Fatemah Farag, Executive Editor of Welab El Balad Media Services, has introduced a new kind of media in Egypt: hyperlocal weekly papers that are accountable to their readership and allow their readers to be part of the editorial process.
Last year’s revolution unleashed tremendous energy that led to a flood of political debate. “You now can’t go anywhere without being engaged in political debate,” she said, in contrast to the apathy and lack of concern under the former government. She was speaking at the 19th World Editors Forum in Kiev last week.
Traditional news is in deep crisis, Farag said, as years of malpractice have come to the fore. And the provinces, which had for many years been marginalized in national news, took centre stage.
All these factors have led to an explosion of new initiatives, from new publications to graffiti, to puppet shows – any way to express ideas.
Welab El Balad’s response has been to produce very local, community-based newspapers with a low cost business model. A print product is essential, Farag said: “what is legitimate, what is credible, is print.”
The three pillars of journalism that the papers aim to uphold are respect for truth, respect for the citizen and respect for humanity.
The company produces four weekly papers, in four different communities across Egypt:
- El Nagaawiya – an industrial town in Upper Egypt
- Dishna El Youm – a rural town in the south
- El Asema 2 - Alexandria
- Welab El Balad - a university town
Welab El Balad is a for-profit company, and currently also makes money through specialized training for journalists, for example, while it seeks sustainability. The newspapers are sold, and relatively expensive. “We want to be seen as a professional product,” said Farag.
All printers are owned by the government, and Welab El Balad’s papers are printed within Al Ahram, a major state-owned paper. Distribution of newspapers is monopolized by the state, but Welab El Balad has set up its own networks.
Staff have carefully tailored training to make sure that each group gets what they need, with five days of training per month, and mentoring on a weekly basis. Journalists have full editorial control, but Farag and her team give them feedback to improve.