Fixing Jordanian Journalism

Fellow blogger, Farah has an interesting post on fixing journalism in Jordan that I think is worth a read. She points out that admission to Yarmouk University’s Journalism program (the only one of its kind I think), has been raised to 70% and that HM King Abdullah has established a journalism fund this past week for training and support. Online news-sites have also, perhaps strangely, voiced their allegiance to the Jordan Press Association; a union which I have long seen as an obstacle to progression of free speech in Jordan, rather than a proponent.

It is, as Farah points out, about standards. And every time I say this out loud I get into trouble with the media circles I am forced to dwell in. But yes, it is about standards. People with fairly low-to-average tawjihi scores get to enter journalism programs, and few go on to actually specialize, although I doubt that really exists to a large extent in Jordan. Upon graduating and getting a job, they are generally underpaid, which makes matters worse. Moreover, most of them, at least those I’ve come into contact, are not genuinely serious about journalism. I’ve met stringers for teen magazines that are more serious about “the art of journalism” – as they see it. For many Jordanian journalists, its just another job that pays the bills. Most don’t even “dream” about becoming journalists, they just happen upon it at some point. In all honesty, I know exactly 57 people. Yes. Seven journalists who I would consider to be serious-about-journalism types.

Add to this the newspaper editorial board that is driven about short run revenues rather than long term credibility. Because at the end of the day, newspapers and other media outlets should depend on credibility. They are made or broken by how credible they are and that is an internal standard that is missing I feel. I’ve seen many stories, besides these latest summer controversies, that seem to run with absolutely no evidence or even fact checking. Some times the names and numbers are even wrong or mixed up.

I should also point out that of the seven serious journalists I know, over half should be considered “new blood” and not all of them are given a chance to progress in their career, due to lack of seniority. I respect seniority, but it seems in the publishing world here, being older by default makes you smarter, which makes you right. Does it? I’ve seen economists who have been writing for daily papers and magazines since they were in the 8th grade; and many of them write like they still are in the 8th grade. Their vision of the world is incredibly outdated and traditional, but the “new blood” is finding it difficult to progress in their presence. In fact, let me be honest, many of the younger generation is waiting for older one to literally, die out. The journalism field is worse than government in this regard; the older generation refuses to leave their jobs unless it involves leaving this world.

This is the problem, overall.

The solution isn’t easy.

Admission standards need to be raised drastically. Moreover, I’m not sure to what extent our own educational system is enough to meet the standards we are looking for. Setting up a fund is great if it allows for students to be sent outside to reputable schools to be educated.

Even better would be to bring those schools here, in replicating the current Gulf-experience, where satellite campuses are established. It would be pretty interesting to see Columbia university set up a campus in Jordan. Heck, I know one or two people that would personally love that!

It may not be the greatest thing to admit, but in all honesty, the western model for journalism is far more advanced than anything on the ground here, or in the region (besides Israel). Establishing some sort of relationship, whether in the form of satellite campuses or student-exchange programs, is key to launching a new generation of journalists.

Blogs may not be such a bad learning ground for young aspiring journalists. They are open-ended, transparent and wide-spread. I would argue that bloggers are held more accountable for what they say and do by their direct audience, than mainstream journalists, who often times (as we’ve come to learn recently) will say things that go unchecked.

On the government’s side, I think legislation still has a long way to go by way of press freedom, and that’s something both the government and parliament are responsible for. I think we should start listing the names of people who vote against certain bills and prank call them non-stop, but I’m not sure how much support I’d garner for that. In the meantime, there really does need to be a model of press-secretaries. Having one person speaking for the entire government on issues is a bit strange and centralized in an obviously inefficient way. Various ministries and government entities need their own spokesperson, who has all the information, all of which is fielded and organized by the primary government press secretary. Moreover, the government would do a lot better by way of damage control if it followed a more transparent process of putting the information out there as soon as possible on their own terms, which allows them to control the story in a way that is beneficial to both the government and the public. The alternative are rumors from the press, which either go unaddressed by the government or flat out denied, making the story an even bigger one.


  • Also there seems to be a blurry line between columnists and journalists, and sadly many don’t know the difference and assume that journalism and opinion pieces are the same.

