Arab News Recruits Embark on Journo Journey

Arab News recruits took the plunge into the choppy waters of journalism through a battery of tests and presentations ahead of what they hope will be a reporting, and maybe editing, career.

 

The ABCs of journalism

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil assessed the rookies’ knowledge of geography, history, basic economics, verification skills, writing copy, headlines and captions as well as note taking and observation by storifying video content during a three-day workshop in April 2021.

She pointed out errors writers often make, cautioned against redundancies and ran them through grammar, punctuation, editing and rewriting exercises.

Understanding mis-, dis- and mal-information

Abu-Fadil said hard news writing wasn’t literature or poetry and stressed the importance of fact checking in a bid to mitigate the damage from mis-, dis- and mal-information.

Journalism is an interdisciplinary field requiring extensive reading and research, she said, and urged them not to fall for superficial social media messages.

 

The lead (lede) can make or break a story

The trainees were introduced to the basic structure of a news story, the essence of news, writing effective leads, the importance of context in the nut graf, proper use of quotations and the ability to distinguish between American and British English journalistic writing styles.

The training’s other key elements included numbers, hype, oxymorons, jargon, clichés and the use of visuals.

 

Writing American or British English

Abu-Fadil spoke of media ethics, the use of anonymous sources, and focused on the skills needed to conduct effective interviews, in person and virtually.

She also stressed the importance of establishing interview ground rules and differentiating between attribution terminology in American and British English.

 

Interview skills

On the final day, the recruits demonstrated what they learned through rigorous writing and editing exercises. They viewed a video to test their sense of observation and news judgment and a short film on fact checking.

Truth is Ultimate Weapon When Covering Conflicts: Abu-Fadil

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.

Lebanese NNA Features Media Unlimited Fact-Checking Workshop

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) featured Media Unlimited’s workshop on fact-checking with Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad thanking director Magda Abu-Fadil for providing dynamic, engaged and interactive coaching to 24 journalists and academics.

NNA coverage of fact-checking workshop

Abdel Samad commended Abu-Fadil for combining theory and practice in the intensive three-day training based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” the latter co-authored.

Abu-Fadil coached Lebanese reporters, editors, anchors and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies, exercises and various tools in combating the infodemic.

National News Agency logo

 She conducted the 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 training with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm due to manipulated data.

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.

MU Director Trains Lebanese Media, Academics on Fact-Checking

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

 

Abu-Fadil’s training was based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation.”

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.

Abu-Fadil introduced them to the UNESCO and UN Alliance of Civilizations book “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” of which she was the key editor and key author.

The need for media and information literacy

 

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.

She also discussed a paper she presented in 2007 at the UN Literacy Decade conference in Doha, Qatar commissioned by UNESCO and entitled “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

TinEye reverse image search tool

Abu-Fadil presented a list of tools to detect wrong information on social media platforms, reverse imaging techniques, geolocation, weather assessment and the safe use of chat apps.

Tom Cruise deep fake video

 

She concluded with examples of “deep fake” videos featuring U.S. actor Tom Cruise and the need to combat online harassment, particularly of women.

Abu-Fadil: Not Correcting Mistakes is Sloppy, Unprofessional Journalism

Blundering into a viral mistake, and refusing to correct it after it’s been spotted, undermines media’s credibility and may even be nefarious, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.

“Not correcting the mistake about Ahmad Zaki Yamani at first glance, after the error was pointed out, shows sloppiness and lack of professionalism,” she told Saudi-owned daily Arab News. “If it was done intentionally, it would indicate malicious intent.”

Screen shot of Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani (File-AFP)

She was referring to the incorrect identification of Yamani, the late Saudi Arabian oil minister who died on February 23, as the first secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

“In either case, it undermines the journalist’s or media’s credibility that published that news item,” Abu-Fadil said. “Worst-case scenario, if it were a security-related issue, it could endanger people – all of which is unacceptable and unethical.”

OPEC confirmed Yamani was not its first secretary general, Arab News reported, saying most Saudi and regional media outlets had relied on his Arabic Wikipedia page, which contained inaccurate and unsourced information.

Many journalists reflexively copied the wrong information from Wikipedia without fact-checking it and it went viral. Offenders included CNN Arabic, Asharq Al-Awsat (Arab News’ sister publication), Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ekhbariya TV, Saudi dailies Saudi Gazette and Okaz, as well as Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Russian state-run channel RT Arabic.

Only CNN Arabic and Asharq Al-Awsat corrected the mistake.

“A simple phone call, or even a cursory skim of OPEC’s official list of secretaries-general, would have revealed that Yamani’s name does not appear as the first – or indeed at all,” Arab News said.

It added that despite his legendary standing and influence, the late minister was never a secretary general, but was in fact the first Saudi representative on the OPEC board of governors.

MU Director Trains Journalists to Cover Business Beat

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil coached journalists in an intensive workshop on the complexities of business, economics, companies and markets in a bid to shore up their coverage of that beat.

 

Updating a commodities story

The three-day training for Arab News reporters and editors in February 2021 steered them through the intricacies of the business beat and how to get their start in financial journalism with plenty of tips on working with numbers.

On the second day, Abu-Fadil focused on ethics for business journalists and the risks of falling prey to conflicts of interest.

 

What is economics?

Other areas included common reporting mistakes to avoid, the terminology needed to write business and economic stories and how to develop good sources.

On the final day, the trainees were introduced to analyzing profits, assets and liabilities, how to dissect financial statements, corporate earnings and differentiating between different types of financial markets.

 

The corporate success, failure and success of the Twinkies brand

A key theme was how to simplify the topic for interested lay readers.

Lebanese Journos Should Sharpen Skills, Build Trust: Abu-Fadil

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.

Abu-Fadil’s interview can be heard here.

 

MU Director Trains Rookies in Basics of Journalism

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.

Practical advice about reporting

Abu-Fadil Leads Intensive Editorial Workshop

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.

MU Director Uses Beirut Blasts as Journo Training Backdrop

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.