I am working towards a dream of creating a hyperlocal news network in Egypt to become a platform for people to speak and participate in making their future.
In March of 2013, I received an email from the Institute of International Education (IIE) to tell me that I have been selected for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship. It was great news. I have been trying for two years to be accepted. Through this fellowship, I am attending the University of Maryland to study hyperlocal news networks so I can eventually build one of my own in Egypt.
But my dream is completely different.
I started to think about my hyperlocal project after the Jan. 25 revolution in 2011. I realized the importance of online news websites and social media for Egypt’s future after watching its role in the revolution. Through social media, I watched people mobilize to participate in efforts to change the Hosni Mubarak regime after 30 years of iron rule.
For example, a Facebook page created in honor of Khaled Said, a young man who had been beaten to death by the police, attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, becoming Egypt’s biggest dissident Facebook page.
Moreover, there are a lot of problems and no services available in the local communities. Most of services are in the big cities around Cairo, the capital city of Egypt.
For example, I live in a city with around 300,000 people, located about 35 miles south of Cairo. The local authorities in this city did not pay attention to people’s problems.
This is where my project becomes very meaningful.
Places like my hometown need media coverage to uncover these problems. However, media in Egypt are nationally oriented. In the rare cases that outlets cover smaller communities, the news is only focused on crime or disaster.
Local communities need professional and independent media to discuss their problems and monitor the local authorities.
This is what I want to create.
And I think it could work. Here’s one reason: Internet use has skyrocketed among Egyptians. In 2011, there were 12 million Internet users in Egypt, most between 18 to 30 years old, according to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.
The ministry estimated there were 35.95 million Internet users in August of 2013, which is about 43 percent of the 85 million population.
Even so, it is rare to find information online about most cities and villages. There is no information about hospitals, schools, businesses and services. For example, we have 27 muhāfazāt (governorates). Every governorate is composed of 5 to 15 villages. Most of the online information available about these governorates is very simple and only discusses the biggest governorates.
I want to increase the content about these places and services available through my hyperlocal project.
Finally, I think that with a hyperlocal news network, I can help those who live in rural areas speak about their problems and come up with solutions. I want my platform to be a forum for their discussions on rights and demands for a better life. I hope to spread awareness through articles and events organized by the network.
Hussein N. Zaky (email@example.com)is deputy chief of the foreign news desk at the Al-Akhbar newspaper. He was a Middle East Fellow at International Journalists’ Programmes in Berlin in 2011, and served as a mentor and trainer at “Media Neighbourhood Project” organized by BBC Media Action and the European Union in 2012. He holds Humphrey/Fulbright scholarship for graduate studies at University of Maryland.