Journalism 101 for Arab News Recruits

Today’s journalists must work holistically across digital platforms but shouldn’t forget the basics of getting the story right and building their knowledge base, Arab News recruits learned in a virtual workshop.

Journalism 101 for recruits

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil put a group of newly-minted reporters at the Saudi daily through the paces by first testing their grasp of geography, history, basic economics, verification skills, writing copy, headlines and captions as well as note taking and observation by turning video content into a story.

Geography test

The three-day workshop in September 2021 included basics in grammar, errors writers often make, redundancies in copy, and punctuation that journalists often take for granted.

Abu-Fadil said news writing wasn’t literature or poetry and provided a detailed explanation of what constituted news.

What’s the story?

She stressed the importance of fact checking in a bid to mitigate the damage from mis-, dis- and mal-information, adding that journalism is an interdisciplinary field requiring extensive reading and research.

She also urged the trainees not to fall for superficial social media messages.

The journalists 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.

 

How to use quotes

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

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.

Let’s edit

On the final day, the recruits demonstrated what they learned through rigorous writing and editing exercises that included turning bland official news releases into actual stories with adequate context, proper attribution, well placed quotes, research and strong active verb leads to draw readers into the rest of the article.

 

The importance of fact checking

They viewed a video to test their sense of observation and news judgment and a short film on fact checking.

Abu-Fadil Gets Journos Up to Speed on Zoom Interviews

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.

MU Director Schools Journos in Advanced Interview Skills, Pressers

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil coached Arab News journalists in the intricacies of interviews and news conferences with an emphasis on good preparation, types of questions to ask, handling difficult interviewees and sources’ credibility.

 

Journalists learn advanced interview skills and coverage of news conferences

The virtual workshop in July 2021 began with an impromptu mock interview scenario requiring the trainees to prepare questions for the trainer, take notes, write a news item based on the interview, prepare hashtags for social media, shoot pictures and write captions. The assignment was edited in a later session.

 

Editing interview news item

Abu-Fadil focused on research, provided multiple case studies of good and bad interviews, logistical matters in preparation for interviews and press conferences, how to select interviewees, media ethics and legalities, and the uses of quotations.

 

Video of late talk show host Larry King explaining success of good interviews is listening

Other elements included accurate attribution, ground rules, anonymous sources, virtual vs in-person interviews and press conferences as well as steps to follow before, during and after such conferences.

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.