Multimedia “Boot Camp” Empowers Arab Journalists to Serve Their Societies

Aug 92012
  • Arab journalists from across the Middle East are learning to serve their societies through the use of digital media. (Photo by Frank Folwell)

Twenty-three years of authoritarian government and no freedom of expression left Tunisian citizen journalist, Safaa Daouas, worried and concerned about participating in ICFJ’s multimedia “boot camp” in Jordan.

“I was afraid and not sure what to expect from that training, because such training was out of reach for my people before the revolution,” she said.

As part of the boot camp, Daouas proposed to investigate the issue of electoral corruption in post-revolution Tunisia. “I’m hoping that this program will help me to make a quantum leap in my career,” Daouas said.

Her colleague Ahmed Alaskary felt the same way when he received the invitation letter from ICFJ. He was also afraid because he had never before left his native country, Iraq. But, he was keen to return home with a “treasure of information” to help him in his career as a journalist.

Alaskary and Daouas are among the 25 professional and citizen journalists from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen to participate in the five-day boot camp in Jordan from February 26 to March 1, 2012. This the second phase of the program “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives,” which is funded by a grant to ICFJ from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The trainings are nicknamed “boot camps” because of their intensive nature which highlights immersion in practical work.

The boot camp, which took place at the Jordan Media Institute (JMI), featured training from Western and Arab instructors in media law and ethics in the digital age, computer-assisted reporting, building news websites, social media, investigative journalism, trends in mobile technology, digital and marketing strategies, safety of journalists, multimedia production and shooting and editing photos.

Palestinian participants who attended the boot camp needed special entry and exit permits and had to cross through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt and then continue on to Jordan. Hiba Efrangji, 26, is using her new multimedia skills in her project about funding cuts for orphans and children of Palestinians who have been killed in the area’s ongoing conflict.

Fadi Alhassani, another Gazan participant, accompanied Efrangji on the trip from Gaza to Amman. “During the five-day training I learned more than I had from over four years of college in journalism,” said Alhassani. He added that such training is valuable for journalists in Gaza because their experiences in digital media are so limited.

Alaa Al Chehayeb, 26, of Lebanon plans to create a website with an interactive map containing photos, forms, statistics and social media networks to investigate and raise awareness on the issue of sexual harassment in Lebanon.

Award-winning U.S. photojournalist Frank Folwell led the photo editing session. He said he was deeply impressed by the group’s interaction, how quickly they bonded during the boot camp and the camaraderie that continues through their Facebook group. “This is an excellent example of collaboration and positive outcome from the training,” Folwell said. “They were excited to be engaged with hands-on photo training, a first for most of them. I continue to get emails, Facebook postings and messages, which shows a continued interest and desire to improve their photo techniques as they move deeper into their individual projects."

Sherry Ricchiardi, a professor at the Indiana University School of Journalism, taught the use of ethics in the digital age. “These journalists were keenly aware of covering marginalized populations and giving voice to the voiceless in their societies. Many of their projects reflected a strong emphasis on portraying the human condition and bringing about social and political change. During mentoring sessions, the passion for their work was refreshing and inspiring,” Ricchiardi added.

Participant Suhaib Alfalahi was concerned when he presented his project about birth defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah to the trainers because he thought it might be too “sensitive” a topic for Western instructors. After a one-on-one mentoring session, however, he was relieved by their encouragement and excited to begin using his new multimedia skills.

Knight International Journalism Fellow Ayman Salah, who taught the group about trends in mobile technology and digital and marketing strategies, described the boot camp as an evolution in the fast lane. “Twenty-five journalists came to the boot camp with good ideas about their reports and after five days of intensive training and mentoring, they started to think out of the box,” he said. Salah is a digital entrepreneur and media-business developer who formed the Middle East’s first Hacks/Hackers chapter in Amman as part of his work as a Fellow.

One participant used a digital the boot camp to chronicle all his counterparts’ experiences. Mohamed Akino from Morocco filmed all the trainees and asked them about their impressions of the training. He discovered that “despite their differences, they are united in their goal to better serve their societies."

The journey that led the boot camp participants to Jordan began with six-week online course, the first part of the program. During the course, the 66 participants worked on ideas for multimedia public service journalism projects. The most promising 25 participants in the course were invited to the boot camp.

After the participants returned home, they began to receive online mentoring which will continue for three months. A second boot camp will help them develop and complete their multimedia projects. The trainers will then select the five most promising projects, and those participants will receive seed funding. The most outstanding participant will receive a two-week digital media study and networking tour to the United States.