Journalist of the month: Hadil Arja

Born in Syria, Hadil Arja is very familiar with the challenges facing journalists in the Middle East. Journalists and writers in the region face misinformation and censorship, in addition to the dangers of conflict, terrorism and government repression. In this context, Mr.ME Arja has dedicated her career as a reporter to making local news easier to access and understand for viewers.

Currently based in Turkey, Mr.ME Arja co-founded two independent media outlets, Little Hand AND First line in focus. Both organizations are respectively committed to using visual storytelling to report on issues affecting children in crisis areas and to provide personal accounts of conflict. Tiny Hand and Frontline in Focus use a wide range of technologies to make these stories interactive, with the aim of engaging readers with news about crisis and conflict.

MME Arja, participant in the 2020-2021 edition of IJNet Arabic Mentoring Centeradvocates a new perspective on the region: news is not only important to know, but can also be engaging and interesting.

What interested you in journalism?

I studied journalism in Damascus and graduated in 2006. At that time, the situation in Syria was stable and there was no war.

When the revolution [syrienne] started, I went to Qatar where I was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine. At that time I thought I was a journalist, but in the wrong place. I needed to be closer to the events. So [mon mari et moi] left Qatar, even though the salary was high, and came to Turkey. I ended up getting a job that really helped me improve my digital skills and learn about online media. It really helped me to better understand digital journalism and its importance. At that time I had forgotten the importance of journalists, because they are on the front line and provide information. I wanted to be sure that I could convey this information to the public, and it became essential to my work.

Why did you start Tiny Hand?

It just came from being part of a newsroom. This is news, and this is important news, we will cover it. But sometimes people, even in the newsroom, disagree. It is ordinary news to them, which does not matter.

But for me, we have these kinds of stories because there are children on the front lines. It is our mission to deliver them in a way that compels people to read them. So I left [mon emploi] and I created Little Hand to produce stories for children and think of a new way to distribute them. As we live in an age where there are digital tools, people are starting to use augmented reality, virtual reality and interactive techniques. [dans leurs reportages].

How has IJNet helped you?

Starting this new project was not easy. At the beginning of my journey, I joined IJNet Mentoring Center. I was so excited to join a program that would support and energize me. I needed to feel that I was not alone in this adventure, especially in the beginning, when I wondered if I was on the right path or not. Am I missing other opportunities while working on this project? Would I succeed?

But after the merger [le centre de mentorat]I had all the answers to these questions.

What has been your most destabilizing moment or moment of epiphany since working as a journalist?

People don’t like to read articles, you know, and everyone knows when there is a conflict. After all, they don’t want to read this serious news. [Ils] I want something easy.

It is a challenge for us. For example, my nephew is only 13 years old. When he saw a virtual reality headset in one of our articles, he said, “Can you send it to me?” [Le reportage porte] about a cat shelter in the Middle East and the impact she experiences while near the front lines. This is the amazing story of a man who collects cats and keeps them because of the war. I was happy that it caught his attention because by using this technology, I was able to get people to interact with this story. And I know it’s hard to keep getting people in the Middle East to pay attention to these kinds of stories.

I am very happy that people, for example in Europe and in the United States, know how important this technology is. You can use it this way to cover communities. And I think it’s going to be a great chance for us to show people what we’re really doing on the front lines.

Is it harder to report on children?

It’s very, very difficult when you cover issues related to children. If you visit the site Little Hand, you will never find a story where every child cries, because I don’t like to publish these things. It might bring us more traffic, but to me it’s unethical. For each story, we meet and discuss how to cover it, especially on sensitive topics.

We recently worked on a letter about a boy who was bullied sexually in northern Syria. This was our first investigative report on this topic. It was difficult because it took us a year to complete this report. It was a sensitive subject, but we exercise caution when covering stories like this. We keep official ethical guidelines in mind, because when you cover children’s stories, it’s not the same as with adults. You don’t have to mention names, you don’t have to mention places. And you have to stop when it becomes too sensitive for them and would put that child at risk.

When do you find time to rest?

Actually, you know, I don’t know. I love this job. It’s like a passion. The other thing is that my husband is also a journalist and photographer. He is always with me. It’s not my hobby, it’s everything to me. It is my decision to do something different here in the Middle East. This is my priority.

Photos provided by Hadil Arja.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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