Ghassen Gacem didn’t know what he was getting into when he stumbled upon a Facebook post advertising an investigative journalism training session for youth that would be held near his home in Al Monastir, a city two hours south of Tunis, Tunisia. Held in partnership with local station Radio Monastir, the Internews-sponsored Youth Beat session promised a three-day hands-on training to teach participants how to use investigative journalism to deal with corruption in their communities. As a practicing citizen journalist himself, Ghassen, 24, wasn’t sure how much the session would add to what he already knew, but he recognized the trainers and knew that they were well-respected names in the field, so he decided to send in his resume.
Ghassen was selected to participate in the November 2012 training session, which included 11 other young journalists outside of Tunis. “Over the course of the three day session in Monastir, I was really impressed with the content and methodology of the training,” he said. “I learned about both the theoretical and practical aspects of professional investigative journalism. I found the wonderful people who taught the program especially helpful, as they shared their experiences and expertise with us.”
The third phase of the training, included conducting face-to-face interviews out in the community, really struck a chord with Ghassen. “We conducted an investigation on violence in the Sidi El Heni district, where I took firsthand accounts. The training forced me to control my anger and emotions about the situation. Before this training, I had been going out to the field with preconceived ideas and prejudices about people and events I was supposed to cover. Afterwards, I realized that the key to a good investigation is to remain neutral, to ask questions and follow every track without prejudice, and to interview people with different perspectives from my own.”
“I was so proud of my colleagues and myself”
At the end of the program, students produced two radio shows for broadcast throughout the country. “The atmosphere of the training sessions was extraordinary. Our investigation was broadcast on Radio Monastir, followed by an hour and a half talk show,” said Ghassen. “We were the first on the scene to deal with events that have shaken the entire country, and we had all the answers. I was so proud of my colleagues and myself. This training was a crucial point in my career, since it helped me to discover a network of young journalists which whom I share a passion for journalism. It also forced me to face my weaknesses and manage my emotions when conducting an investigation out in the field.”
Just days after the Youth Beat program ended, protests erupted in Siliana, two hours inland from Ghassan. “Shortly after the training at Monastir, there were violent and tragic events in Siliana, where police responded by firing birdshot at demonstrators in the city,” he said. “I was on the scene, filming for three days. Afterwards, I uploaded the short film to social networks, and it was a huge success on Facebook and Twitter. France 24 even contacted me to buy my story! You cannot imagine the pride I felt when I turned on the TV and saw my pictures! Especially on a huge network like France 24!”
“I am on a mission to teach others about what I have learned during trainings”
A month later, Internews contacted Ghassan to participate in a second training session, Training for Trainers (TOT) 1, a session for six young journalists who had shown major growth in previous Youth Beat programs. The TOT 1 program, held in Gabes, focused on giving the participants further instruction on investigation and social media skills, while teaching them how to become trainers. The program was held in parallel with another training session for 12 youth, like the one Ghassan had participated in. The six young journalists assisted the trainers in supervising and managing the new trainees while showing them how to coach trainees through real life situations on the ground.
“In the TOT 1 training, I was responsible for the technical aspect of the work: editing, mixing and conducting the interviews. I learned how to collaborate with my colleagues – before this I had been used to working alone and being in control of every aspect of the work. During the training I struggled with some of the difficulties in writing with a group. But I also came to understand the human qualities one needs to become the head of a department – the ability to discuss and communicate with others to improve the work, and I especially learned discipline and timeliness. I gained confidence and self-esteem and I understand the different stages of radio production and of writing a story,” said Ghassen.
“A few days after the training ended, Internews asked me if I would be willing to participate in all future trainings, not as a participant, but as a trainer! I am on a mission to teach others about what I have learned during trainings: everything from how to interview participants, to editing videos. I am proud of myself and happy Internews trusts me for such an important job!”
“Two months after the first Internews training session, my resume is now three pages long! It was as if I knew nothing before, and learned it all again, but better. During the sessions, I questioned why I was a journalist, and worked on myself and my vision of what I wanted to become in this profession. Thanks to all that, today I work with renowned international channels like ARTE and M6, and my reporting is of a much higher quality. I have also created a great professional network in Tunisia and internationally,” Ghassan said of his experiences with Youth Beat, “So yes, Internews has changed my life!”