Traditional media coverage of the migration question in the southern Mediterranean slowed down in the past two years due to changing priorities but online platforms picked up some of the slack, according to a study.
While more focus was on the coronavirus and budget cuts at news organizations hampered coverage, the report pointed to widened polarization between positive vs negative coverage with a spike in media fatigue in recent years leading to ad hoc and reactive reporting.
Magda Abu-Fadil (far right) presents results of her study on media coverage of migration in southern Mediterranean countries (courtesy ICMPD)
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil presented results of the study she conducted at a panel on media and migration narratives and how effective partnerships can be established at the 4th EUROMED Migration Communicators Workshop in Paris in November 2021.
The event underlined the need for closer cooperation between journalists and migration-related entities to better convey the story of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.
She used a questionnaire sent to journalists, academics and members of NGOs from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Jordan isn’t on the Mediterranean but hosts large numbers of refugees and migrants.
The study’s results indicated various actors increasingly used migration for local political and economic goals; social media and “alternative news” became more important in shaping public opinion on migration issues; lack of regulations or control over dis-, mis- and mal-information added to the problem; social media as a tool against migrants, to spread xenophobia and to picture migrants as a potential threat, was a growing trend, notably in transit and host countries; the pandemic affected the number of stories, and, to a great extent, nature and tone of those published, broadcast and posted online; and, the spread of Covid-19 was used as an anti-migrant tool in several countries.
Abu-Fadil concluded by asking the following questions: What constitutes a news story, a feature, an investigative report on migration? Are people on wooden boats seeking freedom and a better life just statistics? What’s lacking in news coverage? Who is worthy of citizenship? Who can contribute to a new adopted homeland?
The workshop was part of efforts by EUROMED Migration V (EMM5) to redefine partnerships, by focusing on the communication skills required to promote balanced narratives that enable effective and sustainable migration policy.
Mastering interviewing techniques via Zoom requires an additional skill set for journalists, which Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil shared in a workshop grouping Arab News reporters from the paper’s different bureaus.
Two-day workshop on successful Zoom interviews
The two-day training in August 2021 first focused on technical and logistical matters, including securing a setting for an interview, preparing one’s digital equipment, testing devices and apps, Wi-Fi connections and recording protocols.
Recording interviews with Zoom
Abu-Fadil also focused on how to adjust and stabilize sound requirements, what types of lighting the interviewer and interviewee need and different camera functions, be it on the device used like a desktop, laptop and tablet, or an externally mounted camera.
She also provided tips on the need for a visually pleasing and professionally looking backdrop, the interviewer’s appearance and clothing, and body language.
The right setup: camera angle, lights, seating
Abu-Fadil ended the first day’s session with a set of interview skills and an exercise to demonstrate good and bad backdrops in the participants’ work settings, and interspersed the discussion with videos to demonstrate how best to prepare for Zoom encounters.
On the second day, the MU director turned to the editorial side of Zoom reports, explaining the types of interviews the trainees could conduct and what makes a good interviewer.
Changed newsrooms: broadcasting from home
Changed newsrooms: broadcasting from home
An obvious first step is extensive research on the interviewee and topic at hand as well as finding reliable public information.
Abu-Fadil also mentioned how to choose and use quotes, when to paraphrase and how to attribute quotations. But most importantly, she underlined the need to set the interview ground rules well in advance to avoid any problems.
Always set the ground rules before an interview
She wrapped up the workshop with references to interview legalities and ethics and showed videos demonstrating good and bad interviews.
Journalists shouldn’t cross the line from reporting to activism by publicly taking sides in conflict situations, which may endanger them and their media organizations, and undermine their credibility.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil argued that journalists covering battles in their backyards shouldn’t cross the line from sympathy to active support of causes.
Two wrongs don’t make a right
“Two wrongs don’t make a right: Truth is our most important weapon when covering conflicts,” she headlined an editorial published by Deutsche Welle Akademie in a manual on media and conflict.
