Blogger who used multimedia to portray Moroccan children’s plight wins top honor

Sep 172012

The International Center for Journalists has awarded honors and financial support to five journalists and citizen journalists from throughout the Middle East and North Africa for excellence in using digital technology to cover the pressing public issues of children’s rights, sexual harassment, pollution, and landmines.

The journalists all received training and mentoring from ICFJ in 2012 in support of their projects through the program “Building a Digital Gateway for Better Lives,” funded by the United States Agency for International Development through its Office of Middle East Programs (USAID/OMEP). Each of the five winners will receive $3,500 in seed funding to build upon their work in the public interest.

Aida Bouya first winner-Photo by Frank Folwell

The journalists all received training and mentoring from ICFJ in support of their projects through the program “Building a Digital Gateway for Better Lives,” funded by the United States Agency for International Development through its Office of Middle East Programs (USAID/OMEP). Each of the five winners will receive $3,500 in seed funding to build upon their work in the public interest.

Aida Bouya, a blogger from Morocco, won first place for her project “Single Mothers and Children Without an Identity.” The project is posted on Bouya’s blog, Bouya used digital audio, photography and video to humanize Moroccans who are denied legal status because their parents were unmarried.

“Children are the ones who build the future,” Bouya said of her motivation for pursuing the topic. “When we see innocent children suffering and deprived of their rights, with not much of a future waiting for them, then I think it is the duty of the media to highlight these marginalized groups who suffer in silence.”

Bouya said the ICFJ training program equipped her with methods of investigative reporting and the use of storyboards to organize multimedia storytelling. She thanked ICFJ mentors including Sherry Ricchiardi and Frank Folwell for guidance on writing and photo editing.

As the top winner, Bouya will be invited to the United States for a two-week study tour tailored to her interests including visits to media outlets, nonprofits and government agencies.

Alaa Chehayeb, a journalist from Lebanon, won second place for his project “Sexual Harassment in the Universities,” which opened a discussion about the prevalence of unwanted sexual attention by instructors. Chehayeb created the website www.U-Harass.org identifying universities where female students reported that sexual harassment by instructors was most common. The web site allows women who have been sexually harassed to submit their stories.

“Sexual harassment is still a taboo,” Chehayeb said. “Sexual harassment causes big psychological problems [for victims] and can affect their whole lives.”

Chehayeb reached a large audience through the strategic use of social media and outreach to bloggers and civil society actors. He said the ICFJ program showed him how to build a news-oriented website, present statistics as infographics, and use multimedia to tell stories.

Narin Shamo, a journalist from Iraq, won third place for her project “Polluted Water in the North of Iraq.” Shamo said the ICFJ training program gave her the opportunity to examine the longstanding lack of clean drinking water in Iraq’s Singar district. She discovered that the problem has persisted for more than 50 years and that diseases linked to water contamination are becoming more common.

Shamo said she previously had no idea how digital tools could help her cover the subject. “My work was in the traditional press,” Shamo said. “I didn’t realize it was possible to cover issues such as those presented in the ICFJ program using online tools. I didn’t know that there was a wider public behind computer screens.”

Shamo said that after the first ICFJ boot camp, she felt ready. She used social media and SMS messaging to glean which areas were most affected and to locate people willing to be interviewed. Shamo created the website www.cupofdeath.com gathering the testimonies and video clips of residents who suffer from water-related illnesses.

Mohamed Akinou, a journalist from Morocco, won fourth place for his project “Landmines in Morocco” detailing how civilians are continually maimed by mines left behind from past conflicts that are unmapped. Akinou said the ICFJ program showed him how to find sources and information through social media and introduced him to new ways to use mobile phones for reporting. Akinou said he learned how to tell stories more effectively with maps, images and video, which he used to convey the situation of landmine victims on his website http://algham.org, the Arabic word for “mines.”

Mohammed Al-Hakimi, a journalist from Yemen, won fifth place for his project “The Effects of Plastic Bags on the Environment in Yemen” detailing how this commonplace container can pose multiple dangers amid a lack of regulation. Poorly manufactured bags may contaminate the food that they hold and the land in which they are discarded. On the website http://environmentenemy.icfjdigitalgateway.org, Al-Hakimi gathered charts, maps and testimonies showing the extent of the problem.

Before the training program, Al-Hakimi said his computer use for journalism was limited to word-processing, email, and a blog. Through the program, Al-Hakimi learned how to handle data-intensive reporting, edit digital video, and reach sources via social media. Al-Hakimi said he also benefited from the program’s courses on ethics, investigative interviewing, and organizing the story.

Al-Hakimi said journalism addressing complex problems is well-matched with technological tools such as social media that connect and empower individuals. “The first step is to transform personal interest into a collective interest,” Al-Hakimi said. “The fact is, this type of issue requires a popular response, to achieve a service to society and to reexamine the role and duty of the responsible officials who allowed the problem to worsen.”

In each round of the ICFJ program, more than 60 journalists from throughout the region – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen – complete six weeks of online training in the use of digital tools for public-service journalism. Then they propose journalistic projects they want to pursue with multimedia on the web; about 25 are selected to attend a series of two weeklong training “boot camps” where they participate in intensive workshops and individual mentoring. ICFJ experts continue to provide mentoring online as the participants complete their projects in their home countries.