Students, faculty members explore new frontiers in media and writing with recently offered course in cultural journalism

"It is a very interesting course that has given us the instruments, and the space, to highlight the arts and popular culture in Palestine and the world," said Dunia Al-Tayeb, a media major who enrolled in the newly offered cultural journalism course at Birzeit University. "We're learning how to analyze literary and artistic works and present them to our readers and viewers in their original contexts — something that hasn't been done at this level before."

The cultural journalism course, created by faculty members and staff at Birzeit University's Media Development Center, is the first of its kind in the region to focus on the skills and knowledge needed to cover, review, and critique works and events related to the arts, culture, and entertainment. 

Launched in February 2021, the course explores topics such as novel structure, poetry analysis, theatre and theatrical works, creative and visual arts, and film and cinema, among other areas, presenting students with the tools not only to report on arts and culture, but to deconstruct and analyze artistic and literary works using the proper terminology and in the relevant contexts. 

President of Birzeit University Dr. Abdullatif Abuhijleh described the course as part of the university's mission to equip students with the skills and abilities to face the challenges of an ever-progressing world and to advance their local and international communities in every field and discipline. 

The course, Abuhijleh added, will allow students to engage with artistic and creative works on a deeper level, helping them to present more detailed, more nuanced views and reviews to their readers or audience members in any field they choose to enter, such as cultural journalism or cultural criticism. 

Mohammed Abualrob, chair of the Department of Media at Birzeit University, said that the course is designed with a two-pronged approach that emphasizes writing skills and literary and artistic understanding. As part of the course, he explained, students are taught how to critically analyze and engage with artistic works, and they are also instructed on how to use language to present their analysis to the readers in an attractive and clear fashion.  

The course is based on a cultural journalism reader that was created with the contributions of 13 professors and experts from Birzeit University and other Palestinian institutions: Liana Badr, a novelist; Saleh Masharqa, a media instructor at Birzeit University; Walid Al-Sheikh, a poet; Fathi Abdel Rahman, a theatre director; Monther Jawabreh, a visual artist; Emad Hajjaj, an editorial cartoonist; Osama Alaysa, a novelist and writer; Khaled Juma, a poet and an author; Mahasen Nasser-Eldin, a film director; George Khleifi, a documentary director; Aref Hijjawi, an author and a composer; Noora Baker, head of training and experimentation, and Anas AbuOun, activities coordinator, at El-Funoun Dance Troupe; and Yousri Darwish, chairman of the board of the General Union of Cultural Centers. 

Cultural journalism is the fifth course produced by the Media Development Center as part of its academic development initiative, which includes 18 universities and four colleges, all of which offer degrees in media and journalism. The initiative aims to establish new courses and modules that keep students abreast of the latest advances, developments, and changes in the media landscape with new teaching and learning materials, applied research, and instructor training. 

As of April 2021, the Media Development Center has released five courses under the academic development initiative: media and gender, in 2015; media and the law, in 2016; media ethics, in 2017; business journalism, in 2020; and cultural journalism, in 2021.