The 2021 publication “How close should we get? Media and conflict” covers a range of topics from across the globe including photographing conflicts, interviewing a traumatized person, newsroom diversity and its impact on coverage, and disinformation.
How close should we get?
While not advocating detached coverage of conflicts, given their complexity, need for deft handling and understanding of the context in which they exist, Abu-Fadil said advocacy defeats the purpose of disseminating untainted solid news, which the audience needs.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Lebanese journalists and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies and various tools in combating the infodemic.
Fact-checking workshop for Lebanese journalists and academics
She introduced the trainees to visual illusions and misleading pictures employed to trick viewers and brought up disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines that spread virally on social media to dissuade people from being vaccinated.
She conducted the three-day workshop, organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information, in March 2021, and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the coaching with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm when people fall prey to manipulated data.
Monte Carlo Doualiya’s Nayla Salibi explains online risks
The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.
The participants were shown a doctored video that former U.S. President Donald Trump had re-tweeted to attack CNN by falsely claiming it was “fake news” and why critical thinking was an essential tool in combatting disinformation.
Donald Trump retweeted a doctored video to attack CNN
She pointed to the need for media ethics and directed them to the Ethical Journalism Network’s website that provides valuable resources in multiple languages, including Arabic.
The Ethical Journalism network is an integral part of fact-checking
Abu-Fadil broke down the various types of egregious behavior leading to mis-, dis- and mal-information and provided tips on how to avoid them while showing examples with videos that drove home the point.
She also directed their attention to less prominent cases such as satire and parody that can be mistaken for real news and lead to damaging consequences.
The participants viewed a video of on a program to detect distortions in digital photographs that was adopted by Agence France-Presse as well as a video of AFP’s active fact-checking program.
AFP’s Fact Check program
Abu-Fadil presented a case study of pre-digital information verification from her experience as a foreign correspondent and editor with AFP and how the principles of ensuring that information is correct had not changed but that technological tools had made it both a blessing and a curse in trying to avert information disruption.
She provided tips on how to verify user-generated content and what types of questions to ask to ascertain its veracity with several case studies to emphasize the point.
Abu-Fadil further explored the historical background of propaganda and showed a video on the meaning of this news genre.
Adolf Hitler was a master propagandist
The participants were briefed on Media and Information Literacy with all its sub-divisions and how journalists should become familiar with it to better understand the implications of what they produce and disseminate.
She told them she was the first person to introduce the concept in Lebanon in 1998-99 through a distance-learning project with the University of Missouri School of Journalism when she headed the journalism program at the Lebanese American University.
Lebanese journalists should pay attention to details and not take things for granted if they’re to maintain their credibility, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said in a podcast interview.
From simple matters like accurately identifying interviewees to expressing themselves in grammatically correct language without any factual errors, Abu-Fadil said journalists who fail to do so undermine their trustworthiness.
“I get very upset because it’s proof of negligence, laziness and lack of professionalism,” she said about seeing her name misspelled in media reports.
Speaking to students producing youth-oriented broadcasts entitled “Radio Talk” marking World Radio Day (WRD), she said the coronavirus had been a blessing and a curse for journalism.
A curse because of constraints on people under lockdown conditions, but a blessing because it’s provided journalists with opportunities to acquire knowledge about public health issues, medicine and how to deal with a devastating pandemic.
“I conducted a workshop on how to cover the coronavirus in a professional, scientific way, and learned a lot while preparing for the training” she said.
Habib Akiki, a student from a nine-member multi-university team, interviewed Abu-Fadil as part of UNESCO’s WRD activities in February 2021, under the supervision of lecturer and communication expert Rouba El Helou.
Asked whether journalists in Lebanon can report on Covid-19 without adding their personal views, Abu-Fadil said she doubted it as they flavor their coverage with politics and sectarianism.
Turning to investigative journalism, Abu-Fadil said this type of reporting is difficult to produce for radio because it isn’t visual.
