Papers in Orange County and Pittsburgh Win Diversity Grants

OC Weekly and Pittsburgh City Paper have been awarded Association of Alternative Newsweeklies summer/fall 2004 diversity internship grants. OC Weekly will be hiring Nadia Afghani, who is of Afghan and Uzbek origin, as an editorial assistant/staff writer for three to six months, and Pittsburgh City Paper will hire Jovon Belcher, an African American, as a reporter for five months.

Afghani traces her interest in writing to the time she got a bead stuck up her nose when she was 7. After being taken to the emergency room and threatened with surgery, “I blew that bead out faster than the doctor could finish his description of the operation,” Afghani writes in an essay that accompanied OC Weekly’s grant application. She told so many people the story that her mother suggested she jot it down. “It was at that moment I became a writer,” Afghani writes.

She has already interned at the Weekly, doing fact checking and calendar listings. Her cover story in the July 9 issue, “Terror-Fied,” begins: “So I might be a terrorist, but I’m not completely sure.… I’m still waiting for the government to let me know.” In May, Afghani earned a bachelor’s degree in English with an option in creative writing from California State University, Long Beach. She has also been a media relations intern/photographer at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, Calif.

“Nadia is a bright, funny, intelligent young woman who’d be a great addition to our staff no matter her background,” OC Weekly publisher/editor Will Swaim wrote in his Diversity Internship Program application. “But the fact that Nadia is who she is — Muslim; Afghan; a woman — would be extremely valuable to us and our predominately white male staff.”

Pittsburgh City Paper’s selected intern, Jovon D. Belcher, has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, with a minor in music, from the University of Pittsburgh. For the past year, he has been doing freelance writing for City Paper and the New Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that covers the black community.

“It’s our goal for our editorial staff to better reflect the demographics of Pittsburgh itself,” City Paper editor Andy Newman wrote in his application. The city is 32 percent African American, while the alt-weekly’s staff is now 10 percent African American. Newman describes Belcher as a good reporter who taps into stories others on the staff don’t; editors would like to work with him on a cover story and some news and arts features.

Four papers competed for the summer/fall 2004 diversity internship grants, which are the 11th and 12th awarded since AAN instituted the program in 2001 to help alternative weeklies hire and train top-quality minority journalists, with the hope that they will choose careers in the alternative press. Each winning paper will receive up to $2,500 to help cover the costs of hiring the chosen intern.

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