18 Apr 2012
This post was originally published by Tarek Amr at tarekamr.com
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Egyptian city of Mahalla El-Kubra for the first time, to lead one of a series of workshops organized by Meedan and Birmingham City University that aim to train citizen journalists in how to look at citizen media with a journalistic eye. The prominent blogger and tweep, Lilian Wagdy, gave the first training in Tahrir Lounge in Cairo, and then came my turn to give the second training in the Egyptian Democratic Academy in Mahalla. More workshops are to take place in other Egyptian governorates in the coming weeks.
Some 25-30 young people from Mahalla attended my two-day workshop. I kicked things off by asking them the difference between between "News" and "Information", and that led us to talk about social media, and how one can find news (and information) there. The second session was about "Finding News Sources on Twitter", and we went on to discuss Egyptian law and the so-called "Publishing Offences". The fourth session was about Creative Commons, its different licensing options and how one can find content published under CC licenses. Two sessions followed: one about "Folksonomy, Geo-tagging, and the different meta-data that can be assigned to videos, photos, and other online content", and another about news curation and "How to create news stories using social media updates". We then used the knowledge learnt in the previous sessions to discuss "Techniques for Verifying Tweets and Photos published online". Finally I gave the trainees a brief introduction to tools such as URL shorteners, Del.icio.us, and some other tips and tricks useful for citizen journalists.
Early on in the workshop, I noticed that Facebook was more popular among the trainees than Twitter and blogs, so I quickly taught trainees some basic skills in Twitter, and how to create a new blog on Blogspot and start publishing posts. The trainees were given assignments to create blogs of their own if they do not have one already, then use the knowledge learnt previously to publish a post that summarizes a discussion taking place on social media, i.e. curate those tweets and statuses updates and create a news story. By the end of of the workshop, we showed entries from the different trainees - including their Facebook notes - and asked the others to comment on them and offer constructive criticism. We held a vote for the best two entries, with the top two trainees winning a Flip Mini HD.
Mahalla is an industrial city of almost half a million residents. It's where, on April 6, 2008 textile workers went on strike, demanding improved wages and criticizing the Mubarak regime for rigged elections. The April 6th Youth Movement, a key player in the uprising which started on January 25, 2011, was formed initially in solidarity with the Mahalla workers, and the strikes are believed to be one of the major steps that led to the Egyptian revolution 3 years later. Mahalla's recent history as a hub of dissent against the regime was clear in the political awareness of the trainees, and social and political discussions permeated the workshops. Most of the trainees are already members of the many political parties and movements. One day after the sessions - even at the end of a long day - the trainees took to the streets to paint lane-markings on nearby roads and pavements in collaboration with the April 6th Movement. In order to avoid having to wait for the government to provide the service, the youth got permission from local authorities, fundraised for the required materials, and decided to take it upon themselves to renovate their city. The political makeup of the group was mixed: most of the trainees were members of liberal political parties and movements, with just a few supporters of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties. The trainees had a good grounding in media knowledge, with most of them having encountered Mahalla's local newspapers and radio stations, and some of them even having worked or volunteered there.
As Lilian Wagdy previously highlighted, 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. Introducing the trainees to the platform and giving them an overview of how to use it was thus an important part of the workshop.
Many of the slides used in the workshop, as well as other useful resources on the following website: http://arabcitizenmedia.org/