In journalism, 24 hours can seem like a lifetime. Traditional news outlets, such as television and newspapers, remain popular but it is the internet that has become the go-to place for information for many, especially the youth.
Quicker updates, a range of opinions and the ease of accessing the internet from one’s mobile phone or computer have fuelled its growth in media. Not only do those seeking information use it, but reporters and editors themselves use the web as their main searching tool.
“If 2011 has proved anything with the Arab Spring, it’s that these tools are essential for journalists. Al Jazeera, for example, wouldn’t have been able to do its coverage without adopting those tools,” said Mohammed Yahia, the editor of Nature Middle East.
Searching to save time
From July 17 − 19, Yahia led the Doha Centre for Media Freedom’s first training workshop for journalists on how to search the internet. Sixteen reporters from the English-language and Arabic television and print media in the country attended.
“This is about how to use the internet to search for information for stories that they are working on. I’m teaching how to set it up so that the news comes to them, instead of them having to visit dozens of sites to gather stories,” said Yahia, who flew in from Cairo to teach the course.
“It’s pretty easy to do. The idea behind the workshop is to train the journalist in advanced tools which would shorten the time they use to catch up on news and get background information. I’m also teaching how to verify information, how to source work and explaining what they can and can’t use in regards to copyright.”
On the first day, one participant remarked that he thought all information on the internet was public property. “I was disappointed on that front,” said Yahia. But, he added, he was impressed with the number of journalists in the group using the internet generally.
“The first thing I was impressed with was that unlike other countries where I have given this workshop, participants seem comfortable with using the internet. Some others I have trained did not have regular internet access at work. There were quite a few journalists in Egypt for example, that didn’t have it. In Yemen, a very large percentage didn’t have regular access and a few in Jordan. It’s interesting that the internet level here is quite high. On the first day, I noticed everyone had it on their mobiles. That breaks one of the barriers to using these tools.”
During the workshop, there were exercises such as an ‘internet hunt’, a quiz aimed at using the web to find answers to certain questions. Yahia taught how to use iGoogle, Google Reader and the advanced searching tool in Google News.
He also touched upon the benefits of bloggers, sourcing verified information, using reliable sources of information to give stories context and how to be a successful player in social media.
Working in a competitive market
These tools would not only reduce the amount of time journalists spend updating themselves with developments, but also make them a better reporter in an increasingly competitive environment, argued Yahia.
“It’s drastically important now because I think the internet is revolutionising journalism, just like the print industry did a couple of hundred years ago,” he said. “At this stage you have to adopt these tools or you are left behind. The tools are there and the competition is insane. If you don’t, your stories will be pretty inferior; expectations are high. The competition with bloggers is increasing and they are here to stay.”
For attendee Aisha Sidahmed, a reporter at the English language daily Qatar Tribune, the session was useful. “The tips we got will save is a lot of time and effort in our work,” said the Mauritania native, who has worked at the paper for one year.
“I’ve never used iGoogle before. I had used the internet just to research interviewees or research topics for feature stories. It’s important that we learn new tips and become acquainted with the tools.” Khoudir Bougaila, an Algerian who works on the news programme at the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC), has worked in journalism for 23 years.
“This workshop will certainly help us, mainly in finding information in a short time,” he said. “We started using the internet in Algeria in 1998. The difference in journalism before and after the internet became popular is like comparing the use of camels and cars. It was much slower before and more difficult.”
His Algerian co-participant, Smail Tellai, a journalist at the Arabic language Al Hayat newspaper, said the training has encouraged him to make some changes to the way he approaches work. “The most important thing I learnt here was about iGoogle, I didn’t know about that before,” he said. “I will make it my homepage.”
For Tareq Al Maasfeh, a journalist at the Arabic daily Al Raya, the experience was essential. “I would like to say thank you to the Centre for organising this workshop,” he said. “This workshop helped us to get the experience in using these tools and now we know how to get the latest updates and coverage easily and quickly.”
Dos and Don’ts for journalists searching the internet, from Mohammed Yahia.
*... make the search part of your daily work. If it feels like an overload, you will drop it in a matter of weeks or months.
*... try to make the news come to you instead of you having to chase the news.
*... be very open to all of the latest developments coming out and experiment with them. It’s very useful to be an early adopter of new technology.
*... always think as a journalist. Use your identity on Twitter and Facebook as a platform for your journalism. These tools should be integral to your work.
*... let go of the Journalist vs Blogger battle. You don’t have to be in conflict, it can be a complementary relationship. Journalists should think about being bloggers, as they can use this medium to change their approach to writing. There are good reliable bloggers out there. You should follow the ones that have a history as being an authentic and accurate.
*... keep in mind how you can use these tools to offer a more unique story. A lot of stories in Qatar seem to be word-for-word copies of press releases. You can offer something extra because there is so much background information, statistics and history about most subjects archived in the internet. Use it to do your research and you can offer some context.
*... think of the internet as a tool to replace traditional reporting. It shouldn’t and it won’t. You still need to do interviews and see things for yourself.
*... rely on any source for a story, even if you think it’s accurate. The internet can never be a source, you can’t source it as your own work. Get the information yourself.
*... be a passive participant in social media. Have a human identity and be active. People often approach social media as a cold, laid back format. It’s not. On Twitter, for example, you have to keep tweeting and replying to tweets. Don’t ignore questions. Users want to share your thoughts and interact.