Evaluation of the ICFJ program work in Jordan

By Ellie Fogg Post date: Feb 04, 2016

Location

This multimedia “boot camp” was a project run by the International Center for Journalism (ICFJ) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  ICFJ is at the forefront of the news revolution. With its networks of reporters and media entrepreneurs, it is transforming the field of journalism, especially in high-risk areas with low levels of transparent media.  Since 2011, the program has trained about 250 journalists from nine countries to participate in the “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives program”.[1]The project, which closed in March 2014, included on-line training in public service journalism skills, seed funding for promising projects, and a study tour to the United States for leading regional journalists.  The trainings were held in four different cycles.  Each cycle began with an on-line course that trained about 70 journalists.  The best 25 or so journalists from the online courses were invited to participate in more intensive training, based on their participation in the course and on the quality of the project they proposed.  During each cycle, those 25 journalists came to a “boot camp” held in either Egypt, Jordan or Morocco, where they received more in-depth training on the digital topics and began working on their projects with guidance from the faculty.  This specific boot camp was the second phase of the program, “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives”, which ran for five days in Jordan from February 26 – Match 1, 2012, at the Jordan Media Institute.  Topics at the boot camp ranged from using social media to shooting and editing video and photos, from building news websites to computer-assisted reporting, and from media ethics to trends in mobile journalism.[2]Journalists then returned home to continue working on the projects with on-line mentoring. They then came back to a second boot camp where they received more training and worked toward completing their projects with help from the trainers.  The best five projects in each cycle were given seed funding to help them expand, and the very best were chosen to receive further training in the United States, including participation in the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas.  After the four cycles were completed, the very best participants from all of the cycles participated in yet another training, where the focus was forming groups to work on cross-border projects.  Again, the best of the projects received additional funding, and the top three groups came to the United States for more training.  Overall, about 250 journalists were trained, with 100 of them receiving more intensive, hands-on training.  With the intent to bolster their professional careers and return home with a wealth of knowledge, many professional and citizen journalists returned home eager to report and publish.  One of the main purposes of the project was to fill the holes in mainstream Arab journalism and media coverage. 

Key Findings

  • Efforts at democratization are hindered by corrupt, censored media.
  • Using tools of traditional journalism in combination with social media and digital production, journalists can serve as excellent pioneers for their countries.
  • Well-designed media support projects can promote the democratization process by exposing the misdeeds of government and increasing public awareness about openness, transparency, democracy, and human rights.[3]
  • There is value in engaging in cross-border projects.
  • Solo projects are not as effective as working in groups with people from different countries.
  • The recruitment process for journalism training should be transparent and ensure the participation of different ethnic groups and minorities.
  • Mixing Western and Arab trainers offers a more comprehensive training
  • High-impact projects often need partners.
  • Projects are more likely to be successful in stable countries with relatively high level of media freedom.
  • Language fluency is essential for success, but previous experience working in a country is not.
  • Strong journalism skills are not enough to ensure sustainable success.
  • The most effective projects have had leaders with strong management skills needed to manage complex projects in difficult environments.
  • Regional media training programs facilitate interaction among journalists from different countries and contribute to the institutionalization of standards, skills, and codes of conduct for free media. An effective alumni network helps this cause.[4]

 

Activists, journalists, and bloggers have played a critical role in determining the outcome of the Arab Awakening.  By empowering young people to better tell their story, ICFJ and USAID strived to promote transparency around the region.  Every participant produced a multimedia, interactive project on an issue of public interest unique to their home country.  The most successful reporters gathered to collaborate on cross-border reporting projects.  As part of the six-week online course, participants proposed an online project that they wanted to pursue with the help of experienced trainers.  Participants explored such issues as, human trafficking, recruitment of jihadists to fight in Syria, illegal factories producing shoddy goods in Egypt, dangers for journalists in Gaza, proliferation of fake pharmaceuticals, medical malpractice in Jordan, police abuses in Lebanon, and corruption in a food rationing system in Iraq”.[6]  As a result of the Arab Spring, many of the participants put their training to good use by taking video with their cameras, uploading photos to the Internet, interviewing protestors and blogging about what they saw.  Thus the program was especially important for journalists in the post-revolution period when the opportunities for media were expanding. 

