From the Classroom

Q&A: A Conversation with Jaweed Kaleem

How one national correspondent has navigated the industry and succeeded in telling others’ stories.

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Jaweed Kaleem is a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times covering a variety of subjects ranging from religion to politics. He is an award-winning reporter who has obtained a wealth of knowledge from his professional experiences in the industry. Kaleem shared all of these insights and his experiences in our brief conversation.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. What led you to this particular job? How did you get interested in this work?

I’ve been working at L.A. Times since 2016 as a national correspondent covering a variety of subjects. I came in with a beat where I was the national race and justice correspondent covering issues on diversity, police shootings, protests, and other topics for the L.A. Times. After the presidential election, when President Trump was elected, I was doing a lot on COVID-19, the racial justice issues in the country, and the 2020 election. Last year I was based in London for the L.A. Times as a foreign correspondent, covering news around Europe and enterprise feature articles on issues connecting California to broader issues in Europe. Prior to that, I was a reporter at Huffington Post for about four years based in New York and I wrote about religion. Prior to that, I was working at the Miami Herald in Florida and serving mainly as a religion reporter as well as covering all kinds of local news.

What is a typical day like at your job?

There’s not much of a typical day so I’ll give you a sense of today. It was a good day to speak to you because I have an article that I have been working on that I filed with my editors. In the meantime, I have time to start working on other articles. It is the time of year when all the journalism contests open for submissions. I’m working with our team to figure out what to apply to and what articles or projects of mine could be submitted. A typical day could also be some breaking news happening and I have to write about it from L.A. or fly to where it’s happening and cover it from there. That’s not unusual. It’s happened many times over the years.

I really loved your story, “Punjabi American Highway,” the article you wrote about the refugees in Sioux Falls, and how you tell stories of underrepresented communities that are not normally highlighted by mainstream media. What story that you’ve written has been the most impactful to you?

The ones you just mentioned are really important to me. I traveled to Sioux Falls several times over a period of eight months to visit factory workers who were initially some of the worst hit by COVID. These are the stories that it’s hard to forget as a reporter. It is the people I have met and kept in touch with. There are stories that people ask me about years later that I still get questions about today. I think that’s a good sign that it’s either the topic itself, the way it was covered, and that I really resonated with people. Those two stories are ones where I had to go out into the field and into a community to spend a lot of time with people. It was not just a quick phone or in-person interview. I spent days, hours, and weeks. That can take a lot of time and a lot of energy. It can also produce some of the best reporting for me and many other journalists, so I like that.

Can you describe someone who had an influence on you professionally?

There are so many people. The current team of editors I work with on our Foreign and Nation desk are great. I have worked with them on hundreds of stories over the years and each has really guided me. The editors that you work with are really important. They not just help guide you from the inception of stories, but even can redirect you if you’re lost in your writing process. They can be great supporters even after publication. What I’ve learned from all of them are ways to think in bigger terms: to think of how the stories that I cover relate to the people who are in them as well as the nation or world, and to speak to issues that are more important than just one person or place. That’s a great way to approach journalism. It means you are covering significant issues that really affect people and that people care about.

Can you describe a time when you or another journalist faced a challenge separating personal morals from work?

It’s hard for me to pull out an instance because it’s a constant discussion you have with yourself on where that line is and where the line is moving. I think one example is I often meet people in my reporting that I want to be friends with, but that’s not something that I should be doing as a reporter with people I’m writing about. When you’re a journalist, you gain a lot of trust from people. If you do your job right, they’re comfortable around you, want to talk to you, and show you their worlds. You have to make sure people are aware that you’re always there as a reporter, you’re not there to become their friend or their advocate.

You mentioned that you were a foreign correspondent in London and now you are a national correspondent. Is there one you like more than the other or felt like you were making more of an impact?

I wouldn’t say I like one more than the other or is more important. They’re both similar kinds of reporting. The difference with foreign reporting is that you might be in a country where you may not speak a language that is native, so you need to get a basic education for yourself and for your audience. This changes the way you report and what kind of stories you select. But I think they’re both really important. They’re both pretty big in scope, and you’re trying to distill major world issues or movements in ways that people can understand and grapple with through the lens of their everyday lives.

More about these From the Classroom submissions: Students in an intro to reporting and writing course interviewed working journalists and asked their career advice and how they got their start. It’s a rare assignment where they were allowed to have just one source in the story or Q&A. Read more work “From the Classroom” here.