Pakistani Journalists Highlight Impact of ICFJ Program at Alumni Summit

Feb 212013
  • TV reporter Farrah Fazal from St. Louis, at the Sunday Bazaar in Karachi, visited Pakistan through ICFJ's journalist exchange program aimed at dispelling stereotypes. Photo: Ed Esposito.

  • While visiting Pakistani news outlets, American journalists saw firsthand how their counterparts operate with fewer resources, less training and greater security risks. Photo: Michael Clapp.

  • "There is so much security everywhere you go," notes Alicia Dean of KXAN-TV in Austin, who visited a science and tech park in Karachi as part of ICFJ's exchange program. Photo: Michael Clapp.

  • Journalists agreed that telling stories not about politics, but about real people, such as those living in the Karachi-based Edhi Foundation's home for abandoned girls, can help change perceptions. Photo: Michael Clapp.

  • Pakistani alumni from ICFJ's exchange program said their experiences in U.S. newsrooms transformed their attitudes and upgraded their work.

  • Vice President of The Washington Post Company Marcus Brauchli debunked the myth that U.S. audiences don’t care about international stories such as Pakistan in his keynote address.

  • At the gathering in Islamabad, U.S. and Pakistani journalists debated hot topics such as how to avoid stereotypes in news coverage.

  • In hands-on workshops, Pakistani journalists learned the latest Google tools as well as investigative reporting techniques.

  • A select group of Pakistani journalists became trainers themselves—and now they are fanning across the country to teach digital skills.

ISLAMABAD - Almost 80 participants in ICFJ’s U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism Program gathered in Islamabad in February to share how this initiative has transformed their work, their media organizations and their perceptions of the United States.

Journalists from megacities Lahore and Karachi and from remote areas such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan said that spending nearly a month working with American counterparts in U.S. newsrooms had given them new skills and standards while forging lasting ties with their U.S. hosts.

“I feel like I’m not just speaking to Balochistan now, I’m speaking to the whole world,” said Dawood Tareen, a journalist from conflict-riven Quetta.

In all, 113 people attended the Alumni Summit. Among them were U.S. journalists finishing their own life-changing trip to Pakistan as well as 13 Pakistani journalists preparing to visit the United States in April. ICFJ trainers ran workshops on everything from investigative reporting to social media tools. Speakers included a keynote address by Washington Post Vice President and ICFJ Director Marcus Brauchli. The gathering took place at Islamabad’s Serena Hotel and was sponsored by the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

After the summit, about a dozen journalists took part in an intensive three-day “training of trainers” workshop. They now plan to share their expertise with colleagues across the country, multiplying the impact of this program.

Above all, the Pakistani journalists said they made major changes in how they did their jobs after working in the U.S. Some examples:

  • After learning media management skills at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tenn., anchor Shoukat Ali Zardari of AwazTV in Karachi, reorganized his newsroom. He instituted morning editorial meetings between the head office and the bureaus and introduced newscast time logs and performance reviews. He also made sure that salaries and upward mobility were tied to performance.

  • Diving into digital and social media at the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida, Ali Raza came home and created the first website and Facebook page for the Daily Asr-e-nau and the Weekly Endeavor in Quetta, the capital of the volatile province of Balochistan. Raza runs all aspects of his newspaper but never had the knowledge to launch a website until he went to the U.S.

  • Naila Inayat of The News in Lahore said she began writing and transmitting short stories from the field using a smart phone after her U.S. experience at the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.

The participants said they deepened their understanding of the United States. Pakistani reporter Tareen was surprised that the Delaware News Journal focused its attention so heavily on people and the community, rather than on bureaucrats and politicians. During his month-long stay, he visited churches, a homeless shelter, Muslim communities and farms. As a result, he said he was better able to grasp the key issues of importance to Americans as he followed the 2012 presidential election.

At the gathering, some sessions took on hot topics such as how to avoid stereotypes in news coverage. The Washington Post’s Richard Leiby said the U.S. media tends to project Pakistan as a “failed state, (wracked by) terrorism and crisis.” To balance that coverage, he said he writes feature stories that explore other issues, such as education, health and sports. Panelists agreed that more stories about real people can change perceptions in both countries.

The U.S. participants said they were struck by the challenges facing Pakistani journalists after 9/11. “There is just so much security everywhere you go,” said Alicia Dean of KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas. “I just didn’t have a sense of how serious that is for (Pakistani journalists) and how much daily lives have changed because of it. We in the United States feel like we have heightened security, but it’s not until you come here that get a sense of what that really means.”

Keynote speaker Brauchli, who had covered South Asia as an international correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, debunked the myth that U.S. audiences don’t care about Pakistan or the rest of the world. He said Washington Post surveys show that readers rank international news as the second or third most important subject.

In the closing speech, digital pioneer Umar Saif, chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board, said digital innovations developed in Pakistan are now democratizing the media. His team has developed SMSall, Pakistan’s largest SMS social network; widely used mobile streaming services; a “Village Base Station” for communications in disaster zones; and crowd-sourced campaigns to map dengue fever and corruption.

In all, some 160 Pakistani journalists will take part in the U.S.-Pakistan media partnership program. The participants receive training and visit key officials and newsrooms in Washington, D.C., before fanning out to month-long assignments in U.S. newsrooms. Thirty U.S. journalists from the host newsrooms will travel to Pakistan by the end of the program.