Editor’s letter: You and the future of independent news

Maher Hamoud
9 Min Read
Maher Hamoud
Maher Hamoud
Maher Hamoud

The Daily News Egypt is not only Egypt’s sole and last locally produced independent newspaper in English. It has also always been a school for young Egyptian journalists, a place where one generation after the other learn from older colleagues how to produce local news with a global reach.

Since DNE’s founding in 2005, every team and editor has contributed in the invaluable process of documenting Egypt’s contemporary history, exposing the country’s politics to the world, be it under Mubarak, the Brotherhood, or the military.

Our journalists have been shot at, assaulted, harassed and insulted by both those in authority and those fighting against it. We have been accused of siding with all sides and coloured with all political colours, as the truth is always painful to all. This only satisfied us, however; the pain we endured was evidence to us that we are as objective as it can get.

In my first general meeting as the editor-in-chief with the whole team in May 2012, and in the presence of the new board of investors, I remember saying to our journalists: “DNE has no red lines, but this alone doesn’t necessarily lead to objectivity, which I believe is a myth. I believe what makes a newspaper good is both having no red lines and the constant fight to reach that myth of objectivity.”

Well, I think it worked. And my evidence is the significant increase in our readership, both in print and online, from 32,000 in mid-2012 to 1.5 million this month in web traffic, while our local and young journalists have become sources and regular guests for international media outlets all over the world.

However, in contrast with all of this editorial success and the praise we receive every day, it has not been enough to cover the newspaper’s monthly budget deficit.

This is the same situation which prompted the previous owner of DNE to suddenly shut the paper down. That sad day came towards the end of April 2012, when Business Media Group (BMG) could not tolerate such a dramatic closure and immediately stepped in, buying it with all its debts in order to keep it alive.

The plan was to cover the monthly production costs of DNE through funding from BMG’s investors and revenues of its new sister newspaper Alborsa, which is locally perceived as Egypt’s best daily economic newspaper. That was meant to last for only one year until DNE revenues picked up and the paper would eventually manage to sustain itself. Now, almost a year and a half has passed, and the market is going from bad to worse – not only for DNE, but for most other Egyptian newspapers as well.

As with most of today’s media outlets, DNE depends on advertising as its main source of income. Unfortunately, the country’s economic uncertainty and severe market recession has seriously damaged these prospects. Sadly, local advertisers do not see promoting their products and services in an English language newspaper as a priority anymore.

We had seen this hardship approaching several months ago and had attempted to address it by cutting down on some running costs, until the country’s economy and the media market pick up. I started by myself last November by deducting 50% of my monthly salary. A couple of months later we had to deduct 25% of the rest of the team’s salaries, which they kindly tolerated in order to help DNE survive until advertising picks up, while our marketing team is fighting to find some miraculous ways to advertiser money.

We actually could not do more than that, with DNE’s office space and facilities by no means close to fancy or even sufficient to consider downsizing in order to save a few extra pounds. Unfortunately, the situation did not change much, and advertising did not pick up. On the contrary, the market was getting tougher by the day and newspapers were falling one after the other, including the unfortunate shutdown of Egypt Independent, whose team we wish best of luck with their new online project, MadaMasr.

This is in fact a contemporary media dilemma: having a newspaper like DNE that is editorially doing very well and at the same time having to face merciless financial pressure. It is not only due to economic recessions, but as a price for being independent as well. It is this dilemma that prompted BMG to attempt careful negotiations with investors attracted to the big and influential audience of the newspaper while studying potential financial injections to the project that might keep it alive for a longer period until this recession is over.

However, opportunism was the dominant theme in most of these negotiations with potential new business partners. One of the examples was an investor from an Arab country with ambitions to spread power and political presence across the region. That company thought of DNE as a good channel for such a political agenda. However, thankfully BMG maintains a clear red line concerning news production: independence.

Unfortunately, in today’s complex political scene in Egypt, independence is not financially rewarding, and media integrity is thought to be something for sale.

In reaction to this advertising crisis followed by the unethical negotiations of politically oriented investors, DNE has recently decided to turn to its readers for support. The paper has thus decided to seek professional support from those who consistently praise DNE’s production day and night, locally and internationally. We have decided to take a higher risk and invest in new especially tailored news services to someone like you: someone who is still reading because you care about independent news and keeping an objective voice for Egypt to report events to the world.

As a valuable reader and follower of DNE’s news updates for free, it is now your turn to stand by your favourite newspaper and help keep it alive and active.

Not by charity, no. We are offering you a list of new products and services that should naturally have a price, one well-worth paying to get truth out of today’s media mess.

We actually thought of introducing a firewall, where only subscribed readers would have access to our news, but we quickly disregarded the idea, since we feel ethically obliged to ensure that as many people all over the world objectively know what is happening in Egypt. We want the world to read our news locally produced by Egyptians, not hit-and-run foreign reporters on a short visit. This is with full respect, of course, to the resident foreign correspondents I know who manage to get the full picture.

Well, are you still reading? Then why not click here and buy one of our inexpensive new products? Or even all of them?

We have developed a secured payment gateway with a list of these new products to purchase online by credit card. Our newly tailored products include: subscription options to e-Daily News Egypt delivered to your email inbox every morning, DNE Annual Political Report, DNE Annual Economic Report, and a 24/7 SMS breaking news service in both English and Arabic.

If you are an individual who cares about reading our insightful and unconstrained news and opinion articles; a company director struggling to develop employees’ political awareness through a reliable news source; or even an advertiser with a sense of responsibility, the future of Daily News Egypt is now up to you.

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Former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily News Egypt, and currently Media Politics Analyst. He can be followed on Twitter @MaherHamoud1, his public page on Facebook, or email: [email protected]
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