Egyptian Media Development Program Helping To Transform Media at Critical Moment

The USAID-funded Media Development Program (MDP), implemented by MSI and its subcontractors, is training journalists in Egypt’s largest news company, Al Ahram.

Trainings include traditional journalism, multimedia skills and social media tactics to attract new readers and users.

Trained journalists work in 122 media outlets and 29 nongovernmental organizations. Of those, 47 outlets are state-owned or affiliated and 75 are private media outlets.

Intensive training on a variety of journalism and media-management topics help to prepare individual media professionals working within these institutions to capitalize on the tremendous transformation that is now taking place around them.

For instance, Al Ahram launched a four-page newspaper supplement entitled “Shabab El Tahrir” (Tahrir Youth), distributed solely in Tahrir Square in recent weeks where the revolutionary events took place. This hyper-local supplement provided coverage of the demonstrations and the people involved.

Al Ahram employs more than 10,000 people and produces more than a dozen daily, weekly and monthly publications. More than a thousand media professionals were trained on writing for the Web and page layout and design. Reporters were immersed in intensive English courses designed specifically to serve journalists’ needs.

The special edition was critical of state television, as well as the performance of state institutions – including the Ministry of Information – and their failure to fulfill the demands of the protesters. Al Ahram’s art director Anwar Abdel-Latif spearheaded the project. Abdel-Latif has taken part in many MDP training courses and participated in a study tour to Prague. The tour focused on how journalists can cover hyper-local events oriented around a well-defined area covering the concerns of residents.

Three others on Al Ahram’s staff who worked on the supplement also participated in the MDP trainings.

The staff is just a few of the total of 4,555 Egyptian journalists and media professionals trained in MDP courses since 2006: 3,678 are journalists and 877 are journalism support staff in departments such as advertising and circulation.

MDP has also worked with the Middle East News Agency Training Center, Cairo University’s Faculty of Mass Communications, the Supreme Press Council, Al Akhbar (“The News”) Training Center and Biblioteca Alexandria.

The project also provides access to international journalism trainers and exposure to professional media standards and practices, which has encouraged individual journalists to attempt to change the mindsets of their management to make state media more professional and responsive to their audiences.

The struggle to change the standard operating procedures at state media and report the news more accurately reached unprecedented levels during the revolution, as the MDP-trained journalists and many of their colleagues demanded change. They took control in an attempt to steer their media outlets in a more professional direction.

Al Ahram has begun to catch up to private-sector competitors in offering professional and in-demand digital media products, while improving and diversifying its traditional print titles.

Al Ahram’s web portal has had the most significant developments, including a more user-friendly interface, greater interactivity with readers, a focus on youth and social networking features and incorporating multimedia into storytelling.

MSI has been implementing the MDP in Egypt since 2006. Based in Cairo, the project has aimed to train and develop the capabilities of staff from media managers to new journalists. It also aims to improve the print and broadcast industries’ economic viability, strengthen the professionalism of local media and improve the media’s objectivity. The project also extends to the governorates of Alexandria, Minya and Aswan.

Impact from these trainings has included improved investigative reporting, use of infographics and human interest pieces, expressive photojournalism and two new media law and media management post-graduate courses at Cairo University.