“People tend to believe more what’s tangible and visible, what they can read, what’s on TV,” she said, noting that reporters in Lebanon still haven’t mastered data journalism, and how to obtain information from documents to formulate their stories.
Journalists must combine that skill with well-written copy and good visuals like infographics, videos and attractive digital elements, but Abu-Fadil cautioned they can’t press buttons and automatically produce investigative stories since that requires hard work that could take weeks, months or years.
“Do Lebanese media have the ability and budgets to commit to good investigative reports?” she asked rhetorically.
On whether the press in Lebanon was sustainable, Abu-Fadil said many newspapers and magazines that existed in the once vibrant media milieu had disappeared and been replaced by websites with advertising revenue taking a direct hit.
“But there are alternatives, there’s financing from NGOs, and there can be crowdfunding, where money is raised through donations from different sources,” she explained.
Due to health safety concerns and remote work requirements, the student radio team was selected from different areas in Lebanon as part of a collaborative digital approach.
UNESCO’s Regional Office in Beirut celebrated WRD in collaboration with three local stations: Radio Lebanon, Voice of Lebanon and Sawt el Mada. The three programs can be heard here.
The radio stations’ managements provided the students with support, and allowed them to choose topics and guests for the shows’ various segments.
Since 2011, UNESCO has celebrated World Radio Day annually to honor the founding of United Nations radio in 1946.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil conducted a two-day virtual workshop for rookie journalists and recruits in the basics of the trade with the first session focusing on exercises to test their knowledge, power of observation, capabilities and skills.
Basic training for recruits
The training for Saudi Arabian daily Arab News in December 2020 examined the journalists’ grasp of basic grammar, their ability to write and edit, to write photo captions, and their knowledge of geography, history, economics, politics and culture.
Identify the missing capitals or countries in the white spots on the map
On the second day Abu-Fadil covered the definition of news, news story structures, grammar and punctuation rules, the lede (lead), the nut graf, the importance of context and background information in stories, the use of quotations, how headlines are produced, the essentials of picture captions, the use of news sources, interview skills and media ethics.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil led an intensive workshop for mid-level staffers at Saudi-based daily Arab News covering a basket of legal, editorial and newsroom management issues that challenge most journalists.
Saudi laws in review
The first segment of the four-day training in September 2020 focused on the complex subject of defamation, libel and slander laws as general concepts and delved into how their countless nuances and permutations require journalists to tread carefully.
The trainees from bureaus in Riyadh, Dubai, Cairo and London were coached on ways to protect themselves from defamation claims (against them and the newspaper). They were given scenarios requiring them to solve editorial and legal problems.
What’s defamation in the UAE?
Abu-Fadil reviewed defamation laws in Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the UAE and the UK and the trainees were advised to learn about legislation in the countries in which they work, and where Arab News has potential reach.
The English-language daily launched a French edition aimed at Francophone readers across the Middle East/North Africa region and beyond, and has Japanese and Pakistani editions.
Commissioning, pitching and editorial judgment
On the second day, the trainees tackled the complexities of commissioning stories, dealing with internal pitches and articles from freelancers or different types of subjects from citizen journalists providing user-generated content.
They also addressed the topic of regular and kill fees, editorial judgment and how to exercise it, and learned from case studies that tested their skills.
Freelance pitches and kill fees
On day three, Abu-Fadil emphasized the need for collaboration across bureaus and platforms and reviewed the latest newsroom trends. The journalists watched a New York Times clip on the incorporation of 360-degree video into newsgathering, storytelling and the ethics of disseminating information in such a format.
Remote management failures
The trainees were shown how leaders fail their remote teams, notably with the ongoing need for distributed newsrooms. Managing people and staff development were major topics during that session.
The New York Times’ 360-degree video “Displaced”
The journalists also examined how Financial Times editor-in-chief Roula Khalaf is running her 600-strong dispersed newsroom with journalists, editors and others working remotely after the outbreak of the coronavirus. Abu-Fadil also discussed the roles of various editors in different newsrooms.
