to publish journalism that had a unique voice. It is becoming more and more important for people to have independent sources and independent perspectives as media is being concentrated into a few hands, he says.

Straightwords is still a fledgling web zine, with its first issue just released in January of 2004. Operating out of Chicago, Illinois, Muhammad tries to keep his content balanced and fresh. Along with local storiessuch as analysis of a black candidate running for an Illinois senate seatStraightwords also publishes international stories as far afield as Johannesburg and Paris.

Muhammad chooses his content in hopes that it will add to local, national and international dialogue rather than repeat what has already been said. When asked why Straightwords hadnt posted any stories on Iraq despite likely Muslim interest, he explains that being so far away from Iraq, it would be difficult to contribute original content and a unique insight into the war.

It is this commitment to bringing an independent perspective to his readers that drives Muhammad to publish his magazine while holding a full-time job as a communications director for the non-profit organization National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.

He also syndicates his own stories nationwide. His writings can be found in Black Press of America and Black World Today, as well as on numerous websites, such as BlackVoices.Com, AlterNet and Sojo.Net.

Muhammad sometimes takes a different tack from most journalists. He got his last story tip from a street poet on Chicagos EL train. It led to a story on the heavy-handed discrimination that ex-convicts face, making re-entry into society nearly impossible.

See, there is some value to public transportation, laughs Muhammad, who says he practices guerrilla journalism. He always has his notepad and knapsack, and is constantly on the lookout for a storyeven on his way home from work.

Its kind of all the time, he says of his work with Straightwords. There is rarely a time Im not thinking about it.

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