Decision makers of leading journalism schools in North Africa and the Middle East spent a week in Germany learning more about innovative training schemes for journalists - an initiative led by DW Akademie.
The sofas in a conference room at the Axel Springer Akademie in Berlin provide a comfortable spot for a meeting with ten men and four women from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. Tweissi Basim from Jordan leans forward on the sofa's edge. "Our academy has similar admission criteria to yours. We look for creativity and courage, and yet afterwards, we are often disappointed with the candidates we've chosen. What can we do to make our selection interviews more thorough?" he asks.
The deputy director of the Axel Springer Akademie, Rudolf Porsch, listens to the translation via headphones. "Oh, we know what that's like!" he smiles. "What we do is to have the editors-in-chief of the various departments sit in on the selection interviews. They bring their own perspective to the submission criteria. If we have a lot of experienced colleagues taking part in the selection process, we make better choices," he responds.
Recognizing journalistic expertise
The Arab delegation nods in agreement. These men and women all represent leading journalism schools in North Africa and the Middle East, and are here on the one-week fact-finding tour "Journalism Studies On The Move" to gain an understanding of various journalism training models in Germany. The Arab Spring awakened a desire for renewal in the media sector, too. While this includes updating the training methods, at this point technical resources, know-how and the practical qualification of teaching personnel are often in short supply. For many countries in the region, an additional factor is the lack of support for independent and critical media.
Alla Eldin Ahmed Juma is a lecturer and head of the Department for Online Media at the An-Najah National University in Nablus in the West Bank, and is well aware of the challenge: "Our nation is currently in the process of democratization. An independent media landscape is of vital importance, and is why we need to work on our training methods. Too many journalists, for example, are unaccustomed to respecting the opinions of others. People who are well-trained can help us to use our media to further the democratic process," he says.
Opportunities for cooperation
During the week-long trip, financed by the German Foreign Office and organized by DW Akademie, the Arab delegation visited academies and universities in Berlin, Dortmund and Hamburg, and among them the Henri-Nannen-Schule, the Free University of Berlin, the Hamburg Media School and the journalism traineeship at Deutsche Welle. They looked at whether a traineeship, degree course or journalism school could be the most suitable training model for their institutes, and also looked at the various teaching methods and how to best evaluate the quality of teaching. As well as gaining useful insights and ideas from the German training methods, the visitors had a chance to make some useful contacts for future cooperation. "In the delegate's own countries, aspiring journalists have to go to university," says project manager Katharina L. Ochse. "Degree courses there, however, focus mainly on theory, so there’s a need to find more suitable models and to make their journalism courses more practically oriented."
Before visiting the Axel Springer Akademie, the delegation paid a visit to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to find out about partnership opportunities with German training institutes. "If they are interested in cooperating with a German university or college, they should also ask themselves how a German college might benefit from a cooperation," advises Felix Wagenfeld of the DAAD. "There are some topics, for example, that can be better researched in Arab countries rather than in Germany. This is an advantage they could offer in the framework of a partner agreement."
Omima Omra heads the Media Department at the Assiut University in Egypt and is enthusiastic about what she has seen. "What I particularly liked about the German models is the emphasis they place on practical training, as well as on advanced training once the journalists enter the workforce. I've also been impressed by the technical resources available to the media houses. Now that I've been here," she says, "I'm extremely interested in establishing a German-Egyptian partnership for my own faculty."