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.

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.

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.

Beware of “Information Disorder,” MU Director Cautions Journos

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil advised three groups of journalists to be on their guard against “information disorder” that misleads audiences by disseminating dis-, mis- and mal-information.

 

Arab News masterclass in Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation

She kicked off a virtual masterclass with a doctored video tweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump purporting to show an African-American toddler escaping from a white toddler, claiming the former was being chased by a racist child.

The video’s producer used a phony logo of CNN, a favorite Trump target, to falsely claim the network is a purveyor of “fake news.”

The clip is in fact of two little pals who had just hugged and were running together and whose parents cherish their friendship. Trump even misspelled the word toddler.

 

Doctored video tweeted by Donald Trump

Abu-Fadil’s advice was part of training in late June and early July 2020 for reporters and editors located in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Pakistan and India working remotely for the Saudi daily Arab News.

She demonstrated how manipulated information was part of historical events but that its weaponization in the 21st century had taken it to new heights, amplified by social media, hence the need for professional standards of ethical and accountable journalism.

Abu-Fadil also spoke of plagiarism and fabrication as forms of deception, provided tips on media manipulation, discussed the role of influencers in distorting news, and pointed out how easily bots can spread false information.

She urged the journalists not to use the term “fake news” which is misused by politicians and detractors to attack all those with whom they disagree.

 

Definitions of “information disorder”

Abu-Fadil provided examples of dis-, mis- and malinformation, satire, parody, false connection, misleading content, false context, imposter content and fabricated content.

She presented a list of steps to verify user-generated content and stressed the importance of media and information literacy to help the trainees think critically about the information they consume and create.

A portion of the training focused on verification of information before and after reports are published with reference to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) that developed a code of principles to guide fact-checkers in their work.

 

The weaponization of information in the 21st century

Abu-Fadil zeroed in on social media verification, with special attention paid to photo and video manipulation.

She presented several case studies and equipped her charges with tools to detect doctored photos through reverse image searches, to analyze Facebook and Twitter accounts, to learn about geolocation, weather corroboration, shadow analysis and image forensics.

The MU director discussed “deepfakes” and showed a video on how troublemakers combine images of people from different sources to make them appear like they’re saying and doing things they did not.

 

Media expert Claire Wardle explains “deepfakes”

Abu-Fadil wrapped up the masterclass with a note on combating online abuse as journalists, particularly women, are increasingly being subjected to disinformation campaigns that undermine their safety and that of their sources.

The training was based primarily on the “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” handbook Abu-Fadil co-authored for UNESCO.