Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: Mar ‘09

Iraqi journalist describes how attending an IWPR workshop was a turning point in her career.
Every time I pick up my pen and note pad, I remember lessons I’ve learned with IWPR.

Although I’ve worked in journalism for just under two years, I had not had any professional training until I attended an IWPR course in December 2008. During that session, which was held in Erbil, I learned skills which have proven invaluable to my work.

My educational background is in engineering. Journalism began as just a hobby for me.

Embarking on a career in media has changed my life and the IWPR course was a turning point in that career.

When I report and write now, whether it be for The New York Times or IWPR Iraq, I remember the lessons I was taught by IWPR – that I’m an observer, and that stories must contain much information, yet be told in a snappy, direct style, in simple enough terms so that even a relatively uneducated reader will understand them.

I did not consider myself a journalist until I took the IWPR course, and I still have much to learn. Even highly experienced journalists who also participated in the training session said that they, too, had discovered new tips and ideas.

When I compare my reporting before and after I attended the IWPR training course, I can see that the impact on my work has been immense.

I now attend press conferences with confidence, reminding myself to scrutinise officials’ words, rather than automatically believing whatever they claim.

When I go to the site of an explosion, I take a mental snapshot of the scene, looking for details which will allow the reader, listener or viewer to visualise what I have witnessed.

When I interview an official, either in person or by phone, I politely press them to answer any questions they try to evade.

Although I have worked for The New York Times for more than a year, and I am proud to see my by-line on a story in the newspaper, my joy soared when I wrote my first piece for IWPR.

Although I was encouraged and pleased that IWPR had asked me to write a report, I also worried that because of my limited experience, my reporting and writing might disappoint the editors.

My heart raced when I saw the story, about the US handing over security in the Green Zone to the Iraqis, published on the IWPR site in January.

I knew then that I had not failed the organisation, and that I was able to successfully apply the skills I had learned in the course.

The next day, I printed copies of the story and handed them to my colleagues at The New York Times.

Many of them have since said that my reporting, blogs and stories in that paper have improved since I received IWPR training.

One fellow journalist, who works for an international news agency, noted an improvement in my writing and asked for a copy of the materials from the IWPR course.

I have since written several more stories for IWPR and with each one, I learn more about journalism. I critically evaluate my own work based on the feedback and edits I receive from the organisation, and try to anticipate which questions the editors might pose before they are asked.

The IWPR course marked the start of my development as a professional journalist and I consider it to have been the most valuable five days of my life.

Abeer Mohammed is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad.

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