Egyptian Housewife Becomes Citizen Journalist

Oct 182010

Ola Al-Fooli, a 44 year old housewife, talks about her experience with the citizen journalism workshop, organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

My name is Ola Al-Fooli; I am married with two sons. I don’t work but I’ve had a blog page for the past three and a half years. I joined the citizen journalism workshop because of my love for writing and journalistic work, but due to my circumstances I have not been able to get a job in the past. Therefore, I have been expressing myself through my blog page and was delighted with the idea of citizen journalism, especially since the entry requirements fit me perfectly. I have truly benefited from this training program. Things I have learned from this workshop include:

How to choose a topic to cover, whether it comes from a news piece, press release, interview, report, or article.
How to cover conferences.
The professional considerations one must keep in mind while covering the news.
Fact finding skills.
What to focus on and what to avoid while writing.
How to select and keep in touch with your sources.
The importance of being on-site during the event.
Checking your facts.
Always be ready with your camera.
Always have a flexible and well thought-out plan of work.
Know all aspects of the topic before writing about it.

At the very beginning of the course we were asked by our instructor, Dr. Hanzada Fikry, to give a portrayal and write a short story on one of our family members. Afterwards, she discussed our stories with us and explained how to properly write a story or portrayal for the press and the difference between this and news writing or other forms of journalistic writing.

The various lecturers then instructed us on the following points:

How to write a news story with a good introduction and title as regards to length, terminology and expressions.
Answering related questions.
Writing an accurate description and proper background for your story.
Knowing your target audience, their topics of interest, and complete coverage of the story or subject matter from all aspects.
Pre-publication review.
Using exact quotes.
Respecting your readers, owning up to your mistakes and bearing the consequences
Respecting your sources right to decline to give a comment, protecting your sources and coming clean if you are unable to contact a source.
Using professional intellect to overcome obstacles.
Presenting the different views objectively and with integrity.
Tracking down information, especially the unforeseen, focusing on novel and original angles, even when dealing with hot topics that have already been covered by the press and being on the lookout for and paying attention to details, and properly preparing for and reading up on the topic at hand.

For our hands-on training we were asked to write an article on a topic of our choice, which we all did after discussing it with the instructor and getting the okay on the subject matter we each chose. The articles were sent to the instructor by e-mail.

One of the highlights of the workshop was the session on investigative journalism. We learned that one of the key ingredients to becoming a good investigative journalist is ridding oneself of skepticism and diffidence and to have the courage to face failure. We were also taught the importance of choosing the right time and place to ask questions and that one should always begin with the easy questions which will open up the doors for the more difficult ones.

Other points discussed included, integrity in dealing with your source or interviewee; asking for permission before recording what they are saying; never giving them the impression that you have suspicions about what they are saying; when to provoke them and finally, learning how to judge the act not the individual.

We were told that journalism is a way of life and not simply an occupation and that one must take risks and at the same time observe the ethics of journalism.

Part I of the workshop came to an end following a session on legal issues in journalism, which gave us the knowhow on overcoming the problem of getting the story out without breaking any laws and without being prosecuted for defamation (libel / slander).

Part II of the workshop began with two lectures given by Ryan Thornburg, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, USA. Thornburg discussed the following:

Citizen journalism and online reporting.
Search Engine Optimization.
Creating a network of contacts and sources and preferably asking only one or two questions but to a large group of people.
How to use social networking sites and how to interact with people online.

We also became familiar with a number of blogs and popular and credible American websites. After this we attended a seminar on citizen journalism in Egypt which hosted three journalists from IslamOnline.net, Al Youm Al Sabe and Al-Masry Al-Youm. The journalists discussed their experiences in dealing with citizen journalists, as well as the positive relation between online journals and their readers, and the differences between online and printed journals.

We are currently attending a session on digital media which will end sometime this month, God willing.