Exercise on covering tragedy
On the final day, the participants went through four exercises (scenarios) requiring them to solve problems on accuracy, a tragic event, media ethics, and integrity. They also delved into individual issues they had raised prior to the training and tried to find workable collective and individual solutions for them.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil used an apocalyptic series of explosions that killed and injured thousands in Beirut as a vivid case study on how to cover hard news for rookie reporters during a virtual basic journalism masterclass.
Using the Beirut blasts as a case study in hard news coverage
The training in early August 2020, grouping six journalists at the Saudi daily Arab News’ Dubai and Saudi Arabia bureaus, involved covering the basics in a digital, multimedia environment and how to operate under both normal and Covid-19 lockdown conditions.
It was a day after the monstrous blasts at the port of Beirut left over 300,000 people homeless, untold businesses ruined and livelihoods lost from damage to countless buildings in a radius extending well beyond ground zero that was heard as far away at the island of Cyprus 200 kilometers west of Lebanon.
Abu-Fadil had been asked to help with the live coverage and updates leading to her landing on the front page in a double byline story in the paper on the day of the masterclass.
She kicked off the mini course by telling her charges journalists aren’t novelists, they should report straightforward facts in a language understood by their audience(s), they must use research and investigative abilities, as well as the right tools and skills to build their stories, they must distinguish facts from dis-, mis- and mal-information, and, they must learn to multitask in a digital multimedia, often online/distance environment.
The training began with a definition of news and what makes a news event important enough to be published, broadcast and disseminated widely.
Abu-Fadil then delved into story structure, how to cultivate one’s niche and provided practical advice about reporting. But equally important, she said, are the elements of grammar and punctuation, which can either make a story stand on solid ground or sink it.
She then focused on the lead, nut graph and quotations, adding that good leads convey the most critical information, which is important for readers in a hurry and reminded them that stories are increasingly being read on small screens.
Writing a good lead
The next step is the nut graph (or graf), in which journalists must tell readers not just what happened, but what it means and why they should care – the “so what?” question.
Strong quotes bring a story to life and engage the reader, Abu-Fadil said, adding they should be dispersed through the narrative.
In a component on headlines and captions, Abu-Fadil said journalists should know their audiences and tailor their headlines to appeal to readers they’d like to attract.
A video on the hajj to test trainees’ sense of observation
She said captions were often the first elements of a publication to be read and should provide readers basic information needed to understand photographs and their relevance to the news.
She used case studies, videos and other visual elements to discuss news sources, media ethics and interview skills.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil conducted a mini-course on strategic communications and media crisis management for Yemeni members of NGOs aimed at promoting their respective peace-related messages and mitigating crises.
The intensive three-day virtual workshop in July 2020 required participants to first think like journalists, operate like “mobile journalists” (mojos), and meet pressing news deadlines to appreciate what media needs are.
Elements of a news story
They also learned about the elements of news stories, how not to fall for misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, and, the art of writing news releases for various platforms.
One session was dedicated to organizing news conferences, briefings and events, with all the logistical, technical and editorial details involved in putting them together.
Trainees cautioned about disinformation
A key element in dealing with the media is the interview, and Abu-Fadil demonstrated the skills needed to handle questions under pressure, ground rules for attribution, what to wear, how to sit and act in front of a camera, tone of voice, body language, and the need for excellent preparation before any encounter.
Interview ground rules
The drills included media ethics, setting up a media office and what the role of a spokesperson is.
Another major element of the training was establishing a strong visual identity and using social media effectively to engage with one’s various audiences across traditional and other platforms.
Using fact sheets
The most critical part of the workshop was devoted to handling negative news and crisis communications by being transparent, not disseminating unreliable information, maintaining one’s credibility and multitasking under extreme pressure.
The training ended with tips on how to build a strategic media plan.
The workshop grouped participants representing a number of organizations across Yemen.
It was organized by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies under the umbrella of the Yemen Peace Forum and was sponsored by the Netherlands government.