Every citizen is a journalist

The journalist training program at the American University of Beirut organized a training session recently that focused on 'citizen/electronic journalism.' Menassat.com sums up the do's and don't's.
By Kahldoun Zein al-Din
Lebanon, Beirut, car bomb. © S.M / arabimages.com
Lebanon, Beirut, car bomb. © S.M. / arabimages.com

In early December, the journalist training program at the American University of Beirut organized a training session that focused on concepts of “citizen/electronic journalism.” Fourteen trainees from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq participated in the session headed by the program’s director Magda Abu Fadel with the assistance of U.S. writer and producer Jessica Deer and the Executive Manager of AUB’s publications, Carina Rodriquez.

Held over five consecutive days, program discussions centered on blogs, their weaknesses and strengths as a media platform, and the limits and the capabilities of digital technology.

The seminar also tackled the details of how to produce a blog, outlining the ideas, the format, how to publish images and information, video and audio, in addition to methods of digital editing for photos on the internet and the editing of sound and video.

Using available digital methods, the participants were also shown how to function as a digital news agency by using blogs and RSS feeds to keep Internet users up to date with the latest news postings .

All of these points of discussion fell under the larger umbrella of “the ethics of electronic journalism.” According to Abu Fadel, this type of journalism, even in a free media environment, is still subjected to moral conditions and structures such as sourcing information before publishing.

Abu Fadel and her team explained how creating such things as hyperlinks is a simple way of making the research available to the end users – if for nothing else to promote transparency.

Indeed, for electronic journalists, one of the main problems discussed during the course of the program was how to reach the largest number of readers while adhering to high standards of journalistic ethics – especially given the sheer amount of misinformation and unsourced material floating around on the Internet.

Both Deer and Rodriquez said success in the blogoshpere begins by setting up a functional blog that utilizes template designs so as to not burden the writer with learning computer code. Some examples given by the lecturers included www.wordpress.com, www.blogspot.com, or www.livejournal.com.

Deer stressed a unique function inherent to blogs – interaction with the audience; giving blog visitors a chance to express their opinions about any cause or issue posted on the website. She said, “The blogger can divide his work into clear categories when there is interaction. He might enlist some materials under a special category covered by the journalist, while other materials fall under the category of opinion and view points.”

Deer and Rodriquez also talked about utilizing the image on the internet. Specifically, they showed how to use a digital camera efficiently in a way that expresses reality. The same thing goes for recording voices on digital recorders or cell phone cameras. As was explained, utilizing multi-media elements is a means of backing up the material appearing on the blog.

As for writing, both lecturers said it was better to use strong words and exciting writing styles using active verbs in order to grab people’s attention (without exaggerating the events).

Rodriguez gave a set of guidelines for attracting readers to a blog:

• Publish entries regularly, at least a few times each week;

• Use the tags which link the readers to your blog or website;

• Add the blog to a weblog such as www.technorati.com, www.itoot.net (in Arabic) in order to register the blog among these various blog listing sites;

• Make it clear that you tackle many issues and not just one topic;

• Add the maximum amount of information to back up what you say and to convince the reader that you are a trustworthy source.

Rodriguez also advised potential bloggers to ask, “Is the job complete, fair, clear, and exciting? What should I do to move the topic to another level?”

Jessica Deer discussed methods of protecting those who choose to blog in places where they may be at risk physically.

“If you have a reason to think that your work on the Internet will subject you to danger, there are secret ways to use the Internet. It is not an easy thing, but it might be possible if you put some effort into it,” she said.

“This can be done by regularly moving the places where you use the Internet, or by using computer programs which provide you with the utmost protection. If you belong to a group of Internet bloggers or journalists, make sure you are in daily contact with them. Your colleagues should know about your detention or any threat you might be exposed to. They should also keep the name of a contact person if they want to know if you are safe,” she said.

Deer also advised Internet journalists to stay posted about the latest political situation and how this might affect them or their work on the internet. But Deer said it is better to abide by objectivity and sincerity in reporting the information to avoid trouble. She stressed patience, waiting to ensure the veracity of a posting before it is actually published.

In true do-it-yourself fashion, each participant also created a personal blog during the workshop, using applications like “sound slides installer” and “windows movie maker” - free programs that are available online.