09.09.2003 -

IPDC Funds for Women Workshop on Advanced Computer Assisted Reporting

Women journalists from 13 Asian and Pacific countries attended a two-week "Advanced Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR)" course at the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) in Kuala Lumpur. An article with impressions from the workshop that was funded by UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is now on WebWorld.

Women Journalists get IT savvy

You might think that letting one male trainer loose in a room of thirteen women journalists for two weeks was asking for trouble. But it didn't work out that way during a women only training course in Kuala Lumpur recently. The male trainer - Australian journalist Pieter Wessels - says his main memory was sitting at the top table during an exercise freaked out by the fact that for more than an hour the only sound in the room was the click of mouses. The women were designing and constructing their web pages and their concentration was total. Pieter says the women's commitment to the course - Advanced Computer Assisted Reporting - was impressive, and the results of the course extraordinary. The women bonded and co-operated to an exceptional degree even though they were from thirteen different countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

The course was the brain-child of a Programme Manager at the AIBD (Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development) Marcel Gomez. Marcel had observed at basic courses in Computer Assisted Journalism (CAR) that Asian women did not perform well alongside men. He says there was nothing strange about this. It's a cultural thing. He came up with the idea for basic courses for women journalists. These worked well, and in time led to the Advanced CAR course for women journalists funded by the UNESCO IPDC (International Programme for the Development of Communication) programme. AIBD did the groundwork and set up a computer laboratory in their biggest classroom.

The activity was conducted by Pieter Wessels from Sydney and an expert in CAR and Professor Stephen Quinn from the journalism program at Ball State University in Indiana who worked on the course during the first week. Professor Quinn is also an experienced teacher of CAR and a specialist in convergence in the newsroom, an important subject for the future of Asian journalists.

The course began on 18 August with one participant absent, Nilima Harjal of India whose plane caught fire taking off from Delhi airport. She was a day late but did have the experience of sliding down the emergency exit to get off the plane. The other participants were a mixed group in terms of age and knowledge of computers and the Internet. The disparity could have proved a major problem but in the end it did not. The group bonded quickly with the more advanced users helping those of lesser experience. That with some one-on-one coaching for the ones who could not type and did not know Windows kept the emphasis of the course on the word Advanced.

The women were taken through more advanced aspects of the Internet, and email, newsgroups and listservs. They spent a considerable amount of time learning how to analyse data using spreadsheets and did not show the usual antipathy towards maths that both trainers have experienced with previous journalism courses. Each participant learned how to use Microsoft Excel in some detail, and how to download data from the Internet and insert it into Excel before setting up formulae to analyse the figures. From this they had to write stories drawing on both the raw figures and their analysis of them.

Later in the course they were introduced to databases, both relational and full-text and again learned how to put data in to a relational database, and where to go on the Internet to find such data.

For journalists full-text databases are essential, whether for breaking news or just background. The participants were introduced to the major newspaper databases on the web. They were also taken into the deep or invisible web which cannot be reached by search engines and directories such as Dialog and professional papers published in commercial databases, where the costs can be hefty.

The Asian journalists were shown some tricks for cutting down the cost. Search engines are the key to the visible web and their advanced use and variety was covered by the course. The biggest problem on the course was the use of on-line tutorials, which the participants did not like although they did complete all they were asked to do. The trainers emphasized that working journalists must master these new learning tools as they are the key to their on-going development as professional reporters and sub-editors. The two trainer have noticed a similar antipathy towards on-line learning by journalists in other countries. It seem to be a natural antipathy among journalists, who are by definition people persons.

All participants completed the course and were presented certificates by the Fiji High Commissioner to Malaysia Adi Samanunu, one of the diplomatic corps' most accomplished women ambassadors, in the presence of the Director of AIBD, Dr Javad Mottaghi. The thirteen women journalists admitted to being tired after the very challenging advance course, but said they were keen to get back to their newsrooms, to practice the new skills they had learned, and to teach their bosses and colleagues about Computer Assisted Reporting.




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