Daily News Egypt leaves a legacy of independent journalism

Daily News Egypt leaves a legacy of independent journalism

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Mon, 23/04/2012 - 15:30

The website of Egypt’s only independent English-language daily newspaper, Daily News Egypt, was taken off the web Sunday and the editorial staff had to clear their offices and pack up seven years of sweat and dedication after they were informed by the investors that they could no longer finance the small operation.

“It is bad news for Egypt,” said Mirette Mabrouk, the founding publisher of the paper, which grew out of a clique of English-speaking journalists who fed the world constantly with Egypt's news with a local grasp.

Since its establishment in May 2005, the paper has sailed through the difficult conditions of independent journalism in Egypt: meager resources and government harassment.

But it wasn’t until late 2011 that the financial problems took a serious turn, as the paper wasn’t generating profit and investors were not willing to put in any more funds, especially with a deteriorating post-revolution economy.

“It definitely has to do with the revolution; hotel subscriptions have gone down due to lower tourism rates and companies have been cutting their advertising budgets,” said Sarah El Sirgany, the paper's deputy editor.

But despite the lack of resources and funding, many believe it did not jeopardize the quality of the reporting and the groundbreaking content Daily News Egypt has offered throughout the years.

“They worked miracles with the budget constraints that they constantly faced,” said Abdel-Rahman Hussein, who worked as a reporter there for five years starting in 2006 and is now a reporter at Egypt Independent.

Back in May 2005, the Daily Star — as it was then called — started with a staff of three female writers, including Lina Attalah, the current managing editor of Egypt Independent. They worked 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, said Mabrouk, who is now a nonresident fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

For the past seven years and particularly before the demise of Mubarak’s regime, Daily News Egypt boldly reported stories that were disregarded by state-owned media. It was founded in a year marked by increasing street politics.

The paper extensively covered the victory of the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood in the 2005 parliamentary elections and the crackdown on street demonstrations that ensued.

“We were reporting things that others wouldn’t report. Daily News has covered the nascent movements, protests and dissent that would later coalesce into the 25 January revolution,” said Hussein, who reported about the military college students who stormed a police station and set it ablaze in March 2009 — a story reported on only by Daily News.

“We were as independent as any paper can be,” said Mabrouk.

However, their valiant reporting often put the paper at odds with the government. Two issues were confiscated, and it was a daily routine that editors got late night calls from security services complaining about a story or a quote from activists criticizing Mubarak.

“We always knew at the back of our minds that our license was at stake and we had to work around that without jeopardizing our credibility and independence,” said Sirgany.

“The staff members were passionate believers of the importance of an independent press for a democratic and social reform,” said Mabrouk.

“There is a sense of ownership from the people involved, and this is how it kept going, thanks to the incredible effort of the staff and the editors who used to stay for late hours during the night to get the paper out. It was our baby,” said Sirgany.

The paper’s shutdown has been devastating for the Daily News “family,” who kept it together through thick and thin.

“The best thing about the Daily News was the family and I have to credit Rania al-Malky for that. Being a small operation helped in bringing us closer to each other, especially as we had to get over these hardships together,” said Sirgany.

Malky is the most recent editor-in-chief of the Daily News. Her sharp editorials testified to how the paper stood up against the violations of the ruling authorities.

The newspaper was an educational hub for many journalists who later left to work for top-notch media outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, Reuters and Bloomberg. Many interested in coming and learning about Egypt found refuge in interning with the Daily News.

“The editors were kind of mentors, as they used to take people under their wing, training them in the job,” said Hussein.

The papers’ shutdown means that the only English-language printed daily available is the state-owned Egyptian Gazette.

Generally, English-language media are known to enjoy slightly more independence than Arabic outlets, presumably because they reach a less significant readership.

The closure has caused a storm of tweets and blog posts from avid followers who congratulated the dedicated team for pulling the paper together against all odds. An equally emotional shutdown was associated with the Cairo Times in 2004, which was the leading English-language weekly in Egypt at the time and also closed due to financial hurdles.

“It’s quite tragic for this country to lose DNE at this critical time of Egypt’s democratic transition, when it is in dire need of media that adhere to professional standards,” said Mabrouk.