Business Journalists 4Change in Iraq aims to help journalists better understand and explain their country's economic challenges and reforms
Zyran Mohamed Amin had worked as a journalist in Iraq some years before learning of Business Journalists 4Change, a DW Akademie and GIZ initiative for training journalists in economic coverage. She applied and was accepted, and notes that learning to decipher and explain data to Iraqi citizens is critical work.
Zyran Mohammed Amin was nine years old when American military forces and their allies invaded her homeland, Iraq. Although the war devastated the country, Amin says she and her family somehow led an untroubled existence. It was, as she puts it, "a normal life."
Still, these dramatic events left a lasting impression on her and, along with her interest in history, she felt drawn to journalism. In 2013, Amin, who is Kurdish, began working for Radio Dang, a station in her village in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region. She also contributed stories to Nawzhin Newspaper in Erbil, the region's capital, and in 2017, worked as a supervisor there. She participated in local seminars to learn more about covering conflicts, and about feature writing, election reporting and gender-sensitive journalism.
"There are just so many stories out there," she said enthusiastically, "especially ones that relate to Iraqis' everyday lives, such as taxes."
Amin started focusing on business news and then saw a Facebook post about an upcoming business journalism training program by DW Akademie, in collaboration with the GIZ's Private Sector Development and Employment Promotion Project (PSD) Iraq.
In 2013, Zyran Mohamed Amin, who is Kurdish, began working for Radio Dang, a station in her village in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region. She has also contributed stories to Nawzhin Newspaper in Erbil, the region's capital.
The six-month "Business Journalists 4Change" hybrid program got underway in September, and modules are being conducted on-site in Erbil and online. The focus is on the country's economic reform initiatives and solutions to some of Iraq's most vexing financial issues. Amin is one of 12 journalists selected from 80 applicants around the country, and together with her fellow trainees she is learning to both accurately interpret and report on complex economic topics and sustainable development.
"This program teaches participants to learn about solution-oriented journalism and how to use this rigorously, as well as the solution-based approach to report on Iraqi economic reform initiatives," said Salam Omer, DW Akademie project manager in Iraq and the program’s leading trainer.
The twelve selected participants completed a needs assessment to guide the program's development and to reflect their strengths and challenges. They said that they wanted to better understand the oil sector, Iraq’s national budget, investment projects and regional financial markets, and to learn about data journalism and news gathering.
An intriguing aspect of the project is that it brings together Iraqi and Kurdish journalists and courses are taught in Arabic and Kurdish.
"This is DW Akademie's first on-site project in a long while," said Arwa Thümer-Al-Obaidi, DW Akademie project manager. "And like all of our other projects, it aims to strengthen the basic human right to freedom of expression and free access to information."
Mohamed Saad Hikmet, a Baghdad journalist who is about the same age as Amin, got his start in media shortly after graduating from Dijlah University College in 2015, though he worked as a freelance writer his last two years as a student. He reported on both politics and economics for newspapers and a radio station, while honing his skills as a photographer and videographer. He sees responsible business coverage as critical to Iraq’s democratic reforms.
Although accessing economic data in Iraq is hard, Mohamed Hikmat says it is important work in explaining how reforms and business shape everyday lives in the country. As a participant with Business Journalists 4Change, he is exploring how the app economy works in Iraq.
"The most pressing economic stories are those relating to the energy sector," he said. "Iraqis are interested in this, too, because of the revenue and the jobs it can provide for young people." His own project in the course focuses on Iraq's app economy.
Deciphering economic data in Iraq, he added, is enough to ward off the best trained journalists, so he especially appreciates this instruction.
"Obtaining statistics in Iraq is an almost impossible task, and this is in addition to the complexity of statistics in general," he noted.
Amin agreed, adding "I think business journalism is less attractive for many journalists because they're not specialists in this field. There's also a lack of transparency around things like taxation and revenues," she said.
Commenting on the training program itself, she noted, "I've long worked in the media and find the constructive journalism approach especially helpful. I'm now not just looking at the problems but also at the solutions.”