Al Jazeera has launched a video campaign to teach people how to use Twitter and Facebook, with the ultimate aim of empowering them as citizen journalists.
The Qatar-based news organisation has started a new YouTube Channel named Al Jazeera Unplugged to distribute videos, teaching users the basics of social networking.
For the moment, the information is very basic indeed. “Twitter is a website where people can send and receive ultra-short messages called Tweets,” begins one clip.
Users might question the wisdom of running an educational campaign about how to use social media on a social media platform – surely most people who are on YouTube already know how to use Facebook?
However, head of social media for Al Jazeera Riyaad Minty told GigaOm that, in the future, the videos posted by the channel “will be getting more advanced and will focus on how to effectively produce and share content”. GigaOm writes that future subjects for the videos will include instructions about how to use mobiles in crisis situations, and information about how Al Jazeera filters contributions that it receives from citizen journalists.
The aim of the initiative is to equip individuals to become citizen reporters. Speaking at a conference at UNESCO last month, Minty emphasised the importance of information provided by citizen journalists to Al Jazeera, particularly in areas like Syria, where professional reporters do not have access.
However, Minty stressed that the key to getting reliable information is often building up relationships with individual contributors before the big story hits. “Don’t wait until something’s trending on Twitter before you report it,” he advised at the conference. At Al Jazeera “getting in early and building these relationships is absolutely pivotal to what we’re done”.
Al Jazeera Unplugged seems to be an initiative based exactly on this idea; the broadcaster is attempting to train potential citizen journalists now to make sure that they are prepared to use social media tools for future news stories.
At present, the videos are available in English, Turkish and Bosnian. GigaOm writes that Arabic and Kiswahili translations will be available soon. By not publishing in Arabic first, the broadcaster seems to be appealing to its new markets: it recently launched a presence in the Balkans, and bought a Turkish TV station last year. It could be that Al Jazeera already sees the Arabic market as social-media savvy, but wants to connect with its global audience.
Minty makes it clear that working with citizen journalists through social media is central to Al Jazeera’s operation. In a follow-up to his UNESCO talk, he told WAN-IFRA via email that for news organizations, “if you're not embracing digital platforms, not only as a distribution tool, but more importantly as a news gathering tool, you're going to be left behind. Citizen Media is the new form of a newswire, often quicker than anything else. You need to have journalists trained on how to deal with this new form of content.”
The new initiative shows that not only journalists can be trained in this area; citizens themselves can too.