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JT ‘training ground, wonderland’ for young reporters

Former staffers look back on their experience at Jordan’s only English daily

By Suzanna Goussous - Oct 26,2016 - Last updated at Oct 26,2016

The Jordan Times’ staff pose for a group photo at the Citadel in Amman’s Jabal Qalaa neighbourhood earlier this month to mark the paper’s 41st anniversary (Photo by Hassan Tamimi)

AMMAN — Over the past 41 years, The Jordan Times has been a training ground for young reporters, providing open spaces for journalists to write, translate, analyse, and meet with officials. 

Thameen Kheetan, who is currently a journalist at France24, was a university student when he joined the JT team as a translator in 2008 and continued as a reporter before leaving for France in 2011. 

Having an interest in journalism and newspapers, Kheetan chose the JT, where he got the chance to develop his skills and expand his horizons.

“I chose The Jordan Times because I was lucky to meet quality Jordanian journalists who advised me to work and learn at this newspaper. One of these people was Rana Sabbagh, who started as a reporter at the JT and later became its first female editor-in-chief,” he said.

Kheetan added: “Sabbagh and others who led me to The Jordan Times were right in telling me it was an important school in journalism. In fact, it’s almost the only place in Jordan where one can learn quality journalism with very professional people.”

Being a university student while working had no impact on how other journalists viewed him, he said. “What counts at The Jordan Times is your work. And as long as the work is done, your status and your age have no impact.”

Kheetan said: “[At] The Jordan Times, the more I pushed, the more I found that red lines can actually be changed or erased. This was even more obvious during the Arab Spring.”

“One day during the Arab Spring, I covered a public debate organised by political activists on the role of the General Intelligence Department (GID) in Jordan’s politics and society. As a sensitive security agency, the GID was never mentioned in the media, neither in a positive nor in a critical way,” he said.

“So it was unusual to have a story citing Jordanians who questioned the department’s role in politics! It was unimaginable! I handed [in] my story and went home. Later I learned that a long discussion had taken place between editors on whether to publish the story, to modify it or to kill it.

“Actually, the story was published exactly the way I wrote it. Not one word was changed. I felt I had achieved something. And I was happy and proud to be part of The Jordan Times.”

Kheetan said one of the main issues that the newspaper faced was the “lack of official support”.

“The Jordan Times is a newspaper that loses many of its young journalists, who leave searching for other ambitions and horizons… It’s a paper that continuously opens its doors and welcomes young people, who later leave. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time,” he added.

Meanwhile, University of Jordan Vice President Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh, who joined the newspaper as a fresh graduate on a part-time basis in 1977, said the JT helped him understand different fields. 

“The JT gave me a huge boost in the language of journalism in certain fields, such as economy and politics. It also boosted my translation skills, which helped me get [a job at] to the American embassy,” he told The Jordan Times. 

“Without the support of JT as a young journalist, I wouldn’t have made it to the American embassy,” he said. 

For Majdoubeh, the key to the JT’s success is that it gives young journalists freedom and space to write. 

“The newspaper gave people independence to do what they feel is creative and good. I never felt afraid of pushing the limits,” he added.

Majdoubeh said the paper’s chief editors played a major role in supporting young journalists and “bringing out the best in them”.

Sabbagh, former chief editor of JT and the first woman to run a daily newspaper in Jordan, said the newspaper is a space for professional journalism and a training ground for aspiring journalists and translators.

“The Jordan Times invests in training young journalists in Jordan. With time, the newspaper produced prominent journalists,” she said. 

Among the prominent journalists who started their careers at JT are, Ayman Safadi, Nermeen Murad, Lamis Andoni, Saad Hattar, Samira Kawar, Rania Atallah, Suha Maayah, Khalid Dalal and Dina Wakeel.

“Many of the young journalists and writers who worked at JT are still in the field of journalism or are writers. This shows the level of professionalism at the newspaper,” Sabbagh said. 

“Working at the JT taught me that nothing comes easy; you have to prove that you can survive,” she added.

Former JT journalist Francesca Sawalha said that joining the paper was the most exciting moment in her career.  

“It was back in 1996 and I still remember that the very first stories that then-editor-in-chief George Hawatmeh assigned me were about water issues,” she said.

Sawalha, who is currently the country director at IREX, said she had covered water issues for a while at JT and shortly after that she got the political parties “beat”, in the run-up to the 1997 elections. 

“The Jordan Times has always provided an empowering environment for young talent — the coaching and mentoring by always committed and dedicated editors, the larger leeway in terms of editorial freedom,” she said.

At The Jordan Times, she added, “young reporters have always been considered assets, not burdens”.

“I remember the hours and hours that my editors dedicated to us, going through sources, interview questions, and rough copies, one-on-one and paragraph by paragraph, until the story was on the page.”

She added: “Theirs was a true labour of love. We all — the young JT reporters of that time as much as successive generations of reporters until today — are greatly indebted to them.”

“When I started at The Jordan Times, there was a terrific group of young, very talented reporters, many of them rather well established already, almost if not all of whom  went on to serve in high-level international and local posts in government, strategic communications, development and media organisations.”

Rula Quawas, a university professor of feminism and American literature, said she feels that the JT empowers the youth and women in their quest for truth and knowledge.

“For young women, it gives them life. Searching for the truth, supporting their argument, investigating, interviewing, creating meanings. It’s a wonderland, especially for women,” she said.

As the country’s only English newspaper, the JT “is growing older, with a young spirit”, said Quawas, who believes the newspaper is a place for both men and women to explore and be responsible for their stories.

“The JT enables them to be ambassadors of their own country. Through teamwork, they acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses,” she added.

“It’s a bridge that links the home country to other countries and to expatriates. Providing leadership skills to enable reporters to navigate their own ships; it’s an expression of thought, freedom of the mind, to own your voice and speak the truth,” the professor said.

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