This piece was written for Egypt Independent’s final weekly print edition, which was banned from going to press. We offer you our 50th and final edition here.
On 19 April 2012, the management of the English-language newspaper Daily News Egypt (DNE) decided to abruptly liquidate the company. The journalists and editors were told that the issue of 21 April would be their last. They were forced out of their jobs, without any severance or compensation.
In the following months, a handful of the staff joined the team at Egypt Independent (EI). Exactly one year later, as Egypt Independent puts together its last issue, three of the former Daily News Egypt staff members find themselves struck with a surreal sense of deja vu.
Amira Salah-Ahmed: So girls, happy anniversary! It was exactly one year ago today that DNE closed and now look what’s happening.
Mai Shams El-Din: I feel somewhat indifferent — I’m even making fun of it. Is that natural or is it bad of me?
Dalia Rabie: No, it’s normal.
Salah-Ahmed: I think it’s just another way of dealing with it. It’s very weird that this is happening on almost the same exact day. History is supposed to repeat itself but not this soon, right? It feels like someone is playing a joke on us.
Shams El-Din: It’s the irony, Amira. I remember when I was first hired by EI eight months ago, I thought I was being hired by a well-established, secure and stable institution. Silly me. I guess this has something to do with our superpowers.
Salah-Ahmed: I thought the same thing when I started at EI in October — that being part of a larger institution had some kind of security. I was surprised to see from early on that, despite being such a large organization, it suffers from the same commercial problems we had at DNE.
Shams El-Din: I have been saying this since I joined — investors consider us a source of prestige, not a potential power and revenue generator.
Rabie: I didn’t see this coming either. I remember when Lina called for the general meeting, I made a joke about how ironic it would be if this paper was closing down too.
Shams El-Din: Oops, Dalia. It’s our superpowers.
Salah-Ahmed: It’s bad enough to have to go through something like this once in your life. It’s just unimaginable that we have to live through it twice in 12 months.
Rabie: Worst deja vu ever.
Shams El-Din: I just cannot believe we will have to see the same “we are sorry for EI, what a loss for English-language journalism in Egypt” on social media all over again.
Salah-Ahmed: It really shows that the people who took it upon themselves to launch English-language media outlets have little knowledge of what’s required to keep these projects sustainable. All of them have been based on the same business models, which are proving to be old and stale and doomed to failure.
You’d think that with some very prominent businessmen behind these media ventures, they’d be able to adapt to changing economic times and business needs — be able to innovate and restructure. We never got enough attention from the commercial teams, not at DNE or EI.
Rabie: That’s exactly the problem, they’re businessmen. For them to keep a business alive, it has to be profitable. They’re completely oblivious to any other aspect or potential.
Shams El-Din: Again, the problem is that they do not look at us as a potential source of revenue — they think of us as more prestige for them. That is the ugly truth.
Rabie: It’s sad how the editorial side always ends up bearing the brunt and paying for the mistakes repeatedly committed by the commercial side.
Salah-Ahmed: The interesting thing is that this time around, we actually got a chance and time to try and save the paper. And we did amazingly well.
We proved that we can sell the product to people because we know what we’re selling and to whom. Unlike the commercial side, which knows nothing about the content we produce or the audience we’re targeting.
I really thought that after we miraculously managed to boost our subscription numbers and copy sales in just two months, the management would finally see what they’ve been doing wrong, and know that this has real potential that’s been unrealized. But it seems like the decision to close has nothing to do with the numbers.
Shams El-Din: Yes. This time, it’s obviously political. I have no other explanation.
Rabie: I would say it is also very much financial.
Salah-Ahmed: It’s financial, but there’s something behind the lack of will and interest in figuring out a solution to the financial troubles.
Shams El-Din: I also believe it’s political. The lack of this will you are talking about, Amira, is politicized in a way.
Rabie: It’s almost as if they don’t take English-language media seriously. I mean, God forbid they would invest in actual professionals who don’t rely on sensationalism.
Shams El-Din: But tell me, are you feeling the same level of sadness you felt when DNE closed or are you more immune now?
Salah-Ahmed: There’s definitely an advantage to life throwing you a curve ball that smacks you straight in the face — twice. I’m not as shocked and emotionally traumatized, maybe because I haven’t been here as long.
But I’m actually more angry and frustrated than I was last year. With DNE, it was a very emotional journey, now I feel like, hell no! This can’t be happening again.
I’m angry that there won’t be that voice of independent journalism, with the kind of content we produce that’s very different from Arabic media. And that’s especially true because of the timing — this year, after Mohamed Morsy’s election and the Brotherhood monopolizing the scene, our voices are even more vital and crucial.
Rabie: It is a very crucial time. There’s so much news coming out of Egypt, it’s ironic to see news outlets closing down rather than actually thriving.
Shams El-Din: That’s sad. I confess that this time I’m not emotionally affected as much, but I’m really concerned about the future of independent journalism in Egypt.
Salah-Ahmed: So, where to next, ladies? Which media powerhouse do we want to take down now? Should we go work for the Freedom and Justice Party newspaper?
Rabie: On to Maspero!
Salah-Ahmed: Oh, much better. Maspero, expect us!
Shams El-Din: Yes! Maspero, and then off to the FJP newspaper.
Salah-Ahmed: Remember last year when we were unemployed for a few months? That was fun, right? We can, you know, take “time for ourselves” and stuff.
Rabie: Yes, I really need to find myself. I also really need to find some money.
Shams El-Din: I feel like this is really not the right time to have time for ourselves. It’s a very critical time indeed!
Salah-Ahmed: Well, Mai. You don’t have a choice, OK? You must focus on yourself and ponder life issues, like why are we here and the meaning of the universe. Things like that. Dalia, what do you think is the meaning of life? We can chat about this over brunch now since we’ll have free time.
Rabie: That’s a good time to ponder, actually, because I really feel like life is trying to tell me something. Switch careers? Start a band?
Salah-Ahmed: Life is like, stop being a journalist! Yes! A band. We can call it “Jobless Journos.” It’ll be a hit since so many people in Cairo will relate.
Rabie: We can sing the news!
Salah-Ahmed: I want to play the tambourine! And we can hire other former journalists to create an interpretive dance of the news, like in the background.
Shams El-Din: Amazing career choice — singing the news instead of writing it. Good suggestion, Dalia.
Rabie: Sixteen people were injured today in clashes in Tahrir Square. ... Paparara pa pa parara.
Salah-Ahmed: Morsy visits Qatar to ask for more money, shobi do bi do da daa.
Shams El-Din: Hell yes, that’s hilarious.
Salah-Ahmed: That’s definitely one thing I learned this time around — the only thing you can really do at times like these is laugh. I think the EI management is freaked out that we’re not moping around.
We’re staying energetic and positive, and laughing about it as much as we can. Last month, we threw a party. I think they think we’re crazy.
Shams El-Din: We will remain crazy and hopeful.
Rabie: The joke’s on them, we’re starting a band!
Salah-Ahmed: Jobless Journos, coming Summer 2013.