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.

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

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.

MCD Interviews Abu-Fadil on “Fake News,” Media Literacy

Monte Carlo Doualiya radio interviewed Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil to discuss her take on mitigating the dangers of “fake news” and how journalists should verify sources.

Digital” show host Nayla Al Salibi dedicated a segment to Abu-Fadil’s media and information literacy chapter in the UNESCO book/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” and the tools needed to handle misleading news before it’s published.

Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” show interviewed MU director Abu-Fadil

Abu-Fadil shed light on journalists’ issues in dealing with social media and dubious platforms as well as media ethics in the digital age since photos, videos and audio content can be manipulated with ease.

She insisted the expression “fake news” should not be used since it’s been weaponized by politicians, notably U.S. President Donald Trump and others, against their adversaries.

Abu-Fadil said disinformation and misinformation in the “post-truth” and “alternative facts” age were more appropriate, depending on their respective contexts.

You can hear the interview here [ 3].

MU Director Boosts LAU Marcom Team Skills

A two-day strategic communications workshop helped staffers at the Lebanese American University (LAU) beef up their writing and editing skills by thinking like journalists.

Good writing tips from Magda Abu-Fadil

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil put members of the Marketing and Communications (Marcom) team through the paces of researching, reporting, editing, visualizing and engaging through social media in August 2018 to boost the LAU brand across multiple platforms.

She created a newsroom environment simulating fieldwork that requires on-the-scene reporting, shooting pictures and videos, and interacting with newsmakers in their academic world.

LAU’s Marcom editorial team sharpen writing-editing skills

The intense sessions focused on what skills journalists need to operate in a digital-first environment where search engine and social media optimization can determine what news attracts the requisite attention.

The workshop examined the very essence of news and its sources, the key to writing strong leads, fine-tuning quotations, and using contextual details to bolster elements of a story.

Abu-Fadil dedicated a session to media ethics, the need to be mindful of proper sourcing, and how to avoid the dissemination of mis- or disinformation.

The power of headlines

Each session included exercises and quizzes to test participants’ grasp of the topics.

The Marcom staffers also learned how to hone their headline writing skills by using action verbs, word association, quotes from stories, substituting words with punctuation marks, ensuring the story title leads readers into the main text, and optimizing it for search engines and social media.

Abu-Fadil gave trainees a general knowledge quiz, cautioned them about oxymorons, and refreshed their memories on the importance of correct grammar and punctuation, with case studies of common errors as well as good writing examples.

Covering academic news like a professional journalist

Given Marcom’s mandate, participants also worked on the public relations aspect of communication by improving their writing of news releases and how best to pitch stories to various media.

The MU director helped the trainees better craft their coverage of speeches, meetings, and news conferences. She also provided tips on how to write solid feature stories.

The importance of accurate visuals in storytelling

LAU’s campuses in Beirut and Byblos provide an ample supply of events and people to highlight.

An important part of the training included mock TV interviews with staffers acting as reporter and interviewee while Abu-Fadil shot sequences that were later evaluated for strengths and weaknesses.

Trainees go through the paces of on-camera interviews

Equally vital is the use of visual elements like photos, videos, infographics, and illustrations. Trainees sharpened their caption-writing abilities and learned how to turn photo captions into mini-stories.

 

Abu-Fadil on Media Literacy at GEN-Organized “Unconference”

Four speakers, including Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, challenged participants at an “unconference” to help promote media literacy and mitigate damage from disinformation, social media abuse and various forms of manipulation via news and other outlets.

Magda Abu-Fadil on importance of media literacy at International Journalism Festival (courtesy Bartolomeo Rossi)

The “unconference” – different from a classical conference where speakers and sessions are defined – allowed participants to set the agenda and contribute solutions to problems.

Abu-Fadil’s challenge: How to find resources for media literacy courses. Who will pay and/or wants to pay for them?

 

IJF 2018 speaker

Her frame of reference was Lebanon in particular and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region in general with a need to provide such skills in multiple relevant languages.

The Global Editors Network (GEN) organized the “unconference” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy in April 2018.

 

GEN CEO Bertrand Pecquerie guides media literacy “unconference” (courtesy IJF)

It grouped GEN CEO Bertrand Pecquerie as moderator, Dan Gillmor, a digital media literacy and entrepreneurship professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, George Brock, a journalist, consultant and visiting professor at London’s City University, Barbara Huppe, chief marketing officer at Hubii, a local news aggregator-cum-blockchain technology firm, and Abu-Fadil.

Pequerie facilitated a discussion with the audience asking participants to provide ideas, recommendations and various options for the four challenges.

The full “unconference” can be viewed here.

Abu-Fadil Provides Palestinian Diplomats With Media Skills

Ten young Palestinian diplomats sharpened their media skills in Turin, Italy, as part of a program to prepare them for the rigors of public diplomacy and exposure to the world.

The group of eager men and women attended a weeklong workshop conducted in July 2016 by Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil and media expert Abdelhamid Siyam at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) training center there.

Abdelhamid Siyam and Magda Abu-Fadil on fine points of public diplomacy

Abdelhamid Siyam and Magda Abu-Fadil on fine points of public diplomacy

Abu-Fadil’s input began with concentrated sessions on how to think and act like a journalist.

