Iraq: Dec '10 / Jan '11
Najaf journalists who attended a recent IWPR journalism course featuring an introduction to social media say they are now exploiting it to network with colleagues and discuss story ideas.
The four-day training for 23 journalists, held in early January in cooperation with the southern city’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, focused on traditional and new techniques for research and reporting in Iraq.
Led by IWPR Iraq’s senior media adviser Hiwa Osman, who has trained journalists in Iraq since 2003, and IWPR Iraq editorial staffer Emad al-Sharaa, the training session used practical examples and exercises to build the participants’ skills, as part of IWPR’s mission to raise the standard of Iraqi journalism.
Participants were experienced correspondents with some of the most prominent news organisations in Iraq, including national and international television, print and radio news organisations, and were especially receptive to lessons on social networking and journalism.
Internet penetration in Iraq is low, but Iraqi youth and residents of urban areas are increasingly using chat and social networking sites, such as Facebook.
Still, social networking and blogs are rarely used by reporters. IWPR trainers explained the importance of using them to look for story ideas; expand their source network; build contacts with ordinary citizens; and promote their work.
“The training changed my understanding of social networks,” Talal Hassan, a correspondent for the Baghdad-based Al-Sumariya channel, said.
Hassan said he rarely used his Facebook account before the training session, but has since built up his network from three to more than 100 contacts and participates in several social network forums.
His Facebook page was now, Hassan said, “one of my most important investments” that has enabled him to “get people’s perspectives on many issues”.
“I chat with my online contacts about story ideas, and I research background and views on the issues,” he said. “Before the training I never would have been able to do this.”
Following the course, three of the trainees established a Facebook page for Najaf journalists which now has 137 members. Journalists are able to post and share their stories on the page, said Qasim al-Kaabi, an IWPR trainee and correspondent for the Baghdad-based newspaper, The Citizen.
“We’re keeping in touch much more closely now,” he said. “Every journalist in Najaf knows about his colleagues’ stories.”
Journalists were taught to use social media to research and report the views of ordinary citizens and “to have richer and stronger stories”, Osman said.
He cited the protests in Iran and North Africa to explain the impact that social networking and other sites such as Wikileaks can have on the public.
Raji Naseer, a correspondent with the international Al-Hurra satellite channel, said the IWPR training session was a valuable networking tool for the journalists, many of whom now keep in touch via social media.
“Journalists in Najaf rarely get together because they spend most of their time in newsrooms,” he said.
Eleven of the students were female journalists, including Alaa al-Shamari, a correspondent with the Alan satellite channel, who said the course was an opportunity for her to network with her colleagues.
She said the IWPR trainers provided “new ideas and facilitated discussions among journalists about our profession. This is very important for us to develop our work”.