In many parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Arab Spring has led citizens to re-examine their relationship with their government, as well as their ability to access information about its activities.  A new generation of young journalists, bloggers and cyber-activists are using technology – particularly social media – to demand transparency and accountability from their governments and political representatives.  For many people, especially those in countries such as Tunisia who suffered 23 years of authoritarian government and no freedom of expression, journalism training was unrealistic before the revolution. 

Actors

  • USAID
  • ICFJ
  • Knight Foundation
  • Patrick Butler & other ICFJ members
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Swedish Postcode Lottery Culture Foundation
  • Local and international journalism experts

This multimedia “boot camp” was a project run by ICFJ and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  ICFJ supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts.  They believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.  USAID has much experience with empowering the region’s professional journalists, as well as citizen journalists, to report on public service and civil society issues that affect citizens’ everyday lives.  Thus, these boot camps drove innovation and experimentation in the regions they were implemented.  The Knight Foundation provided the program with international journalism fellows who taught various trends in mobile technology and digital and marketing strategies.  This foundation does a lot of journalism fellowships, and they support transformational ideas that promote quality journalism in problem areas around the world. 

Post-Arab Spring, young journalists and reporters desired to make their mark on Arab society.  According to participants in the boot camp, they agree that social media is the perfect tool to shed some light on government corruption.  As a USAID-supported boot camp in Amman, Jordan, participants were given the opportunity to, “enhance their multimedia skills to promote transparency and accountability in their countries”.[7]Upon speaking with Patrick Butler, Vice President of Programs at the International Center for Journalists, on the phone, he explained how, “some countries in the region were and are more free than others.  Lebanon had widespread press freedom and had no problems pursuing the stories they wanted to.  Yemen, for instance, had much more government control of media”.[8]  In other words, the difficulty the participants had with regard to publishing and traveling depended on their country of origin.  Many journalists were not necessarily working for traditional media outlets (bloggers, various websites, etc.), thus much of what they posted was not filtered by the government and was easily spread throughout the region.  Some participants who attended the boot camp needed special entry and exit permits.  Specifically, Palestinian participants had to cross through the Rafah border crossing from Gaza into Egypt, and then continue on to Jordan. 

As recent as August 12, 2015, more than 25 more fresh graduates of media and journalism schools gathered at the Jordan Media Institute (JMI) to engage in the five-day boot camp, which was “organized by the institute in cooperation with the Swedish branch of Reporters Without Borders and the Swedish Postcode Lottery Culture Foundation…The sessions which began on Sunday, August 9, were aimed at introducing the graduates to the profession and the challenges facing the media industry in Jordan and worldwide”.[9]

Journalism Training Activities

25 professional and citizen journalists from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen, participated in the five-day boot camp in Jordan from February 26 – March 1, 2012.[10]Throughout the course on using digital tools in public service journalism and investigative techniques, the selected participants learned:

  • How to identify and adapt emerging technologies
  • Twitter basics
  • Understanding and using social media
  • Reporting through crowdsourcing
  • Understanding and using mobile, SMS and location-aware services
  • Visual storytelling techniques
  • Mapping and mashups for beginners
  • Writing for the real-time Web
  • Online video production

The participants, looking forward to successful careers as journalists and well aware of journalism’s importance to democracy, were motivated by the positive feedback they received from their instructors and their readers.  Jordanian, Arab and international experts shared their experience with the participants to help prepare them for the job market.[11]  The workshops focused on broadcast and digital media, digital and marketing strategies, investigative journalism, safety of journalists, multimedia production, shooting and editing photos,and legislation and media ethics.  The participants also received training in communication and presentation skills.  It is evident, through the various accounts from esteemed trainers, that the participants desired to give voice to the voiceless in their societies.  Sherry Ricchiardi, professor at Indiana University School of Journalism who taught the use of ethics in the digital age, explains how, “these journalists were keenly aware of covering marginalized populations.  Many of their projects reflected a strong emphasis on portraying the human condition and bringing about social and political change.  During the mentoring sessions, the passion for their work was refreshing and inspiring”.[12]

