Powering Up Education Journalism in the Arab World
ISTANBUL—Twenty-eight journalists from 16 Arab countries participated last week in a workshop intended to focus on the power of great journalism on the subject of education.
The workshop sought to improve the quality and increase the quantity of reporting on education within the Arab region.
Journalists from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Syria, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and Yemen met at Koç University in Istanbul to discuss how to find education story ideas, how to write about them in ways that attract readers and how to dig deeper into educational topics.
Afterwards, the journalists said they emerged energized and eager to attack educational topics. They described the workshop as “career-changing” and “some of the most important days in my life.”
During three days, the participants talked about how to write about academic research and how to go beyond interviews and use data and public documents. Mentors discussed writing news stories about education and writing the longer and more analytical stories that educational topics sometimes require.
“The training met a very urgent, missed topic in Arab media, which is education,” said Ahmed Mubarak Al Darmaki, a radio and television reporter from Oman. In addition to covering primary and secondary education, the workshop highlighted the importance of covering higher education. “It’s an important topic that should be covered more seriously and deeply in Arab outlets,” said Al Darmaki.
Saba Abu Farha, a freelance journalist from Jordan who participated in the workshop, said “Unfortunately, most of our Arab media focuses on political and economic issues. No one cares about education, which could be the reason for most of the region’s problems.”
As Al-Fanar Media discovered when it was first founded in 2013, education coverage is often lacking in Arab journalism. In the workshop, Al Fanar Media sought to offer more than the standard journalism training, mixing instruction on journalism basics with developing knowledge of educational issues. The U.N. Democracy Fund is supporting the program, and a second workshop will be held in the spring.
The training started two months ago with an online platform, where journalists became familiar with key global education issues and how they connect to the country in which they work. They have worked with experienced mentors to improve reporting and writing skills and to identify sources of background information.
Each participating journalist is asked to write a minimum of three articles on education and many of them have already begun. An article on the troubles of many Iraqi students, “Franz Kafka: Meet the Islamic State,” was published on the Al-Fanar Media website this week and was written by workshop participant Gilgamesh Nabeel. Two mentors in the program, Sarah Lynch and Rasha Faek, wrote a recent review of illiteracy issues, A Stubborn Problem in Many Arab Countries.
Journalists are also encouraged to publish their education articles in other Arab websites, newspapers or magazines or to air stories on radio and television.
Al-Fanar Media hopes to have future workshops focused on using the power of video with education topics.
The Arab journalists participating in the program have already created an informal network of writers who want to pursue education topics. They have created a Facebook group page as a first step towards establishing an Arab educational journalists’ association. Other interested journalists or interested sponsors of similar work in the future can contact the Al-Fanar Media editors.
“I have learned a lot in this trip, met inspiring people and have a better vision of my career,” said Abeer El Sayed, a Palestinian journalist who is an intern at Omnicom Media Group in Dubai.