Saturday, April 14, 2012

Citizen Journalists Workshop in Mahalla

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Egyptian city of El-Mahalla El-Kubra for the first time. I went there as a part 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. The prominent blogger and tweep, Lilian Wagdy, gave the first training in Tahrir Lounge in Cairo. Then came my turn to give the second training in the Egyptian Democratic Academy in El-Mahalla, and more workshops are to take place in other Egyptian governorates in the future.


It was a two days workshop, attended by about 25-30 persons. I started by asking them the difference between between "News and Information" then we went to social media and how one can find news (and information) there, and the second session was about "Finding News Sources on Twitter", we then discussed the Egyptian Law and the "Publishing Offences". The fourth session was about "Creative Commons", its different licensing options and how one can find content published under such license. The following two sessions, one was about "Folksonomy, Geo-tagging, and the different meta-data that can be assigned to videos, photos, and other online content", the second one was about news curation and "How to create news stories using social media updates". We then used the knowledge learnt in the previous sessions to find out "Techniques for Verifying Tweets and Photos published online". And finally there was a quick intro to tools such as "URL Shortening", "Del.icio.us", and some other "Tips and Tricks" useful for citizen journalists.

During the first day, I noticed that Facebook was more popular than twitter and blogs there, hence there was a brief intro to twitter, and how one can create a new blog on blogspot and start publishing posts there. 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 out if them. Some create new blogs and added posts there, some did their assignment offline in a word file, promising to create a blog later on, some started a blog but didn't have time to finish the assignment given to them and some already had blogs. By the end of of the workshop, we showed entries from the different trainees - including their Facebook notes - and asked the others to comment and criticize them. Then they voted for the best two entries, and their authors were given a present.


El-Mahalla is an industrial city, and it's the same city where the general strike, called by the textile workers, took place in April 6, 2008. The April 6th Youth Movement was formed initially as a group 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. And this was clear in the political awareness of the trainees, a lot of social and political discussions took place during the workshops. Most of them are already members of political parties and movements. One day after the sessions, and even though it was a bit late, they told me that they all are going to mark lanes in the nearby streets and paint the pavements in collaboration with April 6th movement. They didn't want to wait for the government to do that for them, so they arranged with the authorities yet crowdfunded the needed resources and decided to beautify their city themselves. I am not sure if it's a coincidence, or what, but almost all of the trainees were members of liberal political parties and movements, as opposed to Muslim Brotherhood and Salafy parties. They support different presidential candidates, however I expected Khaled Aly to have some support there yet couldn't find any significant support for him among the trainees. They said they find him a good person though. The trainees also had good knowledge in the field of media, since there are local newspapers and radio channels in El-Mahalla city and some of them works there or at least deal with them in a way or another.

As Lilian Wagdy 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. Hence, we didn't end the sessions before introducing the trainees to the platform and how to use it.

Finally, you can find the slides used in the workshop, as well as many other useful resources on the following website: http://arabcitizenmedia.org/

Related Links:
Gr33nData on training citizen journalists in Mahalla


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