TBE has long been fascinated by the way information spreads in settings, like Egypt, where the media tends to focus on official utterances and big scandals and events, with very little attention paid to more localized developments, both at the neighborhood level and in localities outside the capital or other major cities. A generalization, to be sure, but we think the reception of the exceptions, like Pakinam Amer’s great reporting in the aftermath of the Naga Hamadi murders, and this story we translated a while back, prove the rule.
Verily the Boursa Exchange was started as a means of remedying this sorry lack of local news, as a fake newspaper providing coverage of Boursa events, though we readily admit we’ve strayed quite far from our original mission statement. Anyway, the immediate occasion for this rueminiscence was the news that al-Masri al-Youm has started publishing an Alexandria edition, with al-Shorouk’s set to start on February 1st, a welcome development in the Egyptian media scene and one that we hope will continue. And we’ve got a brilliant idea how to “git r done,” as our mentor Larry the Cable Guy would say.
TBE is always thinking up schemes that will never go anywhere (and we’re well aware of how awesome that line is as a news hook). Not really our latest but one we’ve thought about in the past and in which recent events have reignited our interest is the idea of some benevolent journalism foundation, of which there are a few (Pew, Knight-Ridder, etc.), sending out-of-work Western journalists to provincial towns in places like Egypt, where they will be tasked with starting up newspapers, as a means of creating some accountability.
We are aware that this idea might be received with howls of protest and derided as an exercise in imperialism or that there are local means of holding officials accountable. There might be some truth to the former, and we tend to believe that accountability is a normal good: Strictly more is strictly better.
The charge of imperialism is a bit harder to shake, but only a bit. No doubt Egypt has plenty of journalistic talent, and a bunch of khawagat big-footing in might be unlikely to change the quality of coverage very much. The foreigners would nevertheless serve a purpose. First, it would be an employment scheme for the journalists themselves. Second, the fact that the foundation(s) would plow some of the start-up costs into these newspapers would probably give local partners a bit more incentive to join a prospective project. Whether the involvement of a Western institution would make the project more or less likely to succeed is an open question, as outside funding has sometimes led to problems (Saad Eddin Ibrahim). But journalists are nothing if not navel-gazers (our first paragraph, for example), and one could expect massive coverage of the whole enterprise in the Western press, keeping up pressure on the relevant governments to make sure the projects went forward.
Here is a list of the positive effects our scheme would have:
- Jobs for aspiring Egyptian and out-of-work Western journalists;
- More accountable government; and,
- Better Western coverage of Egypt. (By this we mean if there were large numbers of journalists working here and observing reality, perhaps some correspondents would be less willing to write blatantly idiotic stories or at least they would enjoy less impunity in doing so.)
Like you, we can think of many reasons why this scheme won’t work, but we’re all for the “throw things at the wall” approach in both saving journalism and making Egypt and other places more information-rich environments.