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Social Media Skills for the Next Generation of Iraqi Journalists

The University of Salahaddin’s Media Institute in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, teaches its students many skills that a classic journalist needs to know. However, it has not been able to provide these future journalists with the skills needed to use social media, a growing source of information in Iraq.

Students and teachers alike lack practical experience using social media such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. “I think only one-eighth of the faculty and students here know what they are,” said Bahra Sdiq, a 22-year-old journalist who graduated last year from the Media Institute and participated in an IREX training on social media for journalists.

“Absolutely not. I had never heard about blogs,” said the Media Institute’s computer teacher, Shadi Mohammed, who teaches basic computer programs such as Microsoft Word. “I had only heard about Twitter. I did not know how to use that either,” said Ms. Mohammed, “Now I will teach [my] students how to create blogs and Twitter and publish articles in them.”

Mohammed participated in IREX’s training of trainers workshop for Media Institute teachers. Moustafa Ayad, who co-led the training, noted that lack of English language skills posed a major obstacle to increasing new media literacy as many of the tools require English, a language rarely spoken in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

For Mohammed Omar, a 27-year-old photographer and MI teacher overseeing practical courses in television journalism, learning how to use Facebook and blogs means more exposure in Iraq’s largely conservative Kurdish region. Kurdish newspapers and magazines have a tendency to self-censor for cultural and political reasons. Now Facebook and blogs are the publisher of photos, poems and other items that would not be published in the traditional media. ”Nothing is more important than publishing my photos there to be seen by people,” said Mr. Omar, adding that “This kind of media will inform you about things which you don’t get from television stations or newspapers,” said Mr. Omar.

“As of tomorrow, I will install an internet line at home,” said Shawen Nawzad, a teacher specialized in television writing and presenting, on the final day of the training. “I now know that Facebook is much more important that what I originally thought.”

IREX’s efforts to enhance new media literacy among journalists and civil society in Iraq coincides with a wave of demonstrations for democracy across the Arab World that has shown the power of social networking sites, leading authorities in Egypt, then later Libya to cut Internet and mobile phone services in an attempt to disrupt demonstrations. However, such government attempts to restrict freedom of expression increasingly face challenges as journalists and citizens themselves find new ways to gather and distribute news.

IREX implements the Media and Technology for Community Development program under a grant from the US Department of State, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

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