"Boot Camp" Helps Arab Journalists Develop Public Service Projects

Jul 222011
  • Twenty-seven Arab journalists participated in a five-day digital boot camp in Cairo. Here, trainer Hoda Osman works with participants.

  • During the camp, participants worked on online projects. Here, Palestinian journalist Maryam Hamed works on her project on the safety of journalists in Gaza.

  • "The trainees' presentations of their projects introduced me to unique ideas," said Mohamed Amarochan (pictured here, right, with ICFJ Vice President Patrick Butler).

  • Held at Ahram Canadian University, the boot camp featured instruction from more than a dozen experts from Arab and Western countries, including media lawyer Ehab Sallam.

  • Knight International Journalism Fellow Ayman Salah talks to participants in the hotel lobby. He showed journalists how to build news websites.

  • Participants had individual sessions with instructors to refine their project ideas. Mohammed Abu Shahma of Gaza talks with trainer Sherry Ricchiardi and ICFJ Country Director Hanzada Fikry.

  • Each participant made a presentation of his or her project before the participants, faculty, ICFJ staff and AID representatives.

  • When protests reignited in Tahrir Square during the boot camp, many of the participants put their training to use. This photo was taken by participant Wesam Boho.

  • "You can't change journalism overnight in any culture," said NPR Digital Media Strategist Andy Carvin, shown here with participant Madonna Khafaja. "But you still have to show leadership and you have to show creativity."

  • Nouamane Elyaalaoui of Morocco shows off a picture he took for a photojournalism class during the boot camp.

Twenty-seven journalists from Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq participated in a five-day boot camp in Cairo in late June. The boot camp is the second phase of "Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives."

When Mohamed Amarochan went to Cairo for a digital “boot camp” for Arab journalists, he had a vague idea for starting a blog about environmental degradation around the city of Tangier, Morocco.

After five intensive days of training and mentoring from top Arab and Western journalists, he left with a vision to create a website that would allow citizens of Tangier to submit their suggestions for neighborhood issues that need government attention, then vote on the issues nominated. Amarochan will create an interactive map accessible by web or mobile phone, then take the issues voted most important by citizens--neighborhood playgrounds for children or cleaner drinking water, for example–and bring them to government leaders for attention.

Amarochan was one of 27 journalists from Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq who participated in the five-day boot camp in Cairo in late June. The boot camp is the second phase of "Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives," a project run by ICFJ and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"I got many opportunities to present my ideas to the trainers," Amarochan said. "The boot camp was a golden opportunity to exchange experiences."

The project began with an online course on using the latest digital tools for public service journalism. Seventy journalists from seven countries, chosen from nearly 400 applicants, took the course. As part of the six-week course, participants proposed an online project that they wanted to pursue with the help of experienced trainers. Participants who were most active in the course and who proposed the most promising project ideas were chosen to get hands-on training in Cairo.

Topics at the boot camp ranged from using social media to shooting and editing photos and video, from computer-assisted reporting to building news websites, and from media ethics to trends in mobile journalism.

When protests reignited in Tahrir Square during the boot camp, many of the participants put their training to use, taking video with their Flipcams, uploading video and photos to the Web, interviewing protesters and blogging about what they saw.

Participants are exploring such issues as illegal factories producing shoddy goods in Egypt, dangers for journalists in Gaza, medical malpractice in Jordan, police abuses in Lebanon, and corruption in a food rationing system in Iraq. Alexandria journalist Ahmed Esmat said that the program is especially important for Egyptian journalists in the post-revolution period when the opportunities for media are expanding. He appreciated learning how to support good journalism through better marketing and business practices.

"Media is going to be booming. People should start thinking about how to market, how to sell your media product,” he said. “We have to think of media as an industry."

Local and international trainers were impressed by the commitment of the journalists and the quality of their projects. Hoda Osman, an Egyptian-American trainer who taught computer-assisted reporting, said the journalists gave her hope for the entire region because their projects can improve societies by exposing wrongs and promoting solutions. Andy Carvin, senior strategist for social media at National Public Radio, agreed, saying that if even half of the projects are completed, they’ll bring improvements to a region now more open to change than ever before.

"The group that came together here is so eager to experiment with different tools using traditional journalism in combination with social media and digital production tools," Carvin said. "They’ll serve as really excellent pioneers for their countries."

The program was organized in Egypt by ICFJ Country Director Hanzada Fikry and Program Officer Lobna El Shoky, with support in Washington from Program Director Natasha Tynes and Program Officer Dina Tariq.