Al-Ahram, (which means The Pyramids) was founded in 1875 and is the country’s largest newspaper by far. It is also, with the help of USAID, the most aggressive user of online. Al-Ahram is so widely read that some have considered it to be an influence on the way Egyptian write. The newspaper is owned BY THE GOVERNMENT and the government appoints the editors.
During one session, I showed a story about a journalist I know in New York who took on the case of a man who was wrongfully accused of a murder. The journalists dogged the story, hounded the cops, drilled the prosecutor until they all knuckled under, admitted the case was blundered and after 20 years, the accused, convicted man was set free from prison. One Egyptian journalist grumbled that he thought that was NOT the job of the journalist, it was the job of the police. I asked “Who will step in when the police don’t do their job?” He stared blankly back at me. “If YOU were that convict, rotting away in jail, would YOU want a journalist to help? Wouldn’t you EXPECT a journalist to help? Isn’t that what we are supposed to DO?” He could tell the sermon was just starting and buckled..”You are right, ” he said, “We don’t talk about that role enough here.”
Let me tell you, we don’t talk about it enough anywhere. And we need to.
Newspapers, especially, are concerned about the wide use of internet to consume news and worry that they will lose what has been a steady business for decades. I happen to believe that the best remedy to declining readership is higher quality journalism that the public cannot live without. Sure, we have to find new distribution models and sure we have to get stuff on the internet and mobile devices. But we have to be sure, first, that the stuff is worth reading on any device.