  • I dont think all the efforts in the world can fix journalism or columnist problems … cause what we need is to increase the level of freedom and fix the community and do some social reformation …. cause the points of admission and training had nothing to do with having concious and a certain needed level of degnity or self esteem and a minimum needed level also of awarness and sensitivity to social human and national issues !
    What we need is to fight the social and ecomomic and political corruption everywhere !
    We have a life threatening issues for Jordan and Jordanians …. Its not a fair game to stay silent toward the formal Jornals ignorance toward us and when the electronic Journals started to talk and encourage us to talk which is the real fixing and reform the WAR Started also and efforts collaborated to shut up mouths ….
    I dont understand whats the point of having a Journalsim thats is polite to a degree it cannot face anything or stop anything … I think the journalism must be sensitive to human and ecomomic and social national issues more than its sensitivity for political figures modes or aims in havng more power to manipulating our future and make our innocent dreams in our Jordan fade away !
    I dont think its fair to defend a certain people and accuse the jouralists of character assasination while we are facing national and social identity assasination to a degree that we had never had before and no one is daring to say stop ! does any one had the courage to face the issues we had …. since years the Jordanians are complaining but there is no means to say it and when we had these means some people went crazy !
    In Many cases in Jordan we had a corruption thats we cannot have a physical evidence cause there is no source of information but we know the facts and the real problems we living in thats something wrong had been done and its continuing and we cannot stop it and these faults all defending had made us more vulnerable the world economic crisis !
    What we must do is to be brave and face the truth of having some interest contradictions and I think that had nothing to do with national unity !
    what has to do with national unity is the extreem dempgraphic continueing changes with all the civil and plotical rights thats really fighting any kind of social political balance and social stability … once we reach the level of freedom or at least dare to negotiate these issues without fearing to be accused of racism only then we will have a true responsible freedom thats not far away from our concernes !

  • I read al-ghad, it has a content and diversity of columnists. But there are many mistakes in the reports or figures they present even in the same article, like giving a ratio of a number that do not fit at all. Main mistakes are in their economy print. (thats a relatively new paper, and is obviously facing some operational errors).


    What do you exactly mean by social identity assasination and demographic changes?

  • In high school I always dreamt of becoming a journalist, but my parents convinced me to do anything else because journalism had no future in Jordan, and because most successful writers in Jordanian newspapers did not study journalism. I think they were right. I still respect journalists and feel sorry for them.

  • The primary & fundamental problem with Jordanian Journalism these days is simply lack of information. There are no insiders & / or whistle blowers, silence, disregard for serious inquiries, and staying away from the media appear to be business as usual in Jordan. How on earth a person supposed to write about a topic when there is no raw data, there are no eye witnesses, officials muddying the already muddied information. For journalism to succeed in Jordan, the spigot of information must be open all the way through as opposed to being shut all the way right now. As long as government officials aren’t open to the media, as long as business people aren’t open to the media, as long as professional people and academics aren’t open to the media, the state of the current journalism will sadly remain unaltered.

  • I come from a long line of journalists and I cannot say that – if faced with the question of going into journalism myself – that I would not be reluctant. But, in defense of the Jordanian journalistic scene, the general work ethic of journalism is not meant to be a clean and happy -go- lucky sector: I always thought of journalism as not a career for the weak-hearted, but rather requires a certain edge that reflects the state of society. Thus, I think the current seemingly deterioirating state of Jordanian journalism is connected to the general unrest the Kingdom is going through: from rising oil and food prices to political instability in the region, the rise in the level of journalists exaggerated skepticism and irresponsible reporting is reflective is mirroring the alarm of the Jordanian people. While professionalism is inexcusable under any circumstance, we cannot forget the role of the economy and foreign policy in this equation.

  • I think there is a similar problem with the teaching profession in Jordan, is there not (low standards for becoming a teacher, low pay, etc)? Oh well, perhaps another topic for another day.

  • “the older generation refuses to leave their jobs unless it involves leaving this world”

    haahahahahaha 😀

  • I agree with Farah above. I think a journalist’s natural inclination is to engage with public opinion; sadly, recently this resulted in journalists engaging with public ‘emotion’ rather than public ‘issues and concerns’. This of course is unprofessional and should not be excused, however, I still think that a large part of that is a failure by government to articulate their policies clearly and logically to the public.

    I also disagree with the idea that journalists need journalism degrees or high tawjihi scores; to me, the making of a real journalist is an inquisitive and critical mind, and tawjihi scores are certainly no representation of that!

  • Nas, In fact, the entire system of allocating space in college here lends to this problem. If you are “smart” (in other words can memorize it appears to me), you go in to medicine or engineering. There is no concern for natural aptitude or interest. Instead it is a status symbol to the point where people with a BS degree see it as some great standing to put Eng in front of their name… At any rate, until you have the best of the best, the brightest and most capable students going into all fields, Jordan will continue to have an extreme shorage of good minds everywhere (and likely continue to have ego problems in certain professions).

    But, lest you think this is a Jordanian problem, I see many parallels in the US. The line between Op/Ed and article has become terribly blurred. My college newspaper (which I copy edited, btw) had far less editorializing than the big boys do today. So, know it’s happening everywhere…

  • there was an open training course for journalist a while back that was set up via the American Embassy.

    As I was told by a credible source one part of the training was focussing on how to report a sudden disaster such as an earthquake!!!!

    The following day a handfull of journalists who were actually participating in the traning wrote reports in the newspapers they work for claiming that Amercian Embassy in Amman is preparing for an earthquake in Jordan!!!

