This month, we interviewed Samya Ayish, a Google News Initiative Teaching Fellow in the MENA region, to speak about Google training and challenges during COVID-19.
Samya focuses on telling visual stories, and creating new ways to promote stories across different digital platforms. Samya seeks to change the way journalists share their everyday stories using a variety of digital tools. Before joining Google, Samya worked as a video and social media producer for CNN Arabia in Dubai, and also covered entertainment and cinema news; especially Arabic cinema.
Did your career with Google pre- and post-COVID change how you trained and interacted with trainees?
Of course. I think all of our lives have changed, both humanly and practically. Before the pandemic, training depended on visiting newsrooms and being face-to-face with trainees. This helped us build more human bridges with journalists, identify the challenges that they faced at work, explore their different methods of working, and gain a general idea of how their institutions perform in order to suit training to their needs. Since COVID, it has been different. We are all sitting behind our screens. My training is usually interactive, it would include a bunch of activities, games, and questions. Now it’s different… It has been a process of converting human interaction into virtual platforms, which has a lot of challenges in itself. Sometimes for example, when training, I feel like I am unable to recognise participants’ reactions through their facial expressions, body language or the like, and a large number of them do not open the camera, so I feel like I am speaking to myself! However, we must also be aware that the coming period will never be the same as before, and we have to start aligning our tools and training with the new era. This requires a different revolution in the field of training, especially through interactive virtual training.
How important is it for a journalist to develop their research and investigation skills?
A journalist is not a poet or a novelist. They are people responsible for conveying a reality that is taking place somewhere around the world, in a language that others understand. In order for us to achieve this, we must equip journalists with tools of research and investigation that help them understand the complete picture. Now, with so much information, fake news, rumours, and the speed at which information is spread through social media, the need for these tools has multiplied. Technology has come a long way in creating tools that help journalists carry out research, and despite its many difficulties, research has become such an important tool in journalism. Nowadays, a journalist who is unable to develop himself in terms of technical tools will find that journalistic experience and resources are insufficient in this competitive digital and interactive era, where the reader not only reads the news, but interacts with it through sound, image, touch and so on.
What is a set of tools that every journalist should know?
There are many important tools in a journalist’s work, and ultimately it depends on their specialty, but I think that research and verification tools in this climate are extremely important for all journalists. Some may be interested in data, others may be interested in maps, and others in multimedia, but I think what unites all journalists is the ability to search and verify. I would like to emphasise the issue of verification, because many journalists still feel that the topic is new to them – although it is old in the press. However, what is new is the technical approach to developing modern tools that help journalists verify photos, videos and statements, and stop the flow of fake news that we see everyday. I can also say that these tools are not only for journalists, but that all people should be introduced to them, because the task of stopping the spread of fake news is the responsibility of the whole world, not just journalists.
What advice do you have for Arab journalists?
I have a lot of advice for Arab journalists, and I’ll put it like this:
Read! Do not underestimate how important reading on different topics is. The press is what we call an interdisciplinary field; the field associated with all other fields. Good reading enhances good language, writing, style, and delivery to readers.
Experience is not enough these days, you should be ready and open to learning new things, especially in the technical field. Today’s internet is full of courses and videos on so many topics. Specialisation is good in writing, but I believe that journalists in this digital era must also be familiar with other aspects of digital work, such as attracting audiences and analysing data indicators, in order to be able to present the material that people are searching for in the right place, at the right time.
My advice for young journalists, especially those who have just finished studying and are preparing to enter the workplace is, firstly, that social media today has opened the path for many young people to offer different and unique content. This is beautiful, but do not get carried away behind the superficial content that does not have any human meaning. Create your identity with your own hands, and embark on the lengthy writing or in-depth photo reports that you can publish on your blogs or social media accounts. Follow your passion, and one day someone will pay attention to this passion, and you will find yourself where you want to be. Finally, and most importantly, do not be afraid of new experiences, they will inform you.
Many press institutions and journalists these days are looking for numbers: visits, clicks, etc. We must find other criteria for evaluating journalistic work. The number of visitors is undoubtedly important, but it must be accompanied by other criteria that indicates people’s interest in the quality of the press material.