Training the Next Generation of Iraqi Journalists
“Journalism is not about what journalists want to say, it’s about what citizens have a right to know and now technology makes that possible,” Dr Hamdan Al Salim noted after one of IREX’s workshops for journalism professors in Iraq on “How to Teach Media.”
Journalists the world over are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing environment where technology offers citizens innumerable choices, allows them to become reporters themselves, and creates a constant, multimedia news cycle that challenges even the most experienced reporters’ skills. Iraq is no different - a recent survey commissioned by IREX noted that 33% of Iraqis use their mobile phone to get news and information and 28% use the internet for news.
Against this rapidly changing media environment are journalism faculties whose curricula was developed in the pre-Internet and pre-mobile news era. The next generation of journalists leaving universities needs to have the training and skills to navigate the changing dynamics of media. IREX therefore developed a program with the American University of Beirut and Baghdad Media College to improve and modernize the teaching of journalism at universities in Iraq.
Media professors from Baghdad Media College (BMC), Islamic Sciences College and six universities across Iraq attended a series of ten intensive workshops over the past year. Although confined to a wheelchair, Dr. Saad Salman Abdullah from Tikrit University Media College was determined to attend a recent session in Erbil, Iraq. “Academics in Iraq, and particularly in the Arts, have been neglected and isolated for years,” explains Dr. Saad. “These workshops have given us access to new information and methodologies that we badly need to help our students.”
Expert trainers, with journalism and management experience at major Arabic media outlets across the Middle East including Al Hayatt, Al Nahar (Lebanon), Al Hurra and Radio Sawa and introduced participatory teaching methods through sessions on Investigative Reporting, Right to Information, Public Relations, Public Service Broadcasting, Newsroom Management, Media Ethics, Business Reporting, Elections Reporting, Advocacy, and Social Media. “The workshop on new media has really shown how linked journalists and citizens are. We cannot separate journalists from the rest of society – blogs, Facebook and other tools have taught us that,” said Dr Azhar Sabeeh, another participant.
The workshops, consultations, and technical assistance provided through this initiative brought significant changes over the past year:
• Peer support networks formed among media academics across the country and the region.
• Baghdad Media College established a Continuing Education Center to train teachers and even ministry officials in using technology.
• Baghdad Media College launched an internship program integrated into its curriculum for journalism students. In 2011, with IREX assistance, 210 students were placed in internships.
• Baghdad Law College incorporated media law as an elective into its undergraduate curriculum.
• University media faculties across the country received thousands of books and manuals in Arabic on subjects ranging from environmental reporting to media law supplementing the lack of reference works on media and technology in the university libraries, and the dearth of online Arabic language material on these subjects.
These activities are part of IREX’s Media and Technology for Community Development (MTCD) program in Iraq, which is funded by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).