30 Mar 2012
Last week I took part in the first of a series of workshops organized by Meedan and the Birmingham City University Centre for Media and Cultural Research that aim to train citizen journalists in verification techniques for social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The ultimate goal of these workshops is to introduce trainees to a reporting platform developed by Meedan and adopted by one of Egypt’s best-known independent newspapers, Al-Masry Al-Youm. The platform, http://liveblog.almasryalyoum.com, is designed to support citizen journalists to verify and disseminate important citizen reporting, and to encourage mainstream journalists to feel more secure in using citizen media content.
The workshop was very interesting as the group I was teaching was quite diverse in age and interests. They all shared a passion for learning, and were attentive and eager to share what they know, particularly when we spoke about the criticism leveled at citizen journalism from some sections of the mainstream media and questions of how to establish and maintain credibility.
The most engaging component of the workshop was a practical exercise in which we simulated a demonstration. Trainees were divided into citizen journalists and protesters in the first 30 minutes of the exercise, then we swapped roles in the second half. Citizen journalists were required to report on the protesters’ activity. By encouraging trainees to think separately as citizen journalists and protesters I was allowing them to experience two different frames of mind, and to think about the differences between the two.
As part of this exercise, I created a twitter account and asked trainees to log in to the account and start reporting on it. After the exercise was complete, we all went back to the training hall and started discussing the tweets they sent in terms of accuracy and efficiency. This was the most interactive part of the training because the trainees all had a say in evaluating each others’ tweets .
We then talked about Meedan’s reporting platform. I showed the trainees two videos introducing the platform and explaining how to use it. Some trainees raised concerns about this, which I tried to address. Some citizen journalists thought that we were asking them to exert unpaid effort to help Al–Masry Al-Youm deliver its news. This concern was addressed by telling the participants that sharing their content in this way would give it more exposure through Al-Masry Al-Youm’s sizeable online, print and mobile audiences. Citizen journalists are credited for their content and they will be able to log in and share this content through their Facebook or Twitter accounts, for which they will get additional exposure.
Overall, I found the workshop very enjoyable and useful. It gave me a chance to test my skills of reasoning with different characters and I hope the participants found the information they received useful.
By way of follow up, I have created a Facebook group to further support the trainees with their journalism and to help them to use the Meedan tools to verify social media content. I’ve asked them to post their contributions to the group so we can assess them and discuss them further with other trainees. I’ve also asked them to post their feedback about using the liveblog on the group so that the Meedan and Al-Masry Al-Youm teams can respond to any concerns or issues they have about using the platform.