Webinar: "It's our responsibility to visually record events"

With DW Akademie's online course "Media Heroes", Arab journalists and activists are learning new media approaches, including digital storytelling. This is especially relevant to journalists in conflict regions.

The "Media Heroes" digital course is aimed at journalists and activists in the Arab world – especially those in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories –who are not able to take part in on-site workshops. The interactive digital learning format offers participants methods and tools as well as opportunities for sharing know-how. The webinar is held entirely in Arabic, to date a unique approach.

"The project is easily accessible for participants from different countries and offers a platform for exchanging ideas about digital media approaches," explains Audrey Parmentier, project manager at DW Akademie's Media Development Middle East/North Africa team.

"Media Heroes" is financed by Germany's Federal Foreign Office and got underway in September. Four webinars have since been held, with the remaining three to follow by the end of the year.

Each 90-minute session has a specific focus. Topics include digital security, gender-based violence, verification of images and videos, hate speech, digital storytelling and conflict-sensitive reporting.  The webinars are held live but can later be accessed offline in a closed Facebook group for those not able to attend. "This is practical for journalists in countries like Libya, where power blackouts can last for up to ten hours at a time," points out Parmentier.

The webinars have been well attended, she says. The first live session run by Abir Ghattas, a Lebanese digital security expert based in Berlin, looked at digital security and attracted 68 participants from 14 countries.  

Dahlia Othman, based in Cairo, ran the second session and focused on digital visualization. Forty-two participants from ten countries took part, with a quarter taking part anonymously or under a pseudonym.

Making complex stories easy to understand

The webinar run by Mohammad al Qaq, a DW Akademie trainer based in Jordan, looked at digital storytelling – a reporting style that combines texts with videos, photos and animated graphics, and opportunities for interaction.

This multimedia tool is also effective in countries with low literacy rates.

Digital storytelling is particularly important for Arab journalists in crisis regions, says al Qaq. "One of the first things power holders or occupying forces do is to distort history or erase facts. It's our responsibility to visually record events," he explains. "Journalists in crisis regions come across countless stories that need to be documented."

Journalists trained in multimedia storytelling can not only document stories but also publish them if other media are not interested. "This is at the heart of citizen journalism,” says al Qaq. The 41 webinar participants from 13 countries agreed.

Pictures stronger than words

"Seeing things is different than reading or hearing about them," he explains. "Texts are certainly important but people have a strong photographic memory and are more likely to believe what they see than what they read."

That's because it's easier for the brain to record images than words, he says, and is a reason why social media are flooded with pictures and videos. "That's why unethical media platforms fill fake news with images rather than texts," he says.

Exciting creative approach

For al Qaq, digital stories mix conventional paper-based storytelling with digital platforms and apps. "In either case this is about combining exciting and creative elements," he says, adding that there is no need for fancy equipment. He says journalists only need a smartphone, a good eye and a creative approach.

Al Qaq describes himself as a fine artist who uses various platforms including videos, photography, song and acting. His video blog "Knobbeizeh" was one of the first to start in the Arab region. "I've always been interested in multimedia platforms," he says. "I stared my blog while I was studying visual communication and knew that I wanted to assist people in visualizing their stories."