Essentially, the program started out with online courses, which focused on using digital tools to create projects.  According to Patrick Butler, participants “learned the basics on how to use social media and multimedia reporting.  The best were then invited to boot camps based on the quality of their idea.  Here, they received more advanced training and then returned home to pursue these projects.  They then came back months later for a second boot camp.”[13]  After returning home, participants received online mentoring for three months.  The second boot camp helped them to develop and complete their projects.  The trainers then selected the five most promising projects, and those participants received seed funding.  The two most outstanding teams received a two-week digital media study and networking tour to the USA, thereby gaining access to a wider world of digital media innovation.  They also participated in the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas (the winners split more than $22,000 in seed funding to expand their projects).[14]

Lessons Learned& Recommendations

According to many of the trainers and mentors, the project went quite well.  Participants were able to produce unique journalism projects that shed light on the corruption within their individual countries.  Also, one of the biggest takeaways from this program was the participant-trainer interaction.  According to award-winning US photojournalist Frank Folwell who led the photo editing session, “he was deeply impressed by how quickly they bonded during the boot camp and the camaraderie that continues through their Facebook group. [He] continues to get emails, Facebook postings and messages, which shows a continued interest and desire to improve their photo techniques as they move deeper into their individual projects”.[15]Many described the boot camp as an “evolution in the fast lane” because all 25 journalists came to the camp with good ideas, but they began to think out of the box after their training.  Despite their differences, each participant was united in their goal to better serve their societies.  Although the atmosphere has changed in some countries since the original boot camp, this project has proven to be more or less sustainable.  A key aspect of the program that could see improvement is the gender participation gap.  There was much heavier participation with men than women mainly because culturally, not as many women felt safe engaging in such a risky endeavor.  Due to discriminatory the nature of many MENA societies, the program had difficulty gauging equal interest from men and women.

Another lesson learned from this project is how difficult it was to circumvent government censorship in many of the high-risk environments where journalism was practiced (post-boot camp).  To publish their work, many journalists had to utilize proxies, blogs and other forms of publishing.  It is important, as Yoani Sanchez states, to “learn how to live in a glass castle where you can see everything”.[16]  In these oppressive environments, it is imperative to teach journalism without doing personal attacks to individuals or verbal violence – transparency is key.  Journalists must learn how to write in ways that are not immediately censored by the corrupt regime.  Similarly, it is important to bring in experts from surrounding regions, train local journalists, and train local citizens with no former experience.  Inexperienced journalists are much easier to train than those who are use to writing under a corrupt system (difficult to un-teach certain methods due to their high level of fear).  As they expand their influence, ICFJ hopes to work with other regions to spread the fundamentals of independent journalism and promote individual thought.  ICFJ continues to strive to give the voiceless a voice while simultaneously instilling and utilizing transparent methods to reduce the risk of conflict for its participants.

 

Bibliography

Butler, Patrick. Phone Interview with Patrick Butler, Vice President of Programs at ICFJ. 20 Nov. 2015.

Butler, Patrick, and Daniel Lynx Bernard. “Arab Reporters Tackle Corruption, Human Trafficking In Multimedia ‘Boot Camps’ | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ. N.p., 12 May 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“ICFJ ‘Boot Camp’ Empowers Arab Journalists to Serve Their Societies through the Use of Digital Media | ICFJ Anywhere.” ICFJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“JMI | JMI Organizes Boot Camp for Media and Journalism Graduates.” Jordan Media Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

“Multimedia ‘Boot Camp’ Empowers Arab Journalists to Serve Their Societies | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ. N.p., 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

“Post-Arab Spring, Young Reporters Make Their Mark | U.S. Agency for International Development.” USAID. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Rockwell, Rick, and Krishna Kumar. “Building Skills and Promoting Collaboration among the Middle East and North Africa’s Budding Journalists | USAID Impact.” USAID. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

Sanchez, Yoani. “14ymedio’s Yoani Sánchez: ‘Technology Is an Incredible Ally for Independent Journalism in Cuba’ | IJNet.” 14ymedio. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

Tariq, Dina. “‘Boot Camp’ Helps Arab Journalists Develop Public Service Projects | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ. N.p., 22 July 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

 




[1]“Post-Arab Spring, Young Reporters Make Their Mark | U.S. Agency for International Development.” USAID. Accessed November 17, 2015. https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/post-arab-spring-youn....

