Mazin Sidahmed, Co-founder and Senior Reporter, Documented
“Too often journalists are writing to a New York Times audience. But if you walk through immigrant-heavy areas you won’t find a Times. That to me is a failure to serve and we don’t want to fall into that trap. We need to figure out a way to reach them.”
Meet Mazin. Mazin Sidahmed is the co-founder and senior reporter of the just-launched Documented, a news site that covers immigration, specifically in the New York area. Mazin started out as a software engineer with a side hustle as a music journalist, writing album reviews and interviewing rappers such as Talib Kweli, before jumping headlong into journalism as a reporter in Beirut, Lebanon where he worked at the iconic English-language newspaper, The Daily Star. Mazin is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and previously worked at POLITICO New York and Guardian US. You can follow Mazin on social media and contact him directly via email.
What Does He Do?
Mazin is the co-founder of Documented, which launched this past June 11th, with the journalistic mission to provide better immigration coverage while connecting to the people who are most affected by it.
“We wanted to create a publication that would explain to New Yorkers and be a resource to how immigration policy is playing out in the New York area where there is a deep hunger for immigration coverage. What’s new, what’s relevant, how the system works. [Providing this coverage] is hard to do unless you’re structured the way we are.”
Documented currently publishes three stories a week and also offers Early Arrival, a thrice-weekly newsletter roundup of local and national immigration news. You can sign up here for Early Arrival. Documented is built on Civil’s blockchain-based platform, which was launched by Civil Hall alum Matthew Iles.
How Did He Get Into This Work?
“Journalism has always been in my family. My uncle was a journalist in the Middle East; he later started a magazine and then a newspaper in Sudan. My dad was a professor. When he was at University he wrote for a newspaper. I’d find his clippings in the attic; he was meticulous about keeping everything.”
Mazin was born in Sudan, and, at the age of 18 months, his family emigrated to the Czech Republic where his father finished his Ph.D. and his mother taught school. The family was uprooted again, this time to Cambridge, UK, where they themselves were asylum seekers, receiving refugee status. Later on, they moved to Windsor, Canada.
Despite journalism being in his blood, Mazin began his career as a software engineer. After a fashion, he figured out that he was miserable, attributing this unhappiness to the solitary culture of programming, and being a cog in a multinational that was 80,000 strong. To keep himself on even-keel, he had been writing profiles of rap artists and record reviews. Slowly, he was pivoting to journalism; he had been accepted into Columbia’s J-School, but during a visit to his family in Beirut during the apex of the 2014 refugee crisis he had an epiphany: “I should just do it! Quit my job. Now I’m a journalist!”
Mazin deferred Columbia for a year, finding his avocation — in this case, looking at the role of music in the Arab Spring – as a point of entry. He landed an internship with the English-language newspaper Daily Star, with a remit to cover the World Cup, but began pitching stories about Sudan, Syrian refugees, and Palestinians in Lebanon. This became a full-time job. At the time he didn’t know about Daily Star’s reputation as a breeding ground for good journalism. Arriving in the States, he worked as a stringer for Politico New York and was later hired by Guardian US. Josh Benson, a former colleague from Politico, told him that “this thing” called Civil was looking for proposals for journalism startups to run on its platform. He and his co-founder Max Siegelbaum has already been talking about the urgent need to cover immigration from the time of the Muslim travel ban.
With funding from Civil, he jumped: “The Guardian had been my childhood newspaper and I was really proud to work there. With Documented we now have the opportunity to build something from the ground up and to really center [immigration].”
What Project Is He Working On?
Since Documented launched two months ago it has looked at such issues as detention, bail on an immigration bond, and ICE’s tactic’s in the city. Broadly speaking, Mazin notes that there has been “an entire restructuring of what it means to be an American in the United States. Well, not just the U.S., but globally there is an isolationist mentality. We are retreating everywhere; movement has become a privilege.”
In the short while, that Documented has published that have been picked up or partnered with such outlets as The Daily Beast. This feature chronicled the deaths of Shahadat Hossain Nayem and Mainul Hasan, two Bangladeshi men barely old enough to drive, who attempted to cross the US-Mexico border, and the efforts of Queens-based DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) which identified the bodies and helped bring them home to their families.
This Daily Beast co-publication on ICE impersonating local law enforcement received the most traffic and was, perhaps, its most impactful so far.
Documented is also focusing on how immigration issues intersect with adjacent policy areas, including education and health. A recent local story looked at the City Council’s decision to cap rideshare from the perspective of the immigrants who comprise most of the New York Taxi Workers Association’s workforce. For them, it was a huge win.
How Did He Come to Civic Hall?
Mazin came to Civic Hall by way of long-time member David Moore – known to us for Participatory Politics Foundation, Councilmatic, and now founder of Sludge – both publishing efforts are on the Civil platform.
What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?
An acute concern for Documented is making certain that the audience that they’re writing about is reading them.
“Too often journalists are writing to a New York Times audience. But if you walk through immigrant-heavy areas you won’t find a Times. That to me is a failure to serve and we don’t want to fall into that trap. We need to figure out a way to reach them. We’re figuring out translation, looking at distribution, even working on about building out a glossary of terms.”