Omar Waheed has joined Blueprint365 as a full-time business reporter.
Waheed, 26, is also a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Originally from Milwaukee, he and his family moved to New York when his father bought a convenience store in a prime commuter location in suburban New Jersey.
Then, 9/11 happened.
“It wasn’t the best time to be Muslim or Arab in New York,” Waheed said.
Listen to Omar on this morning’s It’s Only 10 Minutes podcast:
Waheed accompanied his father back to his father’s native Pakistan, while his mother and two brothers returned to Milwaukee. Two years later, the family reunited in Des Moines, Iowa, where his dad bought another store.
“Who knows why (Iowa),” Waheed said with a laugh. “I don’t understand that decision.”
It was in that Des Moines shop, though, that Waheed first got interested in news.
“What do you do in between (work tasks), kick cans or read the newspapers? Between filling the cooler and helping out my dad, I would just read the Des Moines Register,” he said. “That’s how I grew up appreciating news.”
As an Arab American in the years after 9/11, he also saw the dark side of the news.
“Media coverage demonized a group of people, and it spread negative stereotypes. They’re all terrorists, they’re spreading Sharia law, yada, yada, so on and so forth,” he said. “I appreciate the power of words, and then what it could do. I initially didn’t see myself working in news because of that.”
But a mentor at Iowa State got him working on the school paper, and he accumulated enough credits for a minor in journalism. Soon he was working full time for that paper he grew up reading.
Waheed said he’s excited to cover diverse communities and businesses in ways the mainstream press often doesn’t.
“I feel like diverse coverage on marginalized communities is, ‘it exists.’ Most of the time that is it. ‘Non-white people exist. Let’s just throw them a bone,’” he said. “I feel with a publication like Blueprint365 and Madison 365, where the focus is on these diverse people, It’s not just, hey, they happen to exist. These people are here. These people have been here and we’ve been ignoring them. It’s time for us to give them the attention that they deserve.”
He said his family’s background in business will inform his reporting.
“I want (to cover) very community-oriented things,” he said. “I can’t tell you specifically what that is. But working at my family store, in a very communal neighborhood, it was a very cute, very comfortable store … that feeling of community is what I want to push with the stuff I work on.”
Waheed’s first day with 365 Media, the nonprofit organization that publishes Blueprint365, was Monday.