Revolution in the newsroom

Readers of the blog know I've been following Egyptian state media for some time now, and am particularly interested in how much it will be "revolutionized" and the role it will play in political developments here now. The impact of the media will be very important in the coming year--perhaps even more so as the system opens up and there is real political competition. I also think the bloated and compromised state media is a good test case to see how much institutional reform will take place in the new Egypt. Anyway, I have a piece in Newsweek looking at what's going on at flagship state newspaper Al Ahram: 

These days, the labyrinthine hallways are abuzz. “Have you heard…?” reporters whisper to each other. They aren’t just discussing the news outside—the wave of appointments, prosecutions, protests, and clashes that is sweeping Egypt. It’s the battle raging over the future of Al-Ahramitself that has everyone riveted.

“There used to be a ceiling to our freedom,” says editor Ahmed Amer, seated at a circular table in one of the paper’s many conference rooms, its walls decorated with faded old maps. On this day, he is working on a story about an illegal land deal involving the former speaker of Parliament. The latest edition of the paper carries a headline that announces “the fall” of the country’s dreaded State Security Investigative Service, whose offices have been ransacked by protesters.

Like other papers in Egypt, Al-Ahram is now printing stories that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago. But some say the paper’s makeover is just that: a makeover.

“It’s not smart to change your editorial policy 180 degrees in one day,” says Sabah Hamamou, one of the journalists leading a small insurgency at Al-Ahram. “You can be more objective. But you shouldn’t just be pro-revolution when one day earlier you were pro-Mubarak.”

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.