Let me first start by saying: I have a new appreciation for the work that teachers do!
When I initially set out to create a lesson plan for three days of workshops – not to mention on topics that were new to me – I had no idea how challenging it can be to run a “classroom” and teach.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think this was probably my first public speaking engagement since high school.
All of this is not to say that the workshop didn’t go well, because it most definitely did.
It wasn’t without its initial challenges, though. I knew that teaching through an interpreter would be a new experience, and although mind-boggling at times to wrap my head around it, it worked out really well in the end.
Each participant was given a headset and a microphone, and I stood at the front of the conference room, armed with the same equipment. I’d ask a question or speak, and they would respond, all while alternating between headphones and microphones.
I found that my trusted microphone worked best in my right hand, while dealing with the headset eventually just meant leaving it around my neck.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully get used to the teaching tools – it kind of puts an even bigger spotlight on me – but they are necessary challenges in an even more necessary and important task.
We began with an icebreaker activity. I wanted each participant to share their most challenging story and then a story they’re most proud of and why.
It was fascinating to learn that a lot of the stories that we’re proud of are also the ones that challenge us the most, and that’s what makes them so rewarding in the end.
The exchange back and forth of ideas, lessons learned, and ways to overcome difficulties when reporting really showed that deep down, no matter what issues we may face individually as journalists, there’s nothing quite like putting your all into a story and seeing the fruits of your labour.
I was prepared to hear amazing stories of triumph and adversity, but what these Jordanian and Syrian journalists shared were beyond comprehension to me.
There was a Syrian journalist in attendance, originally hailing from Aleppo. She painted the picture of what it was like to work in Syria, saying once it’s known that you’re a journalist, it’s as though you’re automatically an enemy of the State, or an opponent to the Regime.
She couldn’t even think about bringing a camera to film a report, and shot most of her video using her cell phone. Then when it came time to publish her work, there was no support to get anything out there, and she often has to use a pseudonym.
Then there was the founder of the group for Syrian female journalists, who spoke about the challenges of being female in a male-dominated field, or male-dominated world, for that matter.
We went over examples of human rights reporting that have been covered at CTV and what kinds of challenges journalists back home face when it comes to reporting on important issues – issues that aren’t always easy to cover.
Many participants spoke about the benefit of this workshop including both Syrian and Jordanian journalists, because a lot of them face the same difficulties and risks when it comes to their reporting. Many were relieved that they aren’t alone in their daily struggles.
Struggles and challenges like a lack of access to information. These journalists work under intense scrutiny and censorship to get their stories out there. They even struggle with bringing stories to light that matter to a general public, a general public that isn’t always receptive to what these journalists want to tell.
I quickly realized how much we might take our freedom of access to information for granted. It’s a right that we have as a people, but it isn’t the same story across the world.
Another journalist shared her story about gathering information and reporting on a story about Syria from Jordan. Communication back and forth took over a month – with Internet problems galore – to produce a 3000 word story.
I think what we all shared from this experience is that journalism is a profession of challenges, big and small, far and wide, life and death.
So in the end, why do people choose to become journalists? What is it about the dangerous and complicated work that makes it so attractive?
I put the question to the group.
One participant felt it was her duty to be the voice for a people where media didn’t yet exist.
Another wanted to speak out for marginalized citizens who don’t have a say.
One veteran reporter joked that he’s stubborn and wanted to do what he was told he couldn’t or wasn’t allowed to – and that was to ask questions and know everything about the world around him.
For most, it’s not about calling their day-to-day ‘work’, because it’s their passion.
It was a very eye-opening workshop to be a part of. These ambitious journalists – some brand new to the field and some seasoned veterans – all wanted to share in the experience of learning and bettering their skills.
At the end of the day, no matter my interpretation of how well the workshop went, we’re all better journalists for having shared in the exchange of knowledge.
Tomorrow will be another challenging day, digging into the technical details of creating infographics – an art form that I’m still trying to tackle myself.
But if it’s anything like today, we’re on the right track to something amazing.