Media and Development Conference III: Printed media won’t take Caesar’s choice

Abeer Saady: "We are Journalists by Profession"


By Abeer Saady


When Julius Caesar was asked how he would like to die, he answered: “Suddenly”. He realized that waiting for death is worse than death itself. For us, journalists in printed media, we face serious challenges that threaten our existence. Our choice shouldn’t be between ways to die but methods to survive.


We have witnessed the internet finding its way into Egypt with slow, but confident steps. It began as an elite virtual club, that broadened to become the tool of the young generation to express themselves freely. In the internet they found an alternative medium addressing their needs neglected by newspapers for so long.


More than 12 thousand Egyptian blogs do exist on the internet. Starting as personal voices, blogs turned to be a real new medium with a participating audience. Activists and passionate young Egyptians dreaming of change used their sites and blogs to call demonstrators to convene, publish funny cartoons of corrupted officials, etc. Some people see bloggers as heroes, comparing the impact of blogs with the revolutionary cassette speeches of the past.


Few years ago, no one expected internet would threaten printed journalism, which survived many previous challenges like radio and television. Nowadays, there are two main attitudes concerning the future of print media. One suggests even greater opportunities for electronic journalism and personal media, resulting in the end of the newspaper and mass media.


 The other view emphasizes no medium is capable of erasing another. Competition depends on the medium’s capability to improve and renovate itself. Egyptian printed media would survive only if they were able to face certain challenges and to stress their points of power. Printed media are trying to implement new functions and technologies. Interviewing via email, Voice over IP, or Chat rooms are examples. Interactive communication between the journalist and his audience is a powerful tool.


 Writers put their emails at the end of their articles for feedback. We need to train journalists in printed media to improve their technological skills, because a gap still exists between old and new media.


Specialisation and new content are other options for the future. Addressing the readers’ needs is essential for survival. The speed of internet for hard news facts can’t be beaten by printed media. In-depth coverage should be the focus, bringing the news behind the news. Independent newspapers who did so have increased their audience.


It is important to remember ‘print’ journalists have a crucial advantage over bloggers: they are journalists by profession. They know the professional rules and ethics. The printed word still holds more credibility, electronic newspapers are considering “opposite immigration” to issue printed versions. Some of the Egyptian newspapers are trying to fight the new media on the internet itself. At first newspapers’ websites were just an electronic copy. But they are developing to contain more services. Some researchers suggest convergence between the printed and electronic media. Online media also became sources for news stories and platforms for debates on sensitive issues, like the famous clips showing police torture in Egypt.


However, even the internet is not a safe haven, as became clear when police used Emergency Law to set up a specialized net unit to target bloggers. In the end there is one important battle that binds all Egyptian journalists of every medium: Freedom of expression. Abeer Saady works for the Egyptian newspaper al-Akhbar and is a board member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. She has been an enthusiastic Free Voice trainee and is now cooperating to further improve the training programme.