Alex Agenda aims to develop Egypt’s media [Q&A]

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Egypt’s media has dramatically shifted since the January 25 revolution four years ago.

Citizen journalists spread through the streets and local and hyper-local news startups such as Egyptian Streets and Mada Masr, and Welad Elbalad, respectively, sprang up to shed light on local and regional news.

But they weren’t the first: monthly social and cultural magazine Alex Agenda launched in 2006, with an aim of tackling the narrow band of content available in local Egyptian media and its lack of originality, says cofounder Ahmad Ismat.

Alex Agenda's publications. (Image via Alex Agenda)

The Alexandrian magazine is now behind training initiatives for aspiring journalists and the development of hyper-local media in remote communities. Wamda spoke with Ismat to find out how it's succeeding and what it's doing on the side to boost local media quality.

Wamda: What is Alex Agenda?

Ahmad Ismat: It is a media project concerned with applying entrepreneurial concepts in the local media scene, in a way that supports cultural and social topics in Alexandria.

Wamda: What kind of topics do you cover?

Ismat: At Alex Agenda we work on local coverage of social issues, meaning all that has to do with the everyday lives of the local citizens in this area. The monthly issue has a special section dedicated to the most important cultural, social and touristic events happening in the province [of Alexandria]. 

Ahmad Ismat, cofounder of Alexandria for Culture and Touristic Development, publisher of Alex Agenda.

Wamda: What’s your circulation like?

Ismat: The monthly issue produces 20,000 copies that are distributed for free in 174 addresses in the province, including cafes and popular restaurants. The electronic version of the magazine has 30,000 monthly visits, and we have more than 33,000 followers on our Facebook page.  

Wamda: How does Alex Agenda make a profit? How has it proven to be a viable project following the disruption of the 2011 revolution?

Ismat: We are totally reliant on ads in our profit model. Regarding our success and sustainability after the January revolution, all the credit goes to the employees. In fact, we were on the verge of bankruptcy at that time because of the scarcity of ads. While other media ventures ceased work completely, we pulled through with Alex Agenda.

Wamda: How many reporters do you have?

Ismat: We have six full-time reporters and around 20 contributors. This of course is in addition to the designers and management and distribution team.

Excited participants at The Alexandria Media Forum receive media training.

Wamda: Is Alex Agenda involved in any other kinds of media activities?

Ismat: We have plenty of activities. We have cultural and social activities in Alexandria, and we cram them all into one section so that readers can look forward to our monthly issue.

On a local level, we have noticed a significant lack in the training of journalists and media employees, as well as a thirst among young reporters for this kind of service. So two years ago, we started organizing regular events to train reporters, in partnership with international media organizations like UNDP.  

We also have the Alex Media Forum, an annual event that attracts wide media attention on the local and regional level. The event, which is organized in partnership with the Pharos University and the Swedish Institute Alexandria, is covered by the largest media corporations in Egypt and hosts Arabic media figures. These figures conduct media training for participants.    

Wamda: What is the Alex Media Forum?

Ismat: The purpose of this event is the development of the local media communities. It aims to elevate the performance level of youth with potential in various fields, to teach them credibility and professionalism. Indeed, the forum was a success in the last two years, which is why we are getting ready for a third version.

Wamda: Are you managing any other media projects?

Ismat: Yes. I teach New Media, Media Management and Online Media Production at universities. I also conduct training at several international organizations, like the European Union and  UNDP, and I participated in the founding of Amwague newspaper in 2012.

ONTV channel covers a journalism workshop event named "making sure of content", live.

Wamda: How do you see the future of local media in Egypt?

Ismat: The answer to that question has several parts. Media departments in universities need to offer education with practical training, as well as provide students with real training opportunities that should be criteria of performance assessments, instead of just tests and memorizing. Attention should be given to media in remote areas far from Cairo.

On a legal aspect, we need to solve several legal dilemmas such as the legality of setting up small companies that work in media, and codifying the rules of online radios. We also need to work on the production of newspapers and publications and things like FM frequencies.

We also need to have clear techniques that guarantee the transparency of information. Most importantly, we need everyone to acknowledge the importance of a solid local media system that is far from centralism, and that can help in building an advanced democratic society. 

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