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.

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.

Abu-Fadil Trains Yemeni NGO Staffers in Strategic Comms

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.

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.

Abu-Fadil Beefs Up Journos’ Online Media Skills

Arab News journalists sank their teeth into an intense online reporting, writing and editing masterclass to beef up their skills under extended coronavirus lockdown conditions.

Arab News masterclass in Online Reporting, Writing & Editing

 

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil conducted three video-conferenced classes in June 2020 involving reporters and editors from the Saudi Arabian daily’s Riyadh, Dubai and Pakistan/India bureaus that covered a range of topics they incorporate in their work.

Among the reporting tips were the basics of accuracy, fact-checking information, scrutinizing numbers and statistics, questioning assumptions, and following the money.

Reporting tips

 

The journalists were also advised to look for questions in online content, listening more carefully to people, cultivating their niche, using social media monitoring tools to help land stories, and tracking official inquiries for potential topics.

On the language front, Abu-Fadil told the trainees to avoid hype in their headlines and copy, and to show, not tell, the story with the facts by also avoiding subjective judgments. Other pitfalls she cautioned against were clichés and jargon that seep into one’s writing.

Advice to journalists: don’t hype, show, don’t tell, avoid oxymorons

 

While the basics of leads, nut grafs and context are constants in all stories, how they’re packaged online and how information is dug up to disseminate them may vary according to the platform.

Abu-Fadil discussed open source tools, filters and user-generated content to uncover facts. She showed a video on Google Earth Pro and how to capture geolocated photos and videos for inclusion in their content.

Trainees watch a video on how to use Google Earth Pro in their stories

The masterclass involved writing photo captions, tips for writing better headlines, media ethics, online interviewing techniques and covering virtual events.

The art of writing photo captions

 

Abu-Fadil provided the journalists with a series of writing and editing tips to fine-tune their copy. They included proofreading tools to clean up clunky phrases and grammar mistakes and online plagiarism checkers.

Journalists are provided with proofreading tools

 

She also demonstrated how to edit a news item by tightening the headline, deleting redundancies, maintaining verb tense consistency and simplifying the language.

Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.