When Raza Rumi went home for winter break last year, he believed he had just finished his final semester teaching journalism and policy courses at Ithaca College.
He had accepted a full-time teaching position at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and had been excited to begin teaching public policy courses. But when the 2018 spring semester began, a job opening at the college caught his attention — the director position at the Park Center for Independent Media.
“This center is so exciting,” he said. “It’s one of the only centers of its kind in the U.S., perhaps in the world, which explicitly promotes independent media, sensitizes and trains students to become independent journalists and is a bridge between the ivy tower of academia and the outside world.”
Rumi said he was a little reluctant to apply at first because he was uncertain about his chances of actually landing the position. However, a few days before the deadline for applications, he said, he decided to send in his application anyway.
It was a decision he would not regret.
After a lengthy interview process, the search committee selected Rumi to succeed Jeff Cohen as the next director of the program. Todd Schack, associate professor in the Department of Journalism, who chaired the search committee, said the committee was very excited to find Rumi.
“He brings an amazing personal narrative and professional background to the position and clearly understands the importance in the world today of a robust, vibrant and well-funded independent media,” he said.
Rumi said he plans to continue teaching part time at Cornell and believes doing so will be beneficial to his role at the PCIM.
The PCIM is a small department in the Roy H. Park School of Communications that helps students find internships in independent media, brings speakers to campus and hosts the Izzy Awards. The director of the program also teaches a journalism class on independent media in which students learn about media outlets that produce content outside of traditional corporate structures.
The program was founded in 2008 by Cohen, who stepped down last April. Rumi learned that he got the position last May and started in August 2018.
Cohen said most of the department’s operations over the summer were overseen by Brandy Hawley, administrative assistant in the Department of Journalism and the Park Center for Independent Media, and Diane Gayeski, dean of the Park School.
Cohen first considered retirement from the PCIM around 2016 because he had a desire to work on other projects.
“I was very ambivalent about leaving — I thought I should go on to other things, but it was such an ideal job for me — it was one of the great jobs of my life,” he said. “I loved everything about the job. I’d say the thing I liked least about the job was being stuck in Ithaca in the middle of winter — that was the only downside of the job.”
Cohen is currently working at RootsAction, a progressive activist group he co-founded back in 2011.
He is also working as an executive producer on a documentary called “The Corporate Coup D’Etat,” which he said will serve as a sequel to “All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone” — a film he produced in 2016 that received an Emmy nomination this past summer. He said “The Corporate Coup D’Etat” will be released sometime between this November and early next year.
Rumi said Cohen leaves big shoes to fill. He asked Cohen to continue to serve as a judge for the Izzy Awards, and Cohen accepted.
Cohen met with all the finalists for the position and said he was very excited that Rumi got the position.
“Who could be more perfect for a tenure on independent media than someone who nearly got assassinated because of his journalistic and editorial commentary?” he said. “We talk about Trump and his assault on journalism in this country. It’s quite different and more severe for your journalistic advocacy when you could be nearly assassinated.”
In 2014, back when Rumi was working as a host for a current–events show on Express News in Pakistan, a group linked to the Taliban attempted to assassinate him. He managed to narrowly escape and move to the U.S., but his driver was killed. Later he moved to the US and joined his siblings. After working for think tanks in Washington, D.C., he moved to Ithaca and began teaching at the college in 2015.
He said that when he initially came to the U.S., he had a much more positive view of the U.S. media — he was under the impression that journalists could mostly say whatever they wanted. But when he moved to the U.S. and began to study the media, he said, he felt that corporate structures and societal prejudices can hinder good journalism.
“When it comes to the issues of importance, the mainstream media is pretty compromised,” he said. “Media is more and more a vehicle for special interests and corporate power, and with the center, I get a chance to engage with the indy media inner world.”
Rumi said he plans on running the program and the class very similarly to how Cohen ran it but said he wants to try to gradually add more of an international perspective to it.
“By and large, I am very loyal to Jeff Cohen’s model of teaching because he already had some international focus, but I am trying to internationalize it a little bit more,” Rumi said. “I guess it will be a gradual approach because there is so much going on here that we can’t miss out on with the students.”
He also said he wants to work more closely with other departments on campus, produce more research reports from the center and host a symposium next semester to discuss the state of independent media in the U.S.
“I want the center and its work to be really interactive,” he said. “I am very keen that students give feedback, and I hope to be very approachable and available for ideas and collaboration.”