[2]Tariq, Dina. “‘Boot Camp’ Helps Arab Journalists Develop Public Service Projects | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, July 22, 2011. http://www.icfj.org/news/boot-camp-helps-arab-journalists-develop-public....

[3]“Post-Arab Spring, Young Reporters Make Their Mark | U.S. Agency for International Development.” USAID. Accessed November 17, 2015. https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/post-arab-spring-youn....

[4]Rockwell, Rick, and Krishna Kumar. “Building Skills and Promoting Collaboration among the Middle East and North Africa’s Budding Journalists | USAID Impact.” USAID. Accessed December 9, 2015. https://blog.usaid.gov/2014/03/building-skills-and-promoting-collaborati....

[5]Butler, Patrick, and Daniel Lynx Bernard. “Arab Reporters Tackle Corruption, Human Trafficking In Multimedia ‘Boot Camps’ | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, May 12, 2014. http://www.icfj.org/news/arab-reporters-tackle-corruption-human-traffick....

[6]Tariq, Dina. “‘Boot Camp’ Helps Arab Journalists Develop Public Service Projects | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, July 22, 2011. http://www.icfj.org/news/boot-camp-helps-arab-journalists-develop-public....

[7]“Post-Arab Spring, Young Reporters Make Their Mark | U.S. Agency for International Development.” USAID. Accessed November 17, 2015. https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/post-arab-spring-youn....

[8]Butler, Patrick. Phone Interview with Patrick Butler, Vice President of Programs at ICFJ, November 20, 2015.

[9]“JMI | JMI Organizes Boot Camp for Media and Journalism Graduates.” Jordan Media Institute. Accessed November 27, 2015. http://www.jmi.edu.jo/en/details/3232/JMI-Organizes-Boot-Camp-for-Media-....

[10]Tariq, Dina. “‘Boot Camp’ Helps Arab Journalists Develop Public Service Projects | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, July 22, 2011. http://www.icfj.org/news/boot-camp-helps-arab-journalists-develop-public....

[11]“JMI | JMI Organizes Boot Camp for Media and Journalism Graduates.” Jordan Media Institute. Accessed November 27, 2015. http://www.jmi.edu.jo/en/details/3232/JMI-Organizes-Boot-Camp-for-Media-....

[12]Tariq, Dina. “Multimedia ‘Boot Camp’ Empowers Arab Journalists to Serve Their Societies | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, August 9, 2012. http://www.icfj.org/news/multimedia-%E2%80%9Cboot-camp%E2%80%9D-empowers....

[13]Butler, Patrick. Phone Interview with Patrick Butler, Vice President of Programs at ICFJ, November 20, 2015.

[14]“Post-Arab Spring, Young Reporters Make Their Mark | U.S. Agency for International Development.” USAID. Accessed November 17, 2015. https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/post-arab-spring-youn....

[15]Tariq, Dina. “Multimedia ‘Boot Camp’ Empowers Arab Journalists to Serve Their Societies | ICFJ - International Center for Journalists.” ICFJ, August 9, 2012. http://www.icfj.org/news/multimedia-%E2%80%9Cboot-camp%E2%80%9D-empowers....

[16]Sanchez, Yoani. “14ymedio’s Yoani Sánchez: ‘Technology Is an Incredible Ally for Independent Journalism in Cuba’ | IJNet.” 14ymedio. Accessed December 9, 2015. https://ijnet.org/en/blog/14ymedios-yoani-s%C3%A1nchez-technology-incred....