27 Nov 2013
It feels like every time I go to Beirut I do something new and unique! The first time I visited Lebanon I attended a concert by legendary Lebanese singer Fayrouz and crossed something off my “bucket list”; this time I became an academic professor for a small – yet great – group of journalism undergrads.
With Meedan kicking off a new stage in the Checkdesk project, in partnership with an investigative journalism course taught by Professor Yasmine Dabbous at the Lebanese American University (LAU), I traveled to meet the awesome class and lead a workshop on media verification strategies and techniques using Checkdesk.
In our first session, we presented and discussed global case studies where media verification led to debunked rumors or verified photos people kept circulating online for days. Here it was good to show the students the importance of reconsidering how they think of news, images and sources, and to teach them about tools used to verify them.
In the second session we ran a workshop simulating a real fact-checking desk in the newsroom. Sadly, we were given a real life experience in the confusion and chaos of a breaking news story, as reports emerge of the blast that hit Bir Hassan in south Beirut, killing 23. The students were surprised by the amount of conflicting news they were reading in the various prestigious media outlets they trusted. It was also amazing to observe in real time how social media reported details about the event minutes after it happened, and before any professional media outlet. Thinking together of the questions we might ask behind each report was a dynamic experience for these young journalists, and we learned together in the pursuit of answers to these questions and trying to find the truth behind reports.
I found the experience profoundly rewarding; to see the development of the students from my explaining the importance of investigating the news, to them saying “we can’t believe news blindly anymore, we always need to ask our own questions”.
The exercise was an awakening experience for these students, who will soon be taking leading positions in big media organizations! It was very fulfilling for me to see how much they developed throughout these two sessions, from trying to understand the importance of fact checking to strongly believing in the need for verification, source awareness and asking questions of every report. It’s extremely encouraging to see how a new generation of journalists is building their career knowledge fully aware of the importance of investigative journalism.