This account of SWN's workshop for Syrian media producers in partnership with IWPR was written by Mark Rendeiro, whose work can be seen at citizenreporter.org. A podcast featuring students from the workshop can be heard here. This past April, Louis Abelman and myself went to Istanbul to give a video story telling workshop specifically for Syrian reporters living and working in conflict zones. The workshop was a project from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and consisted of 5 days of class time, 4 of which were dedicated to video related details such as recording and editing. The class was made up of about 12 students who live in cities such as Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor, and Idlib. They were, on average, in their early 20's and all involved in either writing, photographing, or making video reports of war and life in their cities for mostly local online and offline media channels.
Probably the most eye opening detail about these participants was that hardly any of them had ever wanted to be reporters or journalists prior to the war. 2 years ago they were students at universities and technical institutions studying for non-media related careers. The outbreak of war was the catalyst that led them to this sense of personal responsibility to report for both Syrians and non-Syrians to inform them about what is happening where they live. And in these last two years they had seemingly had a crash course in journalism, learning along the way, while dealing with the tremendous risk and losses that this war has brought them.
During the course of this workshop where we taught camera shots, fundamentals of editing, and discussed what makes a story interesting or compelling. Students also showed us their previous work. It is a classic but frustrating moment to see examples of shaky and poor quality footage that was recorded at tremendous risk in what are hostile places where- had it been known they were filming, they could have been killed. While it is understood that having a clear and steady picture is much harder when you're dodging bullets and hostile soldiers, it is almost an unworthy risk if the video you record is impossible to look at or understand. That is the difficult balance of being very dedicated to reporting but not being well trained to do the best possible job in those circumstances. Thankfully such workshops do exist and organizations like the IWPR make the effort to not only get young reporters to Istanbul but to find those who are already dedicated and doing what they can, to then take a few days and get further training.
The level of experience and ability of students from when you get them to when they head back out into the field can always vary, especially when you have reporters that have a lot more on their mind than just how to do an overlay a clip in Premiere. War trauma is a reality that very clearly plays a role in such a classroom, affecting how much people can learn and focus on any given day. Thankfully our Syrian students were across the board determined to learn and build upon what they know with each new project.
By the end of the week we had a few people who came out of the workshop capable of producing media that would interest and fit the quality standards of most 24 hour television news networks. We had more people who had advanced from individuals who had never edited video to now being able to shoot and edit their own complete stories. Many seemed to leave with a new outlook on what kind of stories would serve their purposes better, to shed light on the dire situation in their community.
It is a logistically and pedagogically challenging task to bring reporters out of a war zone temporarily, figure out what skills they have and what can be learned within a limited time frame, and then return them to their communities. It is also a very inspiring and humbling experience to teach skills, share experience, and in-turn learn from the talent and resolve that these young reporters showed us. Our hope now is that our efforts help them do better work, and that we can see them again, in a time of peace, in these beautiful places we have heard so much about.