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.

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.

MU Director Runs Masterclasses in Newsroom & Media Management

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil helped Arab News editors and managers navigate the choppy waters of distributed newsrooms brought on by the coronavirus.

 

Newsroom & Media Management masterclass for “Arab News” journalists

In two intensive virtual June 2020 masterclasses on “Newsroom and Media Management,” she discussed how participants from the Saudi newspaper’s Riyadh, Jeddah, Dubai, Islamabad and London bureaus can maintain productivity while physically separated from their traditional desks and beats.

The key is good management of distributed teams in various locations and time zones through strong communications, clear duties, “deep listening” to staffers, and proper coordination among various editorial, production and managerial components.

 

Shifting from news desks to news hubs

It’s also important to look out for staffers’ physical and mental well being, she said, notably in extended lockdown situations that can take a toll on their psyche and productivity, to say nothing of the pressure of being connected at all hours due to guilt or looming deadlines.

Drawing on the “Fathm Distributed Newsroom” model, Abu-Fadil spoke of handling editorial, technical and management-specific virtual meetings to keep the newspaper running smoothly but cautioned against virtual video-conference overload.

She showed a segment of a World Editors Forum webinar on how newsrooms are coping with the Covid-19 crisis that has forced many journalists to work mostly from home.

Trainees view video of World Editors Forum webinar on working from home during the Covid-19 crisis

The masterclass focused on how the pandemic has disrupted digital workflows that are being reconfigured for distributed teams, with traditional news desks becoming distributed news hubs.

Abu-Fadil shared an illustration of distributed newsroom teams with the different hubs mapped out, a more detailed diagram with the communication channels added between teams, and then asked the trainees to build their own Arab News framework on a plain template based on the model they saw.

 

Fathm’s template of a distributed structure with communications channels

In another segment she stressed the importance of leadership in unsettled times of scattered energies and cross-border editorial functions while working from home.

 

Lessons in newsroom leadership

Abu-Fadil tackled the issue of editorial content from the paper’s own reporters as well as various information providers, including crowdsourced news, and said the journalists should be ethical when publishing material shared on other platforms.

She made the case for regular training and went through the different scenarios available to distributed newsrooms to keep staffers up to speed. She also examined training tools available to media organizations.

 

Abu-Fadil urged “Arab News” managers to set up a verification and fact-checking hub

Another key element is audience engagement, to which Abu-Fadil said her charges should give more attention, adding that they need staff dedicated to acknowledging public interactions and answering user questions.

 

Advice on how best to capitalize on social media

She discussed technology and tools needed for team communication and wrapped up with advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of social media excess by prioritizing quality over quantity, diversifying to meet audience needs, re-evaluating how platforms are changing, and keeping track of changes in the audience’s habits.

Abu-Fadil Draws Line Between Free Speech, Insults in Lebanese Media

A two-month-plus revolution in Lebanon has brought out the worst in people, with countless traditional and social media spreading hate speech, insults and instigation to violence, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Medi1Radio.

“The very thin line between insults and freedom of expression in the media is when you violate other people’s rights and don’t give them the opportunity to express their views, as often occurs in traditional and social media in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately, we see politicized and biased media.”

Correspondent Khaldoun Zeineddine reported that freedom of expression was enshrined in the preamble to the Lebanese constitution but asked if the protesters against a corrupt system and failed economic policies had contributed to confusing freedom with insults.

“Some protesters have contributed to mixing between freedom of expression and abuses, given their lack of arguments and critical thinking, and the culture of civilized debate, but that doesn’t apply to everyone,” Abu-Fadil added.

The brief interview can be heard below.

 

MU Director Leads Newsroom Management Workshops in Riyadh, Jeddah

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Arab News journalists on the finer points of newsroom management at the paper’s Riyadh and Jeddah headquarters, with follow-up mentoring covering the Misk Global Forum in the Saudi Arabian capital.

Arab News headquarters in Riyadh

The workshops in November 2019 included the evolution of organizational charts from traditional to digital integrated multimedia newsrooms, issues of leadership, the importance of optimizing technology, and having IT people, designers, data visualization artists, infographics, photo, video and illustration teams alongside journalists and editors.

Magda Abu-Fadil with Arab News journalists in Riyadh

There was no escaping a requisite session on media ethics, notably in an era of alternative facts, deepfakes, disinformation, and the need for fact-checking in all newsrooms.

Journalists also learned about the importance of engagement with their audiences across various platforms. Almost each session had topic-related exercises.

