Interview: Sherif Wadood
How would you describe the impact of mobile phone technology on media?
SHERIF WADOOD: Mobile technologies caught media organisations off guard, and not only in the Arab world. It took a while until their vast capabilities and ways of commercialising these became apparent to publishers. The younger the organisation, the better it managed to integrate mobile technologies in its publishing cycle.
Today they are the most important part of Al Masry’s digital strategy. Local political events have generated an impressive spike in consumption in Egypt. Soon mobile phones and tablets will exceed laptops in terms of news access. We should be ready for that, not only by delivering our content but by receiving content and feedback from our readers. We are training our journalist on how to produce content specifically for mobiles. Some organisations already have a dedicated mobile editor-in-chief and another for tablet applications. Citizens are everywhere and can cover what we cannot, so we build models for collaboration between the professional journalist and the citizen journalist to ensure the same quality of reporting.
Can the increased demand for news be sustained and how can it be monetised?
WADOOD: Local content makes our media products unique. We offer our readers the news that relates to their daily life and society. We believe local content is the future and are moving to hyper-local content on our different publications and mobile phone apps. Monetisation is a challenge, yet there are solutions through targeted products. In Egypt we still have a long way to go to reach an acceptable level of monetising local content. The key may be in mobile applications.
How competitive has the media market become?
WADOOD: New and independent media outlets generally enrich the media industry. Competition should lead to better quality, impact, reach and innovation, however this is not the case in Egypt. We lack a regulatory framework and the ambition to reach beyond our borders. Egyptian media has lost the lead in many areas during the past 10 years, due to a lack of funding and state dominance. As a result, Egyptians get the news and entertainment from non-Egyptian TV channels.
The situation is much better with digital media as the investment needed to develop digital media outlets is less than what is needed to create a TV channel or newspaper. The quality of Egyptian websites is improving and there are many innovative new ideas.
To what extent has domestic press freedom been affected since the revolution?
WADOOD: Egyptian press has been always in a better position regarding its freedom compared to press in most Arab countries. There is a long history of struggle between the press and authorities. Since the revolution, nothing has been done to guarantee freedom or access to information. There have been attacks on the media when the coverage does not agree with authorities, such as bloggers being arrested. The public became very much politically engaged and hypersensitive to views or news which do not follow their political orientation. In the future we expect a new regulatory body to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information. Press freedom is the best way to put the Egyptian media on the top again and increase its impact. It should be protected by law and constitution to avoid the interference of authorities.
How reliable are circulation and distribution figures?
WADOOD: The distribution of all publications, whether public or private, was until recently monopolised by state organisations. They used to inflate their circulation figures by three- to four-fold to attract advertisers. There was no independent auditor. The result was that every organisation kept its figures secret so as not to stand at a disadvantage in drawing in advertisers. There is an urgent need for an independent organisation to conduct audits and announce the true figures.
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