    Please tell me how can Journalism in Jordan move forward with this type of thinking, moreover didn’t the managing editor have anything to say or enquire about what was written.

    In the west media runs the government in Middle East it is the opposite. What journalists with potential need to do is try their hardest to go and witness first hand what it means to be a real journalist.

    Sami Hadad (white hair Al-Jazeera)
    Hassan Mowaath (BBC Arabic)
    Salem Al-Abadi (BBC)
    The late Mahmoud Al-Sharif RIP (established Qatari Media)
    The late Ryiad Shouaibi RIP (established media in Dubai)
    Jamil Azer (Al-Jazeera previously BBC)
    Lina Msharbash (BBC previously MBC)
    The late Majed Sirhan RIP (BBC)
    Ali Asad (Jordan Television – previously with BBC)
    Nasr Al-Majali (AaramNews previously Elaph)
    Mohanad Al-Khatib (Al-Mustakbal previously MBC)

    these are just a few names of Jordanian/Palestinians that are outside Jordan with their most recent roles however the names aboce have a vast range and have their reputation in Arabic Media.

    Journalists in Jordan need to read international prints and compare not just read local and comment on their own article or even bost about their won articles.

    There was a time when a journalists word in Amman meant something. That he/she can make a difference.

    Politicians dont help, dont provide information and probably have a half dozen journalists writing on their behalf.

    Jordan Television is only good for news, where are the investigative documentaries (Alsaraha ma3el wakeel style but on TV thats what should be happening hit topics such as consumer rights, meet ministers face to face get the latest from the “horses mouth” as they say…give the people transparency and facts and let the people decide, like one of the readers mentioned, Jordanians are educated and can understand. The lack of transparency leads to suspicion and allegations be thrown left right and centre, a journalist relies on what he writes and his reputation so when public is shouting and singing then he will join the same tune and sing even louder than them this maybe unprofessional but then again it is irreststable.

    I wish one day Jordan will move forward not only with technology and construction but with ethics and rationale within all sectors an environment where business can happen with trust and a mans word.

    anyways god bless Jordan and God bless his majesty

  • thanks everyone for the comments. i think some very valid points were made.

    Hatem: i wouldn’t call access to information the primary problem with journalism but if there is a list of the top 5 problems, it would rank right up there.

    Deena: while i agree that the tawjihi system is suffering from its own problems, it is nevertheless used as a barometer of intelligence in the country. And if people with 70% are getting into the journalism field then yes, there is a problem. i agree that a journalist must be equipped with an inquisitive and critical mind but I believe those are elements that are sharpened and developed through a solid educational base. ethics, investigation, professionalism, parameters, etc., these are things that involve the educational system. And education produces good journalists, engineers, astronauts, doctors, and economists.

    mommabean: you’re right about it being an international experience as well. in the US, the rise of pundits has also blurred the lines. however at the end of the day, those problems are practically insignificant compared to ours.

    Ummdaoud: indeed!

  • Our edu system is flawed all around, not just Journalism unfortunately. Students going into a journalism major cannot become better human beings with higher ethics and morality – they have to start out with that and go in to learn a craft.

    side note: I think the best formal thing to study these days is probably languages – go in and learn/master 6 or 7 languages and then go out and get a specialized education online! Today with good command of English you can get a great and free education online thru some amazing programs made available by leading schools. But I suppose that’s not a practical solution for Jordan, i know!

    On journalism – it’s sad to see the state of edu. However it seems that there may be hope for proper/progressive training based on International standards:

    Nas, I disagree with you that the solution isn’t easy. I think it’s very easy. It’s about intent and delivering upon that. It’s about making a decision and implementing it soulfully, seriously, and with a revolutionary attitude. We have everything it takes. But do we have the stomach to handle the ‘monster’ we may create?

    On press secretaries/better communication for ministries – yes, good call! Of course they are much needed. I’m often puzzled at how convoluted and confused the communication of a given ministry is. What shocks me even more is that the minister him/herself is a functional human being who outside of the Ministry’s work is probably quite a good/effective communicator. How else does this person function in daily life? How does s/he run a household? Lead a family? Care for her/his kids? Engage friends and partners? Multitask? Rally the support of others? etc, etc… and do they forget all that when they are in office since communication breaks down in a major way? What happens when they get into office? Do they all of a sudden acquire amnesia? Do they forget that communication is what separates the real work from the noise? Communication is what helps you prove work or negate an accusation! They know this, but why don’t they practice it? Why do they accept flying solo without a proper communication plan/person/dept? Why do they accept the ten word answers that say nothing? Why do they accept the empty rhetoric in the carelessly shaped press releases? They would never accept all this in their lives outside of the ministry!!

    Journalism is certainly one of the more honorable professions and one heck of a responsibility to take on. But it’s really about the person you are in life, way before the craft (which becomes easy to learn if u have the former)!

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