Arab News Riyadh team being drilled on newsroom management

Abu-Fadil used a session on social media to focus on how apps can be optimized to gather and double-check information and why journalists should live blog and live tweet at major events or while covering breaking news.

There was a session on photojournalism and how newsrooms handle graphic images and videos, violence, death and hate speech.

 

Preparing to cover and mentor Arab News journalists at the Misk Global Forum

Not to be ignored is the importance of mobile journalism (MoJo), which Abu-Fadil stressed is a cornerstone of most newsrooms today, meaning reporters should be able to report, interview, write, shoot pictures and videos, edit their work and, if need be, upload the material to the newsroom, or directly to a live platform, if they’re qualified and authorized to do so.

Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The workshop sessions were interspersed with several informative and how-to videos to help the trainees better understand the material’s context.

There were reminders on writing headlines, leads, nut graphs, dealing with numbers, interviewing techniques and covering major events.

 

Arab News journalists in Jeddah beavering away at writing and editing exercises

Other topics covered during the training included gamification, how young people consume news and comics journalism.

MU Director to Cairo Confab: Fight Disinformation With MIL

“Don’t believe everything you see.”

That’s how Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil began a presentation with a picture of Britain’s Prince William seemingly giving someone the finger.

Seen from another angle, the Duke of Cambridge looked like he was gesturing with the number three – a significant difference.

Magda Abu-Fadil to Cairo confab: “Don’t believe everything you see.”

She was, once again, beating the Media and Information Literacy (MIL) drum, this time to an audience of students, faculty members, media and others at the American University in Cairo in April 2019 as a panelist at the “Cultivating Cooperation: How Industry and Academia Can Transform Digital Storytelling” conference co-organized by AUC and the Egypt Media Development Program.

AUC-EMPD conference flyer

She told them it can be confusing when ‘information disorder’ comes from the highest authority and showed a video of U.S. President Donald Trump in an Orwellian clip telling his audience not to believe what they saw in the media.

That’s why fact-checker has become a full-time job, like that of reporter, editor, producer, and infographic designer in many news organizations.

Abu-Fadil provided various case studies of MIL, the importance of critical thinking and that in an age of “fake news” and alternative facts students need to grasp the concept of media and information literacy to understand news as a means to detect ‘information disorder’ in obvious and subliminal messages.

UNESCO’s MIL concept

She presented the different types of literacies under the MIL umbrella as defined by
UNESCO: Information literacy, library literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy, games literacy, cinema literacy, television literacy, news literacy, advertising literacy, and media literacy.

Abu-Fadil said in 2016, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published the “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa” yearbook for which she was the lead editor and key co-author.

Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

A newer book she co-authored for UNESCO is “Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation.” It’s also a university course that can be taught during a whole semester, or as modules in other courses.

Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation

The MU director spoke about entering dangerous territory in the digital era with artificial intelligence (AI), notably deepfake. She showed how a deepfake video is produced and how misleading it can be.

She said students should understand that privacy is dead and that anything they post on social media can (and very likely) will come back to haunt them.

UNESCO’s false experts chart

Another form of “disinformation” is manipulation of information with false experts: in academia, government, science, medicine, finance, the environment, and even the media.

Last, but not least, she plugged an older paper she wrote for UNESCO, “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

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 Serves on AJA Jury, Promotes Professional Journalism

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil served as a jury member for the investigative journalism category of the Arab Journalism Award (AJA) in 2018 in a bid to raise the standard of that media field.

AJA logo

The Award ceremony [AJA Supplement in Al Bayan-18-2018-04-05] usually comes at the end of the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai every year with prizes for different categories handed out to reporters, editors, columnists, photojournalists and cartoonists from across the Arab world.

Abu-Fadil is a former AJA board member and has been on several of its juries over the years.

Magda Abu-Fadil (front row far right) as an Arab Journalism Award board member in 2010 (courtesy DPC)

This year experts closely scrutinized media’s fierce competition and misleading information that causes harm at the AMF [AMF-A5 Agenda_Website_En] in April amid clamor to rectify wrongs.

“Credibility tops the agenda,” [أجندة منتدى الإعلام العربي 2018] said Mona Al Marri, the DPC president who heads the Forum’s organizing committee.

DPC President Mona Al Marri flanked by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohamad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamad Bin Rashid at AMF 2018 (courtesy DPC)

Over 2,000 Arab and foreign media professionals, academics and corporate leaders participated in the 17th edition of the Forum organized by the DPC.

Innovation and technology also took center stage at the two-day event that packed a rich and forceful program that also focused on errant media and the negative impact of social media.