That meant understanding the rapid and major changes media and journalists have to undergo as well as the added pressures Palestinians face on their home turf, where (among other things) mobility is regularly hampered by the Israeli occupation, and abroad, where they have to compete for attention with other pressing world issues.

The diplomats were also briefed on how newsrooms and journalists have to contend with a multimedia digital ecosystem as users of countless apps and social media often outpace traditional news outlets.

Palestinian diplomats hone media skills in Turin

Palestinian diplomats hone media skills in Turin

Abu-Fadil helped them define news, news values, the impact of information they disseminate, controversy, notoriety, sources, and how to write for different media, not just their superiors and other government officials.

A major part of one session was dedicated to media ethics and the trainees were told about verification and credibility of sources, notably in conflict zones, how to minimize the risk of misinforming audiences and how to mitigate the impact of hate speech.

Siyam offers pointers on TV interviews

Siyam offers pointers on TV interviews

Abu-Fadil and Siyam walked the diplomats through interview skills and how diplomats can improve their performance on the air, in print, and in online media.

That meant the proper planning and execution of the before, during, and after parts of interviews, and the subsequent assessment of one’s performance for improved future delivery of a message or project.

Simulations and mock interviews were part of the practical work in the workshop. Siyam was the interviewer and Abu-Fadil was the camerawoman/producer.

Other sessions involved writing skills, special focus on media in the Arab world, dealing with reputation issues, and social media for diplomacy.

Abu-Fadil Featured at Aljazeera Center for Studies Roundtable

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke on the rising impact of social media on traditional journalism and how ethics can balance it out at a Qatar gathering of experts.

She focused on Lebanon as a case study in the Arab world in the wake of neighboring revolutions, conflicts and the country’s own internal problems.

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

The October 2015 event grouped researchers from Aljazeera’s Center for Studies.

Abu-Fadil shed light on how news operations had morphed in recent years to cater to how news is consumed today as well as to the changing definition of journalism.

Participants also discussed the rising impact of platforms such as the all-news/current events channel and site Aljazeera Plus on the future of news.

MU Director Helps Shape Next AFPF

Should the Arab Free Press Forum (AFPF) maintain its present format or should it change to adapt to fast-moving developments affecting the media landscape?

AFPF brochure.indd

What should the goals of such an event be, who is the audience, and what are their needs?

All legitimate questions discussed at an experts meeting in Cairo in September to help shape the next AFPF, traditionally organized by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

WAN-IFRA's Andrew Heslop on plans for next forum

WAN-IFRA’s Andrew Heslop on plans for next forum

The agenda included debate on the format and content, synergies and partnerships, financing, funding streams and promotional channels for the next event.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil participated in the meeting aimed at giving shape to a future event for the independent press in the Middle East and North Africa.

Abu-Fadil, a panelist at the fifth AFPF in Tunis in 2012 [PDF] in the wake of successive revolutions in Arab countries, addressed the question: How can the media regain public trust as a credible source of news?

Magda Abu-Fadil at 5th Arab Free Press Forum in Tunis

Magda Abu-Fadil at 5th Arab Free Press Forum in Tunis

Other participants at the Egyptian capital meeting included Egyptian journalist Fatemah Farag and Aidan White, Director of the London-based Ethical Journalism Network, to name a few.

The Arab Free Press Forum is a unique event that brings together media professionals from across the Arab world to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas, experience and best practice at every level of the news industry.

Fatemah Farag & Aidan White discuss ideas for next AFPF

Fatemah Farag & Aidan White discuss ideas for next AFPF

As part of WAN-IFRA’s ongoing commitment to supporting the independent press in the Arab region, the Forum reinforces longstanding engagements with partners from across the media industry and the freedom of expression community.

MU Presents Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide

A tweet promoting the “First-Ever Guide to Online Media Ethics” [PDF] led Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil to seek out its author in a bid to disseminate it to journalists, bloggers, trainees and students across the Arab World.

Cover

The announcement by Andrea Gallo, a Louisiana State University (LSU) student on the birth of her publication, prompted Abu-Fadil to obtain the booklet and oversee its translation into Arabic.

Various organizations have published online media ethics guidelines but few have made the effort to disseminate them in an easy-to-use Arabic-language compendium.

Rouba El-Helou, a media studies faculty member and journalist, translated the text into Arabic and Abu-Fadil edited the booklet [PDF].

Print

The guide is well thought out and its sections cover news judgment and conflicts, transparency, sourcing ethics, knowing your audience, plagiarism, when problems arise, photos and art, and social media.

Governments, notably in the Arab World, have increasingly slapped on penalties or sentences on producers of online content they deem offensive, and have equated such content with that of print publications.

In other countries officials have begun to deal with the issue through restrictive legislation such as requiring online media to obtain a license to operate, leading to a whole set of ethical problems.

The booklet is an annual project for LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication students.

Dean Jerry Ceppos, who teaches an undergraduate course called “Media Ethics and Social Responsibility” (MC 4090), assigns his charges production of this invaluable resource.